Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Chickens drinking from DIY watererThis year's photo contest will have several categories and prizes, so you'll have an even better chance than usual of winning!  Please read this entire post to make your entry the most likely to suceed.

Deadline: July 18, 2012

Entry instructions: Email up to three digital photos to info@avianaquamiser.com.  Your photos should be no more than 4 MB in size, and if they're large please send one per email.  In addition, please include a written description with your photo(s).  If you win, we'll email you back to ask for your mailing address.

What we're looking for: We judge entries based on the factors outlined in the next section.  You might like to look at the winners of previous contests to get an idea of what we like:

2012 categories: When you submit your photo(s), please include a note with each one telling me in which category you'd like to enter your photo.  Your options are outlined below:

  • Artistic chickens: The winning entry in this category will be a beautiful photo of your chicken(s) drinking from either our premade waterer or a waterer you made from one of our do it yourself kits.  We'll be judging the entries in this category nearly entirely on artistic merit.
  • Chicks, peacocks, and more: Entries in this category will showcase baby birds or birds of species other than chickens.  We've heard from lots of customers who have used our waterer with quail, turkeys, pigeons, and many other birds, and we'd like photographic evidence!  We'll be judging the entries in this category based on uniqueness combined with artistic merit.
  • Heated chicken watererIngenious waterers: This is the category for the inventors among you.  Our customers have turned our do it yourself kits into a vast array of waterers perfectly suited to their setting.  We've seen bucket waterers fed by gutters, heated waterers of all kinds, and many other unique options.  The winner in this category will be judged based on ingenuity of both the photo and the written description, so spend a few minutes polishing your words when you submit your entry.

The first prize winner in each category will receive their choice of either a 10 pack DIY kit or our working chicken combo pack (three pre-made waterers).  The second place winner will receive their choice of either a 3 pack DIY kit with drill bit or one pre-made waterer.  Several other honorable mention winners will be showcased on our website.

The fine print:
All photos entered in our contest become the property of Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton.  We don't care if you use them for other things; we just want the right to put them up on our website and potentially use them in our instructions, ebooks, and print books.
  By submitting your photos, you're agreeing that you won't receive any further compensation for the use of your photos and text.

Posted early Monday morning, July 2nd, 2012 Tags:

Chickens grazing on a hillWe're still working on our chicken pasture infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of having enough space so that our flocks don't overgraze the pastures during the summer lull.  Our laying flock has four moderately sized pastures, which usually keeps them happy, but our broiler flock only had one big and one small pasture until last week.  That's when my long-suffering husband fenced in another large pasture up the side of the hill in the powerline cut.

Fencing on a hill

The good news about this pasture is that the shade from forest trees at the top gives our birds plenty of low-temperature foraging space in the summer.  The bad news is that the Eroded chicken runpasture is going to erode away if I don't get creative.

The powerline pasture had grown up in small trees since the last time the electric company came through and whacked the brush back, so the ground is relatively barren of small plants.  Our chickens think that's a great opportunity to scratch through leaves, but I'm afraid all the topsoil is going to end up on the downhill end in short order.  There are already big bare spots in the area closest to the coop where our lazy chickens hang out the most.

Powerline pastureI'm open to suggestions on how to make this pasture sustainable.  The traditional option would be to finish clearing out the trees this fall and then to seed the ground with grasses and clovers.  From my experience in other pastures, I'm pretty sure that would require me to keep chicken feet off the sward for about a year as the pasture plants become established.

In the long run, I'd like the pasture to be more interesting than just grass, so I'm considering terracing the steepest parts.  If I added logs at intervals to produce retaining walls, I have a feeling our flock might create the terraces for me by scratching dirt downhill.  Then I could plant useful shrubs within those terraces, a bit like the Mexican idea of cepas.

Do you have experience grazing chickens on steep hills?  I'm all ears!

Our broilers stay healthy from day 1 with our POOP-free chicken waterer.
Posted early Wednesday morning, July 4th, 2012 Tags:

Heath sent me this fun video of his newly arrived guinea keets, Rouen ducklings, and (to my eye) one baby chicken.  He reports that they learned to drink from our chicken waterer nearly right away.  I replied that he needs to enter our chicken photo contest.  Those baby fowl look like prize winners!

Here are the keets a week later.  Thanks for sharing, Heath!

