If your poultry nipples are not working as expected, the root cause can easily be narrowed down and fixed.
Table of Contents
Is it a Columbus Aqua?
First, verify the nipples are made by Columbus Aqua. Columbus Aqua is the original manufacturer of the side mount/ horizontal chicken nipple. The nipples were designed for European mink farmers, and Columbus Aqua produces their product in Denmark with premium stainless steel and food grade HDPE plastic. Because these nipples have been on the market for many years, their quality has proven itself time and again. You can look for the Columbus Aqua mark on the back of the nipples.
Recently (in 2017) duplicates have entered the market. These look a-likes are made in China, and composed of inexpensive materials. The plastic is brittle, the springs are weaker and the pins are not the same grade of stainless steel as the Columbus Aqua product. There have been numerous reports of the duplicate chicken water nipples leaking or falling apart. The pins and springs can be a choking hazard to your birds. Because of the many issues with the foreign copies and for the safety of your animals, we only recommend the use of Columbus Aqua nipples (available here). Further, this troubleshooting guide may not work for you if you have another brand.
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This guide can also help those that purchase a premade nipple bucket (like those at Tractor Supply or Big R), and those that use poultry cups. However because the premade buckets do not use the Columbus Aqua nipples and the cups are filled with their own set of problems, this may not solve problems you may be experiencing with them.
Now, let’s get started!
Below is a quick guide with common problems and solutions. More detailed information can be found by scrolling down.
|Problem||Cause & Solution|
|NO WATER COMING FROM NIPPLES||Vapor lock (drill hole in lid)|
Birds are too young and can’t press pin (try again in a week)
Wrong height (adjust nipples to shoulder height so birds can press pin easier)
Not Columbus Aqua brand (other brands have stiff springs that are hard to press)
Check water level (is there water in the container?)
Check for clogs (especially if using a rain catch system)
|WATER LEAKING FROM THREADS OR CONTAINER||Container is too thin (use a thicker plastic like a bucket)|
Hole drilled is too big (use 11/23″ or 3/8″ drill bit)
Hole is cracked (either the nipple was screwed in flush stretching/cracking the container, or the container plastic was weak. Thread tape or silicon may work, but usually the container needs replaced)
Screw nipple in further (nipple should be screwed in 80%. Less could cause leaking)
|DRIP OR LEAK FROM PIN||Normal (some dripping is normal when the birds drink)|
O-ring not seated (press pin to reseat or look inside the container to see if something is stuck in the o ring)
Broken or missing o-ring (unscrew nipple or check inside the container. If o-ring is damaged or missing, contact us for a replacement)
Not Columbus Aqua (other brands are prone to leaking)
|NIPPLES POP OUT FROM PVC||Holes must be tapped (PVC holes need threaded for nipples to grip onto)|
|BIRDS ARE NOT USING NIPPLES||Birds are too young and can’t press pin (try again in a week)|
Remove old waterer (birds will not want to use a new waterer with the original one present)
Train Birds to use nipples (see our Training Guide)
Vapor lock (drill hole in lid)
Mark water line on container and observe (often birds are drinking fine)
|BIRDS SEEM THIRSTY||Press pin with finger and confirm nipples are working|
Check water (is the container empty?)
Mark water line on container and observe (often birds are drinking fine)
Note: many customers worry because chickens will rush to puddles or similar to drink. However this is normal behavior, just as they rush to treats even when well fed. As long as nipples are function properly (test by pressing the pin with your finger) and you observe the water line dropping, the birds will be ok
Nipple Does Not Release Water When Pin Is Pressed
Check vent hole
The second most common complaint we hear is that the nipples aren’t releasing water when the pin is pressed.
99.9% of the time this is because the vent holes are clogged, or were never drilled. Clogged or missing vent holes results in the container vapor locking, essentially creating a vacuum, and no water can be released.
Every time the bucket is cleaned, give the vent hole a quick check. Our buckets have either a large hole (big enough to fit the plug for the submersible heater), or multiple vent holes. I like to have multiple holes in case one gets clogged. The bigger the vent hole the less likely it will clog, however it could allow more dirt to get into the bucket. I like ⅜”, as they are too big to clog but too small to let much dirt into our nipple bucket.
