Monday, February 25, 2013

Poultry Cup Drinkers (Waterers) - Winter Update!

By Sue -

I ABSOLUTLY LOVE my cup waterers!

Photo:  Cup waterers on bucket at back right.  Cute 7 week old baby Swedish Flower Hen in front!

There are many reasons why I love using cup waterers for my chickens.  You can read about some of them here. They don't get filled with litter and other debris and are absolutely the easiest waterer to keep clean.  They also allow the chickens to drink water in a position that is natural to them (as opposed to reaching up to drink water from a nipple device).  

Photo:  Even the babies learned to use the cup waterer by watching mom!  Broody-raised 5 week old Swedish Flower Hen.

In the previous post about cup waterers, there was a brief section entitled:  "Current Winter Use Assessment".  When that post was written I stated that we had not yet had sustained temperatures lower than mid-20s (F.).  After having gone through most of the winter, it's time for a new winter weather use assessment!


I really wanted to use these waters year-round.  Now if you add heat to keep your chicken housing above freezing during the winter you don't need to read further.  But for those of us who do not heat our chicken housing, any watering device that is left with the chickens will need to have added heat when the temperatures fall below freezing.

The cup waterers pose an additional challenge because the necks leading from the bucket have a small spring device that stays wet and will freeze in place, not allowing the chickens to trip the nipple to release the water.  Additionally, if water is left in the bottom of the cup, the nipple device can become frozen solid into that water as the heat is in the bucket - not in the cup!

I first experimented by using a bird bath heater in the bucket.  These bird bath heaters are a 250 watt device with a thermostat that turns on just above freezing and shuts off again at approximately 40° F. This heater worked very well to keep the water from freezing, but when the temperature dropped to the teens, the spring devices froze.  I tried moving the heater right up against the necks of the cups but this did not solve the problem. 

After some thought (and research into the safety factor) I found a heater that works much better than the birdbath heater.

A Submersible Fish Tank Heater

-The fish tank heater keeps the water warmer than a bird bath heater.

-It has a thermostat to set the water temperature manually.

-The one I'm using is 50 watt vs. the 250 watt bird bath heater.  (This was the largest that could fit in my bucket completely submerged as I'm only using a 2 Gal. bucket currently.  Larger and higher watts are available depending on the size of your water containers.)

-Can be purchased at your local pet store (or online if you prefer). 

-Can plug into a Thermocube which will turn it on when the air temperature is 35° F. and off at 45° F.  (Can be found locally at the hardware or home improvement store.  I got mine at Menards.)

Caution:  Fish tank heaters must be kept completely submerged under the water.

-It comes with snap on brackets for a suction cup.  I didn't use the suction cups since my bucket is too small to set the heater completely vertical.  To keep the heater completely under water, I attached a package of marbles as a weight onto the suction cup brackets and snapped them onto the heater.  The weight of the marbles keeps the heater from floating or moving about.


I have continued to use my cup waterer throughout the entire winter.  Especially after beginning to use the fish tank heater, it has worked quite well in my circumstances.  As I had a broody with chicks that hatched at the end of December, I provided a "canning jar waterer" for the little ones as I did not intend to teach them how to use the cup waterer until they were a bit older and there was no concern about water not being available due to freezing.  (I have a heat source that keeps the canning jar waterers from freezing at all times.  We'll have a post showing that in the future!)

I absolutely LOVE these cup waterers, and the fish tank heater does work well at least down to the lower single digits.  However:

Even with the use of the fish tank heater, I would not recommend these waterers for use in unheated housing during winter temperatures below 20° F. except under the following circumstances:

Use only if you're available during the day to check on the waterers on a regular basis. 
I am able to check on my waterers several times a day to be sure they're not frozen.  While I only have to do that when the temperatures are below about 19° F., I would definitely not leave the chickens with this as their only water source if I were traveling or worked long hours during the winter. 

If you or someone in your family are available to check on the waterers periodically, whenever you go out during the day you can give them a quick check to be sure no water is standing in the cup and simply twist it to the upside down position to empty it.  You can also press the nipple to be sure it isn't frozen which will break off any ice that may have formed on the springs.  If any water has already frozen in the bottom of the cup, it's easy to just pop it out with your finger and get it running again.  Of course, all this requires your presence from time to time during the day! 

If desired, you could also bring the water bucket inside at night and take it outside in the morning when you feed if you don't want to run the heater throughout the night. (Remember - the chickens don't drink at night!)


My conclusion?  It's my favorite waterer style that I've run across so far and I'd definitely recommend it for spring, summer, and fall.  You'll have to decide if you want to take the time and effort to use them during the winter! 

-  Sue 



  1. Great post! I am not a fan of nipple waterers at all for the reasons you mention, it's just not natural for chickens to drink that way! This looks like a great solution and come spring I'll be giving this idea a try. Lisa/Fresh Eggs Daily

    1. I sure have liked them! They're made for use on the pvc system(see the original post for videos) but they work wonderfully on a bucket. And they're a great price, too!


  2. Very smart idea with the marbles!

    1. I can't take credit. I was racking my brains trying to think of something to tie on there as a weight when my husband came walking by and suggested the marbles. It was one of those "duh" moments!

      It was a bonus that the place I got them (Meijers) had them packaged in the mesh bag with the loop at top. All I had to do was hook it on.


  3. Great idea. I have the nipples now but sometimes I dont think they use them that much. I might just invest in the cup waterers. Thanks for the update

  4. I've loved the cup waterers. I made my bucket from your instructions a while ago, but I don't use it in the winter. I was thinking about making another one with a heated horse bucket I saw at the TSC for next winter. It's just the right size and already heated so no extra parts to worry about. I don't think it would solve the problem of the spring mechanism freezing though. We'll see.

  5. I'm new to chickens and my girls are just about ready to be released into their new coop/run. I'm putting on the final touches, including a waterer and would like to use the cups. All the people selling them say that I need a mounting bracket, but I was wondering if you used brackets to attach your cups to your bucket?

    1. No, I didn't, but I was using them on buckets, not pvc pipes. You DO need the bracket if you use them on the pipes.

      I just drilled the correct size hole in the bucket, put some plumbing tape on the threads, and screwed them into the bucket.

      I tried to find nuts that would fit them to put on the inside of the bucket that they could screw onto but no luck finding the right size. Then after I made my "test bucket", I found that I didn't need them.

      In the original article I mention that I put rubber "o" rings on the outside but I don't think I needed those either! I just got them at the local Lowes store.

      Just so you know, I actually purchased some of the brackets (they were so cheap!) just to see if I could use them on the inside of the bucket as a kind-of "nut" to screw them into. Didn't work (for various reasons) and I didn't need it anyway.

  6. Hello,

    I've just purchased one of these for my girls (five 6 month old pullets and three 3 month old) and they don't understand how to press down on the little tab to refill the cups with water. I'm very concerned about them being thirsty while I'm away.

    Any methods to teach them to do this?

    1. Once your babies learn WHERE the water is, they will likely peck at the cup if they find it empty. This may take a few days, but once one chicken figures it out, the rest will learn by watching.


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