Posted early Friday morning, July 6th, 2012 Tags:

Chicks on pastureAlthough Joel Salatin doesn't hatch his own chicks, over the years he's noticed that the age of the mother hen has a large impact on the chicks that arrive on his doorstep.  At one extreme, Salatin reports that pullets lay small eggs that produce small chicks.  More chicks from these young mothers tend to die compared to when the eggs come from older hens, and the chicks gain less weight.

Meanwhile, old hens lay huge eggs that produce huge chicks.  While that sounds good on paper, Salatin sees a lot of inconsistency, with quite a few runts mixed into the flock.  When we visited a friend's Salatin-style pasturing operation a year or so ago, I remember she had a few birds that were less than half the size of their siblings and that didn't seem inclined to grow --- now I suspect her chick supplier was trying to eke one more batch of chicks out of old breeding hens.

The good news with chicks from old hens is that fewer chicks die than usual.  On the other hand, even though the majority of the chicks start out on the large size, the average weight of the entire batch is below average (probably because of those runts).

Newly hatched chickWhy do I think this information is important?  If you're buying in chicks, it's handy to know that not all of the problems you see are your own fault.  And if you're home incubating, knowing the signs of an old hen can help you decide when to cull that bird from the breeding flock.

I hope you've enjoyed this peek into Joel Salatin's chicken operation.  If you missed previous posts, check out the links below, and don't forget to read the book!

This post is part of our Pastured Poultry Profits series.  Read all of the entries:

Our chicken waterer keeps our flock well hydrated on pasture.

Posted early Monday morning, July 9th, 2012 Tags:
Chicken nipple waterer

Anti-perch chicken watererOur chicken waterer is POOP-free...where the chickens drink.  But if you're not careful, your birds will perch on top of the waterer and you'll still end up dealing with feces. 

That's why I enjoyed Robert's waterer, which he describes below:

I own a business making water bottles for parrots, the Bird Butler.  I have had chickens for several years and my wife saw your chicken valves on Pinterest.  I ordered 10 nipples and thought that you might be interested in the waterer that I came up with.

It obviously holds 5 plus gallons of water very securely.  The pipe is schedule 40 PVC, but is clear so that you can see the water inside the pipe.  There are also threaded plugs in each end in case you need to clean out the pipe.

The pipe stays level during use, but if a chicken tries to perch on it, due to the pipe being held in the middle with flexible plastic tubing, the entire pipe will tip over, Pipe fittingthrowing the chicken off.

I just wanted to let you know what a great product you have.  It certainly makes chicken raising much cleaner and enjoyable.

Thanks for sharing, Robert!  Your parrot waterers look just as ingenious as your incarnation of our do it yourself kit.

Posted early Wednesday morning, July 11th, 2012 Tags:
Pastured chickens

At the Neuharth Family Farm in Kansas, Carolyn's birds not only enjoy clean water, they also have a a well-thought-out and healthful living situation.  After considering the options, the Neuharths decided that Salatin-style chicken tractors weren't best suited for their farm.  Instead, they follow in Andy Lee and Patricia Foreman's footsteps, allowing their chickens to free range around a stationary coop.

PVC chicken waterer

Carolyn sent me the photos in this post as entries to our chicken waterer photo contest.  As you can see, her broilers get the best of everything, including copious, POOP-free water.  If I lived in Kansas (and didn't grow my own), I'd definitely make an order for some pastured poultry from the Neuharth farm!

Posted early Friday morning, July 13th, 2012 Tags:

Chicken scratching up ryegrassA few weeks ago, I wrote about how drought had made my pasture plants stop growing, so I sent the chickens out to forage in the woods.  Unfortunately, our young rooster hadn't yet bonded to his new home (having been moved there from the broiler coop on the opposite side of the garden only a few weeks before).  So he circled around our perimeter and ended up in the garden, ladies in tow.  Bad chickens!  Back into the pasture!

Since the woods no longer seemed like an option as a summer escape valve, I was forced to admit that I'd be overgrazing at least one paddock until rain showed back up.  Rather than degrading my entire pasture system, I stopped rotating and let the flock scratch the annual ryegrass paddock bare --- I needed to decide what to do with that space now that the cool weather cover crop had mostly stopped growing anyway.

Luckily, rain came just as the last scrap of greenery disappeared down our chickens' gullets, so I was able to rotate them to a newly regrown pasture.  But what to do with the bare ground in the overgrazed pasture?

Planting buckwheat in pastureI remembered how much difference the patches of organic matter in other pastures made during the recent drought, so I decided to pull this pasture out of rotation and spend the rest of the summer rotating it through cover crops.  About fifteen pounds of buckwheat seeds with three bales of straw loosely scattered over it got me started, and I plan to use the method I came up with in the vegetable garden last year to plant back to back buckwheat crops until the time comes to plant oilseed radish.