If you do not have a vent hole in your nipple reservoir, you’ll need to add one. See our Installation Guide.
CHECK THE WATER LEVEL
Look inside of the bucket. Is the water level above the nipple? If not, fill the bucket and try again.
CHECK FOR NIPPLE CLOGS
Since the nipples do not mount to the bottom of the bucket like the vertical nipples do, clogs are very unlikely. However if you have a rain catch system that fills the nipple bucket, it is possible debris could have clogged the nipple. Clean the container and refill with fresh water, and check nipple again.
Bucket Is Leaking Around The Nipple
There are two main reasons the bucket is leaking around or at the base of the nipple.
BUCKET IS CRACKED
Over years of being outside, it is not uncommon to find the bucket has cracked near the hole that was drilled for the nipple.
Due to being in the sunlight, freezing, heat and cold, cracks may form. If the nipples are screwed in too far the bucket will also crack.
In some cases the cracks can be sealed with aquarium grade silicone or plastic welded. If using a 5 gallon bucket, it is usually easier to simply replace the bucket.
HOLE IS TOO BIG OR THREADS ARE LEAKING
If the hole in the bucket was drilled too large, or your container is thick walled (ie 55 gallon bucket or pvc) or thin walled (ie milk jug or 2-liter bottle), it can also leak.
If you have a thick walled container, it should be tapped (see installation). Try wrapping the threads in Teflon tape and see if the leaking stops.
Thin plastic does not work well with the nipples, and should be replaced with something like a 5 gallon bucket.
If the hole was drilled too big, or the nipple was screwed in all the way and expanded the hole, it is usually best to replace the container and start over.
PVC holes need to be tapped or the nipples will pop out or leak.
Chicken Nipples Are Leaking Or Dripping
Normal with use
When the birds use the nipples, sometimes more water is released than the bird can drink. The nipples are also self-draining (no water is stored in the barrel). This can result in a small amount of water dripping after or between use. There should not be more than a few drips. However, if birds are using the nipples often, and the nipple leaves a few drips between birds, this can add up to a small puddle under the waterer.
When the nipple pin is pressed, the o-ring is moved out from the groove in the barrel (the threaded part), allowing water into the nipple. When the hen stops drinking, the o-ring seals the barrel stopping water flow.
The barrel is tapered and self draining. So, when the bird stops drinking, there will be about 3-5 drops of water as the barrel empties. This keeps the barrel clean, but also is why they don’t freeze- they don’t hold water.
Keep in mind there are 3-5 drops after EVERY TIME the pin is pressed. When each bird presses the pin several times, and birds are regularly drinking from them, these drops can add up to small puddles.
Also, some birds are messier drinkers and not able to drink all of the water that is released from the nipple, while others keep the pin pressed and the water flowing while they drink.
The main thing to look for is dripping between birds drinking. After a bird drinks and the barrel self drains the 3-5 drops, is there any further dripping? Dripping when not in use in indicative of a faulty nipple
If you find the chicken water nipples leaking or dripping excessively, there may have been damage to the O-ring, or debris caught between the O-ring and barrel.
First, check to make sure the O-ring is present, undamaged, and sitting in the groove on the pin.
If the O-ring is normal, look to see if there is any debris caught between the O-ring and barrel. You may unscrew the nipple and rinse it under running water while pressing the pin.
If the water inside of the bucket is clean you can leave the nipple in place and press the pin, allowing water to run through and flush out the nipple.
If the nipple continues to leak, please contact us for troubleshooting and our Lifetime Leak Free Guarantee.
My Birds Won’t Drink From The Nipples
This is a commonly reported problem, and one that has several answers.
ARE YOUR BIRDS OLD ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO PRESS THE PIN?
For chickens, we recommend using these for birds 2+ weeks old, although many have told me they use them with younger birds. Quail, bantam chickens, pheasants and other birds may need to be older (closer to 1 month) before they are physically able to press the pin
HAVE YOU SUCCESSFULLY TRAINED THE BIRDS TO USE THE NIPPLES?
