We’ve been raising chickens for five or six years now and, while we’re very much new at this, we have some knowledge that we’d like to share. In particular, I’d like to share some of the feeders and waterers that work for us. As regular readers know, our broilers are raised on rented and borrowed pasture, so we can’t invest in permanent infrastructure. Our laying hens are at home, so we can run hose and build permanent housing for them. Oh, and also let them run all over the yard. Because they’re fun to watch.
Also, as I wrote this up, I discovered the sinister fact that feeding and watering chickens involves an inordinate number of hats for these troubled and hatless times.
Note the complete lack of the iconic galvanized metal feeder and water that you see in every feed store in the country. That’s because I hate them. They’re expensive, they rust, they smell bad, the hats on the waterers bend out of shape, and they’re really hard to keep clean. The top-hat-shaped feeders are held together with flimsy metal rods that are far too easy to lose, resulting in the separation of the body of the hat-feeder from the brim. No fun.
Plastic, on the other hand, is easy to scrub out and can be readily sanitized. The downside is that it photodegrades, especially the hat bit, and thus has a shorter lifespan when exposed to the sun. This is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make.
Laying hens (permanent coop, running around all over the place)
At home, we have the laying hens on a Plasson waterer. The red bell is connected via a spring to a little hat, and when the water gets low, the lack of weight triggers it and it just fills right back up again. It’s been very successful for us in that I haven’t thought about them in about four years. We’ve tried other auto-refilling waterers and I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and fix or jury rig something way more often than I’d like.
The Plassons are on a pressure regulator that I also haven’t needed to think about since I bought it and hooked it up. Hooray!
Broilers (rented pasture, in tractors)
We don’t have water in the pastures where our broiler chickens forage, so we water them with the QuickClean Five Gallon Waterers. These are so great it’s not even funny. I use them at home when the water lines for the refillers freeze and I need to bring the birds hot water. They are simple, reliable, easy to handle, and easy to fill. I hope to never have to deal with a galvanized feed-store waterer again. Blech!
Against recommendations, I hang the QuickCleans by the handle instead of placing them on the ground, which is very hilly in our rented pastures. Hanging levels them naturally so we don’t have to carry around shims as we move the chickens through the pastures. Hanging them also deforms the handles slightly but I’ve had no serious problems so far. Putting the hat on before hanging the waterer reduces the deformation somewhat and makes it easier for that hat to fit.
Where I have seen these waterers fail is in two places. One is that the lids tend to break after being in the sun after a few years, as anything made of plastic will do. It’s important to replace the lids because, absent that little hat, overanxious chickens can jump in and drown. If that happens, it’s not your best day ever. If you don’t have a chance to order a replacement, the lid from a regular five-gallon bucket will work, though you’ll lose some water capacity.
The second problem I’ve seen with these waterers is that the little hole that lets the water flow from the reservoir to the trough can get clogged. They come with a little hat (of course) over the hole to prevent this but, well, generalized farm entropy being what it is, they get lost. When the hole clogs, I just clean it out using a stalk of grass and life is good. It’s my tiny hat trick.
By no means let these minor problems dissuade you. These waterers are hat-head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve used. And cheaper to boot!
I’ve found what looks like an identical waterer at my local feed store under the “4-H” brand. The only difference I can see is that it’s green instead of red. Oh, also they cost more money. The “H,” presumably, stands for hats. Four of them.
The biggest problem with feeders is spillage. In a stationary application, this isn’t a huge problem because chickens eat off the ground naturally. It’s kind of what makes them chickens. However, our broilers are confined to a tractor and moved every 24 hours and any filled that’s spilled is just lost. Well, mostly lost. The geese and the crows like it. Our grain mill evidently includes some sort of brassica because I can follow the path of the tractors by the freshly sprouted brassicas.
Broilers (in tractors) and laying hens (permanent coop)
For both broilers and laying hens, I’ve had good luck with the Lancaster feeder from (again) Premier 1. It’s important to buy and use the optional grill which snaps in place like a skirt to prevent the chickens from knocking the feed out as they bury their faces in it. And when filling the feeder, it’s important to pour kind of slowly, or inertia will carry the feed will splash out through the skirt in iconic Marilyn Monroe style. Oops.
Also, hanging the feeder makes it harder for the birds to spill feed. If at all possible, try to hang the feeders. As the old saw goes, wherever you hang your chicken feeder is home.
There’s a little hat-lid that comes with the feeder that I usually lose within days. I’m pretty sure the only reason it’s there is to set off the skirt. Sometimes I use them as frisbees because I’m weird like that. I have found no drawbacks to the absence of hat other than occasionally finding a very happy and very ambitious little peeper *inside* the feeder when they’re still in the brooder. They grow out of this feeder invasion technique. The lack of hat isn’t a problem because this style of feeder is really only suitable for use under cover or in dry weather. If you keep your chickens in pre-1950s America, you’ll want to keep the hat because it was an important accessory for the well-dressed chicken feeder of the time. And for feeding outdoors in inclement weather, something with a more robust cover over the actual feeding areas is needed.
You see my point about the hats? Where did that come from? What manner of haberdashery is this?