Planting buckwheat under previously cut cropThe chickens won't be able to graze the buckwheat, but they should be able to nibble on the radishes during the winter, and come spring I'll seed grass and clover into the fertile ground.  Of course, that means I'll have to baby the pasture most of next year while the perennial pasture plants become established, which means the paddock will be out of commission for about eighteen months, but sometimes you have to put up with short-term inconveniences to build the long term health of a homestead.

Our POOP-free chicken waterer (and some wheelbarrowed-in garden weeds) kept the flock healthy while they were cooped up in a small space.
Posted early Monday morning, July 16th, 2012 Tags:
Chickens on pasture
Photo credit: Connor Bruce

Dog watching chickens

Entries continue to pour in for our chicken photo contest.  As those who read the instructions carefully will notice, all winning entries will include shots of our chicken waterer in action, but I couldn't resist sharing some beautiful chicken photos that came with no waterer in the frame.  Maybe next year I'll have a category that these would fit into?

If you'd been meaning to send in photos, this is your last chance!  Don't forget that all entries have to be in by tonight at midnight.

Speckled chickens
Photo credit: Kevin Poteet
Posted early Wednesday morning, July 18th, 2012 Tags:

Chickens in the weedsI recently posted a followup on our experimental trees and shrubs in the chicken pastures, but how about the grasses, clovers, and forbs we've been planting?  After a lot of reading, last fall I decided that I wanted to experiment with planting white and red clover, alfalfa, and Kentucky bluegrass in three different pastures, and I can see the results of my plantings now.  As usual, I made a lot of mistakes, but did have some success.

In the first pasture, I seeded alfalfa, clover, and bluegrass all mixed together, along with oats and Austrian winter peas.  That was a mistake --- the cover crops shaded out the smaller perennial seedlings and I ended up with few living plants once the former died back over the winter.  Note to self: ignore websites that say oats are a good nurse crop for clover, or perhaps toss the clover on top of the rotting oats in late winter so the legumes don't germinate until spring.

Cutting perennial weeds

Next, I set aside part of another pasture to experiment with a pure stand of alfalfa.  Here, the problem was that there were too many perennial weeds still living in the soil, even though the chickens had scratched the surface bare for me.  The perennials grew faster than the alfalfa, and even though I tried to scythe the former without cutting the latter, the patch turned so weedy this summer that my husband mowed it all down.  Note to self: next time, spend a year killing out perennial weeds before planting alfalfa.  (Actually, the pasture I'm currently sending through wave after wave of cover crops should do the trick.)

Young stand of clover

The only successful seeding was a mixture of white clover and Kentucky bluegrass, planted into a third pasture at the beginning of February.  This was the pasture that was wild until late summer, then we cut down the shrubs and let the chickens scratch up the weeds, and finally we planted a cover crop of oats and winter peas along with some Crucifers in the chicken pasturemustard and oilseed radishes.  I scattered the clover and bluegrass seeds onto the bare ground left behind by the winter-killed crucifers, and the perennials have done well (although the grass didn't like the drought).  I've only been letting the chickens graze this pasture a little bit this summer since I don't want them to scratch up the young perennials, but by next year, I hope to have a good stand of chicken-friendly plants there.

My conclusion is that it's entirely possible to start a new pasture using chemical-free, no-till methods, but that there's a lot of trial and error involved.  Luckily, chickens are very resilient and tell me that any pasture is better than no pasture, so my experiments don't seem to have hurt them any.

Our chicken waterer lets you leave home for a long weekend without finding a chicken sitter.
Posted early Friday morning, July 20th, 2012 Tags:
Rooster waterer

Chicken bucket watererThe response to our photo contest was overwhelming, and we wished we could have given out yet more prizes.  This week, I'm going to showcase the winners, along with several runners-up whose entries were too good not to share.

Carolyn Neuharth won first prize in the artistic chickens category --- I wrote about her operation (and posted her photos) previously.  Second place went to Susan Palmer for the closeup at the top of the page, showing her rooster drinking from a simple DIY waterer.

If we had a few more prizes to award in this category, the next one would have gone to Vance Foster, who snapped the elegant shot to the right of his happy chickens.

Homemade chicken waterer

And Tara Sparlin probably would have won a prize for the photo above if it hadn't come in a day late (but definitely not a dollar short!)  That's one healthy-looking chicken.

