Even if you only have one of the above-mentioned animals on your homestead, installing an automatic watering system is a win for both you and the animals. Not only do you save time and hassle in the long run, but they can be more hygienic for your animals AND they’ll never go thirsty because someone forgot to do their chores.
In this article I’ll explain exactly what I used to make my automatic heated watering system so that you can replicate one for yourself.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Watering System
One of the primary things to consider when choosing a water system is how many animals you need to accommodate. A single chicken can drink up to four cups of water a day. An average sized rabbit will drink between a half cup and a cup of water day.
Make sure you choose a reservoir system that is practical for the number of animals you have.
Another consideration is how many water nozzles should be installed or available. If you’re going for a system like mine, which relies on pipes to bring water to the animal, you’ll need to have at least one nozzle for every eight or nine chickens, and one nozzle for every five quail. Each of my meat eating rabbits is housed separately and also gets her own nozzle.
Finally, no matter what type of system you chose, whether it be automatic or not, it is imperative that the animals can’t tip the system over and that it doesn’t leak. Leaking water or damp bedding will often result in mildew or pests in your hutch.
How Does an Automatic Heated Waterer Work?
There are lots of automatic watering systems out there and each one has pros and cons. The system I built uses a water reservoir (50 gallon barrel) with tubing attached to it that circulates the water down a line. When the line reaches a hutch it has nozzles that are specific to the type of animal using them. At the end of line the water gets recirculated back to the drum using a small motor.
The water is heated with an electric de-icing probe that sits in the water. These devices are common among livestock raisers to keep water tanks from freezing over.
How to Build a Heated Automatic Watering System
The watering system I built runs from my rabbit hutch, to the quail hutch, to the chicken run. Many people don’t have as many hutches as I do, so the system I built should be adaptable, if not easier, to implement in your own yard. I also live in a place where winter is very harsh, so this system should be sufficient for all your northerners!
Check out my video below to see exactly how I constructed my watering system. Some of the design aspects I borrowed from Carolina Coops, but much of the rigging is my own.
Building the Housing Unit for Your Automatic Waterer
The first thing you’ll need to sort out when building an automatic watering system is where your water will come from. I’m using a 50 gallon barrel that I’ve situated on an elevated wooden housing unit. Here is a link to the water barrel I’m using.
The housing unit I built around the barrel serves several purposes.
- First, it insulates both the water and the electrical pump/heater that are also housed in the shed.
- Second, the shed is elevated which helps gravity to feed the water through the system.
- Finally, the 50 gallon size is big enough I shouldn’t have to refill it often.
- Plywood (enough to build a housing around your water source)
- Insulation (I used 2 ½’’ fiberglass boards and 2’’ Styrofoam for the lid)
- Corrugated plastic roofing material
To make housing unit I simply made a wooden box that sits on four wooden legs. I cut the dimensions for my box so that the 50 gallon barrel sits very snugly inside the box once the walls were insulated. When planning the size of your housing unit, just remember to account for the additional interior space insulation will take up.
The tank itself sits on three pieces of treated 2×4 so that any water seepage will have a better chance of drying out. The box has a lid that opens from the top.
Insulating Your Water Tank
On the inside of the lid I glued in a 2’’ Styrofoam panel that I purchased from a roofing company.
Inside of all the walls I have 2 ½’’ fiberglass boards, and I also have that in the floorboard. I covered all the fiberglass boards with plywood and I made the box *just* big enough to fit the 50 gallon barrel inside.
As a final measure of protection from the elements I’m putting a corrugated plastic sheet of roofing material over the top.
Getting Power to Your Water Tank
I did not have an electrical outlet near where I wanted to put the water tank, so I had one run out to that location. I had an electrician do this, and I recommend you enlist the help of a professional for any electrical work.
Choosing a Pump for Your Automatic Heated Waterer
The pump I’m using automatically turns on when the temperature gets near 32 degrees Fahrenheit and will attach to the outgoing PEX line that will be attached to the water spigot on your 50 gallon barrel.
The way it works is that it is attached to a sensor below the housing that senses the temperature. The purpose of the pump is simply to recirculate the water to prevent freezing. You can find a link to this sensor here.
Choosing a Water De-Icer for Your Automatic Heated Waterer
An additional measure to prevent freezing is to use a water de-icer, which is an electrical gadget that sits in the water and emits a small amount of heat.
The water de-icer I’m using is 150 watts and is made by Farm Innovators. The ones that Carolina Coops uses are either 1500 or 1000 watts. The reason I like a lower watt de-icer is that I am all about emergency preparedness and if the grid goes down and I have to rely on my solar generator I want the most efficient system I can find.
This de-icer will also automatically turn on and off as needed depending on the temperature and will get plugged in to the electrical socket I had run out to the back side of the house. Pretty neat!
Automatic Waterer Plumbing
For my automatic waterer I’m primarily using PEX pipe but some people may be more familiar with PVC pipe.
PEX Pipe vs. PVC
PEX pipe is a cross-linked polytheylene that can be used for water piping, insulating electrical wires, and radiant heating and cooling systems. The benefits of PEX pipe are that it is more flexible than PVC and can be twisted and bent and without breaking.
PEX pipe does have some downsides to consider. Because of its malleable nature PEX pipe does degrade in UV light and can begin to break down to some degree. It also isn’t suitable in high heat areas or applications. For my purposes this is ok as I have insulated all the piping and the heating element I’m using doesn’t get very hot.
If you live in a desert environment, PVC might be a more suitable choice.
How To Run Water Lines For Your Automatic Heated Waterer
- PEX pipe
- PEX crimping tool
- PEX tee’s and coupling units
- Tubular pipe insulation
- Gorilla Tape
- Semi-circular metal brackets
- Zip ties
The system I built recirculates the water, so it has a return line as well as an outgoing line. Both of the lines go around to the back of all my hutches.
All of my PEX pipe is ½’’ diameter that is insulated with tubular pipe insulation which I attached with black Gorilla Tape. I attached the lines to the backs of the hutches with metal brackets that screw into the wooden hutch posts. In some places I provided extra stability to the lines with a zip tie through the hardware cloth.
To secure T’s and other segments of PEX pipe to one another you use a copper ring that gets crimped onto the t-section with a crimping too. Here is the crimping tool I used, which works for ½’’ and ¾’’ PEX pipe.
How to Protect Your Water Lines From Chewing Animals
When it came to the portion of the pipe that had the water nozzle or nipple on it, I created a wooden barrier that fit around the nozzle but that provided a barrier between the nozzle and the pipe insulation.
This is especially important for rabbits because they will chew absolutely everything and that insulation isn’t good for them.
I made the wooden barrier by simply cutting a hole in a rectangular wooden block that would accommodate the nozzle size.
How to Build Water Bars
- PEX pipe couplers
- Primer (see below)
- Water nozzles or nipples specific to the animal you are watering
- PEX crimping tool
The sections of the line that contain the nozzles are called water bars. The water bars are made of ½’’ PVC, not PEX, and therefore have a coupler on each end that can accept the ½’’ PEX pipe. In order to make the water bar I attached several PVC T’s together with a primer, and then each of those T’s I attached to the coupler.
You can fit the water nozzle inside the T-junction. I ordered the nozzles straight from Carolina Coops because I didn’t want to take a chance on a low-quality product. You can find those nozzles here.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to use a different type of nozzle for birds vs. rabbits. You can find the link to the rabbit nozzles I used here.
So there you have it! I am pretty satisfied with my automatic heated waterer and I think the animals are too.
As always don’t forget to comment if you tried my system, or made modifications that made your system better.