Rainwater Harvesting for Chickens

by: Sara on 12/12/2018

Today's blog comes from Acquisitions Editor Rob West. He created a rainwater collection system for his brood of chickens with the help of Essential Rainwater Harvesting: A Guide to Homes-Scale System Design by Rob Avis and Michelle Avis of Verge Permaculture.

Homesteading often involves moving heavy objects – soil, wood chips, building materials, feed bags – so the more you can design out the need for work the better for your back and your schedule.

In September, we added 100 heritage breed layers to our Gabriola Island homestead. With the chicks merrily chirping, eating and pooing all over the place, the race was on to build a coop to house them all. The goals were simple: high welfare standards, hen safety, low maintenance, and minimal ongoing work.

Ph 1 - chicks with waterer

Three-day old chicks with a sparkling new waterer. That won’t last.

Chickens need large volumes of clean drinking water and water is very heavy. In the brooders we were cleaning out poo and bedding filled waterers twice a day. Almost as soon as we put a clean waterer in a cheeky chick would hop on top and take a poo into the trough below. The constant cleaning and refilling got old fast and there was every opportunity to get lazy, to the detriment of chick’s health. In early November we moved the birds to their new coop 250 feet / 75 metres from the nearest water tap. The prospect of schlepping 10-15 gallons / 50 litres a day down to the coop and cleaning out fouled waterers was not a viable option. As a solution, I cracked open Essential Rainwater Harvesting, did a bit of reading, and then proceeded to design a simple, low maintenance gravity powered rainwater harvesting system for the hens.

Water is collected off the coop’s 336 square foot / 31 square metre shed roof, passed through a fine screen and into a 200-litre food-grade HDPE rain barrel. From the barrel, potable schedule 40 pipe conveys the water into the coop to 10 watering cups that are elevated about 18 inches / 40 cm off the floor and covered so the birds can’t roost on the pipe or poo in the cups. The cup assemblies screw into holes in a horizontal pipe that I drilled and tapped and sealed with Teflon tape to eliminate water dripping into the coop bedding, which can lead to mold, floor rot and chicken health problems.


Ph 2 - full system

Our coop rainwater harvesting system. Water comes off the metal roof, through the downspout to the top of the rain barrel and then out through the white pipe which goes through the coop wall to feed the waterers. Overflow spills out the black pipe and onto the ground. Gravity does all the work.

Ph 3 - rain barrel intake screen

The rain barrel intake screen to filter out leaves and debris.


Ph 4 - Mia filling barrel for testing

Chicken whisperer Mia filling the barrel so we can test the system and look for leaks.


Ph 5 - pipes

Valves allow us to turn off the flow for maintenance. One pipe goes into the coop to watering cups and I’ll run the second pipe along the outside of the coop and add nipple waters for summer time drinking.

The watering cups are pure genius, consisting of a small cup with a small spring-loaded toggle valve. When a chicken sticks her beak in to drink, she nudges the toggle valve and water trickles into the cup. There’s never enough water to overflow and the cups pop off the valve body for easy cleaning. A ball valve allows me to turn off the water at the tank and both ends of the pipe have removable caps for maintenance. With the 336 square foot / 31 square metre roof, a mere ¼ inch / 6.5 mm of rain will fill the 200 litre tank, and even a short shower will keep the tank topped up.

Ph 6 - watering cups

Watering cups inside the coop with the yellow toggle valve visible in each drinking cup and sloped boards overhead to keep the hens off the pipe, ensuring continuous clean drinking water. 

With our rainy Pacific Northwest autumns, winters and springs the tank will be full Sept-May. During the dry summer I’ll fill it every few days with a hose, perhaps rigging up a float value for automatic filling. I’ll also add horizontal water nipples to the outside of the coop so hens can sip between dust baths and pecking for insects.

The chickens have been using the waterers for about a month without a hitch and with zero maintenance. Our workload has dropped to about 15 minutes every two days to fill the feed hoppers, and a five minute daily check on the birds to say hello and throw them some squash, beat tops, or other treats from the last days of the garden.

All hail the water cycle and the power of gravity!


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