See our training guide for more on training your birds
HAVE ALL OTHER WATER SOURCES BEEN REMOVED?
When training birds to use the nipples, they will always resort to their original water source.
It is imperative to remove ALL water sources except for the nipple container. If all other sources are not removed, the birds may not use the nipples.
If you live in a hot climate, work to teach the birds how to use the nipples for a few hours following the training guide. After a few hours, if you do not feel the birds have an understanding of the nipples, you may give them their original waterer back. You may choose to leave both waterers between training sessions. Repeat this process over the next few days.
We have been using the nipples for many years, and have never had to spend more than an hour with any of our flocks. The birds will often take to them very quickly.
If you are unsure whether or not the birds are using the nipples, monitor the water level.
HAVE YOU MONITORED THE WATER LEVEL?
In traditional founts, there is a lot of water loss due to evaporation and spillage.
When transitioning to nipples, you will not have to fill water containers as often, which could lead to concerns about your birds water intake.
Try marking the waterline and recheck in several hours. The water line should be down slightly and birds very well may be drinking from the nipples after all. Rechecking too soon may not show a noticeable drop in water, especially if nipples are on a 5 gallon bucket and you only have a few birds.
My Birds Rush To Puddles Or Seem Thirsty
Many people worry that their chickens are not receiving enough water from the poultry nipples, as the birds will run to a puddle or other water source and drink.
Rest assured, this is a “chicken thing”. We have used exclusively the side mount nipples for years with our mixed flock. Our summertime temperatures are in the 100’s on a regular basis, and we have NEVER lost a bird to dehydration.
This activity is similar to a well fed chicken excitedly running over for a handful of treats. The chicken is not hungry, it probably has access to food all day. But, they still enjoy the treats and will gobble them up.
Just because a chicken drinks out of an alternate water source does not mean the birds is dehydrated. If you are using the poultry nipples and you’ve confirmed water comes out of them, your birds are certainly getting more than enough water.
If you are still concerned that your birds are not drinking, consider marking the water line and checking it in several hours.
Nipples Froze And No Water Comes Out
The Columbus Aqua nipples themselves are unable to freeze, as they do not hold any water inside (like the vertical nipples do). However, if the water inside of the bucket freezes with even a thin layer of ice, the birds may not be able to press the pin to release water.
Depending on your winters, there are a number of simple fixes available.
ADD A BUCKET HEATER IN THE WINTER
We add bucket heaters in the winter. All of our runs have one or two 5 gallon nipple bucket waterers.
I don’t like trouncing around in the snow to break ice, so with a bucket heater all I need to do is clean and fill them once a week. For this to work, heaters must be submersible. We use these and these ones. If you have extremely cold winters or larger containers (ie 55 gallon drum), you’ll need higher wattage heaters.
In order to help save on water heating costs, we utilize a Thermocube. This brilliant invention is a thermostatically controlled switch. It turns the bucket heaters on at 35 degrees, and off at 45 degrees. The Thermocubes are very inexpensive and save us a ton every winter!
BRING BUCKET INSIDE AT NIGHT
Chickens do not drink water at night, so one simple way to keep their water from freezing is to bring it inside in the evening and take it back out in the morning. This will also help keep rodents out of the run!
PAINT IT BLACK
If you live in warmer climates, consider using black containers or paining the nipple bucket black. This will allow the winter sun to thaw any thin layers of ice that may have formed overnight.
WATER IN THE NIPPLE CUP FROZE
Although this does not happen often, I have heard of the water in the cup below the pin freezing. An easy solution would be placing a block under the bucket so the nipples are at an angle, allowing residual water in the cup to pour out. You could also drill a small hole in the catch cup for the water to drain.
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Do chickens get enough water from nipples?
Many people worry that their chickens are not receiving enough water from the poultry nipples, as the birds will run to a puddle or other water source and drink. Rest assured, this is a “chicken thing”. We have used exclusively the side mount nipples for years with our mixed flock. Our summertime temperatures are in the 100’s on a regular basis, and we have NEVER lost a bird to dehydration.