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How do I keep my chicken's watering system from freezing? Answered

Hi!  I just found this site and can imagine I will be spending a lot of time here!  What brought me here today is a concern from last winter.  I raise chickens and developed a winter watering system that ALMOST works... It involves 80' of PVC piping that is circulated with an aquarium pump and was heated with a bucket heater.  The water is stored in a Coleman Cooler.  The birds access the water using 10 "Chicken Nipples" (http://www.avianaquamiser.com/chickennipple/) and here in lies the problem.  Even though the system flows in cold weather, the small amount of water in the nipple tends to freeze.  I imagine I could heat the system more, but I would rather have the heat directly on the nipples to keep them warm. I could use a light bulb on each but I would rather be more efficient.  I am hoping for a way to heat a bracket or coil around each one and have it turn on periodically as needed (maybe using a timer and a ThermoCube).  All the heat coils I find tend to produce too much heat and I am afraid of melting the plastic around each of the nipples.  I have spent countless hours at Home Depot, Radio Shack and electric supply stores trying to solve this.  Any help is greatly appreciated!   ---Regards Alexander


Heh.... chicken nipples. That's clever name for these devices, even if it's going to make some biology students scratch their heads.

I am not quite picturing how you have got these set up.  Are your nipples all tapped into a length of pvc pipe?  I mean like in this picture:
I found that image on this page,

I think if you have warm water flowing through a pipe, into which the nipples are tapped, i.e. there is a stream of warm water moving right behind the nipples, I think that is going to be the most effective way to transfer heat to the nipples. 

If you really want to put electric heat on each nipple, you might be able to do this using some nichrome wire, like that found in a toaster or hair dryer.  I mean how else are you going to make a heating element shaped to exactly conform to the shape of the chicken nipple?

When working with heating elements, it is easier to calculate dissipated power than it is to calculate temperature, and the way you calculate power is using Ohm's law.  Start by assuming the heating element is a resistor R, then expect the power it will dissipate to be P = V^2/ R = I^2*R.    I  am guessing just a few watts per nipple would be sufficient to keep them warm, and not so hot they melt, or burn up their own insulation.

BTW, you find R by measuring it, or by knowing a number for resistance per unit length for that gauge of nichrome wire (and then multiplying that number by the length of  wire in the heating element).,

But I think circulating warm water behind the nipples is going to be a more simple way to do things. 

I know, it still is strange trying to have a serious conversation about chicken nipples...
Thank you for your in-depth response, it looks like it will be a huge help.
I should have been more descriptive in how I have my system arranged. It is 80' of 1/2" PVC piping that loops from a large cooler through all the chicken runs and back to the cooler which has a bucket heater submerged in it. This keeps the water flowing even down to 10 degrees. The problem is the small amount of water that sits in each nipple, not in contact with the flow in the pipes. This was freezing constantly. As you mentioned, it worked when I increased the heat in the system, but had to go with a 1000W heater and I feel like I can do it with less energy.
I REALLY want to use the coil idea you mention in your response. I know very little about electricity (just enough to be dangerous). I have power that I can run to each of the nipples (valves?) but get lost trying to convert it to heat. Can Ohm's Law be used to calculate the heat that will be given off? Also, how would I regulate the power so I don't melt something? If I set these up in a series, will the first one heat up more than the successive ones or will it be like Christmas lights where they all get the same power?
Again, thanks for the response. I feel like this is getting me real close to a final solution!

I am starting to think an explanation for the topic of winding-your-own-electric-heating-element will require more than just a few paragraphs of handwaving
on my part. What I could do is just write an instructable for this, and I think this would be something worthwhile for me to build and write about, because it is a question, or a kind of question,  a topic, that a lot of people ask about.

There's no telling if or when I might get around to writing that 'ible, but for now I am going to sincerely congratulate you on already building something that does work, even if it requires 1000 watts of peak electrical input.

That energy flow, the 1000 watts, could maybe be reduced,  by putting insulation around the pipes, and maybe some little insulated stubs around the nipples too. 

Regarding this idea of "armored insulation" that you and Joe were discussing, (i.e. pipe inside insulation, enclosed inside another pipe, for to protect the soft pipe insulation from the pecking chickens), I have done something similar to this for insulating solar hot water pipes.

Basically what I did was I made the outer "armor" layer from pieces of 2-inch pvc pipe and fiitings, including places that needed elbows, tees, etc.  All the outside "armor" pieces, I cut in half lengthwise, then sort of sandwiched them back together, around the pipe insulation, using large hose clamps.

Some pictures of this are attached to sort of explain what I am describing. I think the resulting "pipe armor" is relatively neat and tidy, and also easy to take apart and put back together again.

In my case I was just trying to protect my fluffy fiberglass insulation from being torn apart by the wind and rain... rather than the depredation of angry birds.

I am hopeful these pictures might give you some ideas for improved, chicken-proof, pipe insulation. 

Also I will try to get back to you with some better answers regarding homemade heating elements.


Thanks for the encouragement!
I like the idea of putting a second layer of PVC over the insulation. This will certainly keep the heat in and the chickens out. It will also be easy to remove and store during the summer. I also like the idea of an Instructable for coiled heat. I have had a tough time trying to figure this out and imagine I am not alone.
Thank you for the assistance, I will keep an eye out for your work in the future!

Try filling their water with 1/2 sport drink like gatorade and 1/2 water. Gatorade has a lil sodium and sugar that lowers the freezing temperature.

Where I live we ether have the water constantly flowing into the troth or heat.

I am guessing you are Ting out to the nipples Use a shorter T.


Thanks for the quick response!
I have a continuous 1/2" PVC pipe that goes from a heated Coleman Cooler, through all the coops then back to the cooler. The chicken nipples are drilled directly into the wall of the PVC. I also thought the heated water would be enough, unfortunately the small amount of water that sits in the nipple still freezes.

I was going to say try insulating the pipe to reduce heat loss but then you know how chickens peck at things. That would only work if you could protect the insulation from being pecked off like a double layered PVC with Insulation between the layers.


You know your chickens! I tried that last year and they immediately started eating it. I used some spare gutter pieces to wrap the insulation but it looked terrible. I might try the double layered PVC with insulation in between.

Maybe you could get and modify some cheap hot glue guns and run a copper
tube through the glue gun instead of a glue stick.
Then terminate the copper tube with the chicken nipple.
You would then need some way to reduce the voltage to the glue guns
so they stay warm and not get hot. An electronic motor speed controller might
do the trick ,or perhaps a step down transformer to reduce the voltage to
perhaps 1/2 or 1/4 . you would have to experiment.

RC- that's a great idea. Hot glue guns are cheap and I could rig it so it stays on. I regulate the source power with a ThermoCube and a timer so the power only comes on under 35 degrees and for a few minutes at a time.