As we all know, water is as important as feed (maybe more important than feed) for the optimum health of our livestock.

Waterers are always a challenge for us, feeders seem to last forever, but not so with the waterers. We seem to need a few more no matter how many we have available!

Waterers we use and recommend:

  • Harris Farms Plastic Poultry Drinker, 5 Quart This is a waterer you can use right away with your chicks (not quail!) as soon as you put them in the brooder.
  • Harris Farms Double Wall Poultry Drinker This is a two piece metal waterer. Get the 5 gallon size, it’s the best deal for your money. I like to use a bigger capacity waterer as soon as the birds can easily reach it. This just saves me extra trips to the pen with water, especially on hot days.
  • Little Giant Quail Waterer Base This waterer is especially for quail. Since baby quail are so much smaller than baby chicks they need a really small water trough in their brooder to keep their bodies out of the water. The waterer base is a plastic “lid” that screws on to a quart jar full of water. To use just flip over and the vacuum of the jar keeps the water from over flowing the trough.

What to look for in a waterer

  • Capacity
  • Appropriate sized trough
  • Specialty birds

Waterer Capacity

The most important consideration regarding waterers is capacity, especially if you are not home during the day to check on the animals. There should still be water left in the waterer when you come to refill it again. If not get more waterers for the group, refill more often or get a bigger waterer.

Most any waterer will give an estimate of how many birds it can provide for but this is just an estimate. Age, weather, size and breed all will come into play here. For example, hot weather increases water intake of animals, no surprise there, but we have noticed that on windy days the animals drink more as well.

Appropriately Sized Trough

The trough is the part of the waterer that has the open water where the animal drinks (this is mostly a concern for poultry). Small birds need to have a trough that they can not get stuck in, or at least are less likely to get stuck in. The smaller the bird, the smaller the trough.

Baby chicks, ducklings, goslings, poults, and keets all need a waterer sized so that they can not get into it. (Even the waterfowl have to be kept out until they are feathered.) Sometime they get big ideas and jump in themselves other times its pushing and shoving that results in on of them in the water, either way it’s a problem that the right size waterer trough will help to prevent.

Specialty birds

A few birds do not fit into normal recommendations, namely any bird with a big crest and quail. The crested birds need a special waterer to keep from getting their head feathers wet in the winter then they get icicles hanging in front of their faces that have to be cut off. A waterer for crested birds keeps their feathers dry.

2 Gallon Chicken Waterer-Horizontal Nipple Setup This is my best guess for a waterer for crested chickens. Crested chickens need a waterer that they can drink from without getting their feathers wet or they get icicles hanging off the front of their heads. Not good. We have never used a nipple waterer with chickens but I know they are popular and the crest feathers would stay dry using this type of waterer.

Quail are the other special consideration, simply because they are so small as babies. They need a waterer specifically for quail. It has a very shallow trough, to prevent them jumping in and chilling down or drowning. We have a few of these in the gallon size, they work well for the quail and can be used for regular sized chicks as well.

Higher water intake times

Fast growth

First off, anything that is growing fast needs more water than you may think, for example broilers. Broilers will need more water per bird than layers even though the broilers are younger. This is because they are processing more feed, lots more feed, and that requires plentiful water.


When its really hot the importance of plentiful water for your animals can not be overstated. In the smoking hot summer days the bigger stock, like sheep and cattle don’t even eat until it cools down, but they sure can drink. Water is the only thing pastured animals have available to help themselves stay comfortable until evening. Even poultry, which tends to do better in the heat, still can guzzle a lot of water in the heat.

Waterers can freeze

An important point to remember regarding waterers is that they can freeze and flat out break or more insidiously crack. Sometimes the crack is hard to see so you keep using it, causing the dreaded leaking waterer and the messy wet pen.

Open waterers

Generally we handle this by having everything on open waterers, like pans or troughs in the really frigid weather. (As far as poultry goes that means no babies then, they can’t be allowed near open water since they will jump in and drown or die from the chill if they make it out.)

Rotate waterers

The other option requires more waterers kept on hand. Keep the waterers about half full then when they freeze bring them inside to thaw and give the group a spare waterer, so each group has two waterers that rotate out of the pen. We only do this with the gallon size poultry waterer and we are running the risk of breaking it.

Heated waterers

Additionally, I see heated waterers available but we have never used one so I don’t have a personal recommendation on heated waterers or de-icers. Our experience with heated waterers is limited to the automatic waterers in the heifer barn, These were here when we bought the farm.

Automatic waterers are plumbed directly into the water pipes just like a sink in your kitchen. The water level is controlled by a float and it has a heater.

We noticed the heifers don’t like to drink out of it when the heater is on-stray voltage? Not sure, but either way animals need water and the heating element seems to keep them from drinking, so our experience with heated waterers is definitely limited but also definitely negative. Granted, cattle seem more sensitive to stray voltage than most other animals and these particular waterers are not new so maybe this is not an issue with newer models but it is something you should be aware of.