Chickens in love

I also really enjoyed this entry of Tara's --- those chickens look quite fond of each other.

Next year, we may have to expand the prize selection yet again.  Meanwhile, stay tuned to see the winning photos in the other two categories, which are equally striking.

All of the waterers on this page were made using our DIY chicken waterer kits.
Posted early Monday morning, July 23rd, 2012 Tags:
Guinea keet waterer

Duck watererRemember Heath's video of his guinea keats drinking?  He took some stunning still shots that won first prize in our "Chicks, peacocks, and more" category of the photo contest.  It was hard to decide which we liked best, but we finally settled on the image at the top of this post, with the photo to the left of his ducklings and the one below of his keets as close followers.

Guinea keets

Chick watererSecond prize went to Soosan Kirbawy for this adorable image of a mother hen with her chicks.  Soosan wrote:

"I had no expectation that my chicks would figure this out!  But I'm thrilled, because 'mom' kept scratching dirt etc. into the low chick waterer. Thanks!"

We agree, Tara --- using our chicken waterer makes chick care much more worry-free.  We've also had reports from customers who use our waterers with turkeys, geese, quail, and pigeons.  I'd be curious to hear from readers who have tried out other birds with good results.

Posted early Wednesday morning, July 25th, 2012 Tags:

Easy-fill chicken watererRobert McGowen won first prize in the Ingenious Chicken Waterer category of our photo contest for his no-perch chicken waterer.  Second place went to Renee Corrigan for her modification of our pre-made chicken waterer, which I'll let her describe in her own words:

"I did not want to go in the coop all the time to add water so I came up with this idea . It is very simple but very useful.  I bought some lengths of clear tubing to fit in the pitcher lid.  It goes from the top of the lid out the side of the cage wire into the bottom of a funnel. 

Screened funnel"At first, that was the design but they immediately started getting debris in the pitchers so we added a small piece of screen.  It fits into the tubing and the funnel holds it in place.  The funnel is attached to the cage wire with a small S hook.  All supplies are readily available at a home improvement store for a few dollars. 

"Hope you like my idea!  We love your waterers!"

Funnel-filled waterer

The runners-up in this category need a bit more space, so they'll get posts of their own next week.  So keep reading...and don't forget to keep your camera handy in preparation for next year's contest!

Posted early Friday morning, July 27th, 2012 Tags:

Power PluckerMark and I have used everything from our bare hands (very laborious but free) to a Whiz-Bang chicken plucker (very fast but very expensive) to process poultry.  Lately, Mark's been trying to figure out an option in between the two, exploring pet gloves and a homemade plucker board, both of which speed up processing somewhat without breaking the bank.  So when Eli Bruton offered to send us a Power Plucker to review, I couldn't resist.

The Power Plucker is a drill attachment (corded drills are supposed to work better than cordless, so that's what we used), a bit like the DIY version you can make for $20.  Since the Power Plucker is only $30 with free shipping (and is built to last), it seems like a very good deal.

We've only processed ten birds with the Power Plucker so far, so I suspect we'll continue working the kinks out of the system, but my first reaction is that the device is a great time-saver and does a much better job than the DIY options we'd come up with so far.  No, you won't get a perfectly clean bird like you will in a Whiz-Bang plucker (assuming you're a Whiz-Bang pro --- beginners often have to do a bit of hand-plucking afterwards there too), but I was impressed by how well the Power Plucker took even the pin feathers Two person pluckingoff our well-scalded chickens without tearing the skin at all.  I did go ahead and pull the big wing and tail feathers by hand (which takes seconds), and am slowly learning how to rotate the bird against the plucker to get the best results.

We haven't mounted the plucker yet, which would turn plucking into a one-person job, so Mark simply held the drill on the edge of the porch while I moved the birds around.  Unlike with the Whiz-Bang plucker, there didn't seem to be any need to spray the birds with water while plucking (although they did come wet from their dunking in hot water), but Mark was much happier once he donned safety glasses since his position seemed to get a lot more feather-splatter than mine did.

Power-plucked chickenI suspect our plucked carcasses will get even cleaner as we learn the best way to use the Power Plucker.  That's the one thing I think Eli should add to his website --- a longer video showing the plucker in operation so that our learning curve would go a bit faster.  But I'm thrilled to have been turned onto the product and would recommend it to anyone processing one to a hundred birds a year.  Thanks for sharing, Eli!

Our chicken waterer is the low-work solution to keeping clean water for your flock before they go in the pot.
Posted early Monday morning, July 30th, 2012 Tags:

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