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Choosing The Best Chicken Waterer: Cups vs. Nipples

June 17, 2021

Poultry Waterer Cups vs. Nipples


Firstly we would like to say that chicken waterers that use cups or nipples of any style beat the pants off the traditional open, bottom-sourcing Lixit style poultry waterers. That is because the stored water is contained in the closed bucket and and is not exposed to the outside messy world of chicken-land. It is simply more hygenic: keeping algea growth way down, and separating food, poop, bedding and other debris from where the water is stored.

So which one is right for you and your birds, cups or nipples? Well, first lets review what the choices are and then we'll get to the pros and cons of each option.

There are two styles of poultry drinker cups: auto-filling cups and pecking cups.

  1. Auto-filling cups are easy for both people and chickens to understand. They are small cups with a valve that opens when the water-level in the cup is reduced so that the cups always have water in them, ready for drinking. No training of chickens is needed: they see the water, they drink it, it fills back up.
  2. Pecking cups are a bit confusing to a newbie because the cup portion is not really used much. There is a large paddle that the chicken pecks at which, while depressed, opens a valve to let water trickle out along the paddle. Most pecking cups don't let out much water per peck, so birds tend to drink right from the paddle as it comes out, rather than wait for it to flow into the cup and then drink it. So why have the cup you might ask? Well, it is kindof superfluous except that it does tend to help with training. A chick or hen can be more easily shown that it is a source for water by manually pre-filling the cups so they naturally start to peck/drink at the cups. As they do this, they tend to knock into the big paddle and discover that this causes more water to flow.

There are also two styles of nipples:

  1. Vertical nipples are just that, they hang vertically from the bottom of the waterer. Chickens peck at a very small stainless steel flange that, when pushed to the side, opens the seal to allow water to flow out. The chickens learn to peck at it with their mouths open enough to let the water flow in.
  2. Horizontal nipples have a plastic casing around a small stainless steel flange (pretty similar to the ones used with vertical nipples). The casing has a small lip that allows a little mouthful of water to collect as the flange is pecked. 

Our list of pros and cons for poultry waterer nipples and cups -- we bet there is at least a point or two you might not have considered...

Pros of chicken waterer nipples.

  1. Nipples are the cleanest option. No debris from the chickens, beit poop, food, or bedding will contaminate the water that the chickens will drink. As a result, there is very little cleaning needed if you get a waterer that has a good lid. 
  2. Waterers with horizontal nipples do not have to be hung up, if you choose, they can be set ontop of something. This makes it easier to re-fill them and to wash them because you do not have to suspend them with one hand while holding the hose with the other.
  3. Horizontal nipples tend not to freeze up in cold weather. As long as your water is not yet frozen, your horizontal nipple is probably still going to work fine. Wheareas both vertical nipples and cups tend to freeze earlier on.
  4. It's easy to set your waterer on a poultry heating pan nipples will not get in the way, whereas cups often drop below the bottom level of the can and make it trickier to rest them on something.

Cons of chicken waterer nipples. 

  1. It's more challenging to teach a chicken to use a nipple than to use a cup. But, just how much more challenging is it? See our discussion below.
  2. Nipples sometimes leak. If some dirt or debris gets into the nipple or if a washer or part of the flange gets offset the valve can be stuck open and water in the can all leak out. This is a concern for the chickens if they only have one waterer and if they are not checked on very often. Horizontal nipples leak much less often than vertical nipples and in general, once things are set up and working properly with nipple waterers they are fine for the duration. But we alway tell our customers to check the waterer out carefully each time it is filledto be sure nothing is leaking, regardless of whether they use nipples or cups.
  3. Vertical nipples cannot be set down, they must be suspended, because the nipples on the bottom are in the way. This makes it more difficult to fill and to clean.

Pros of chicken waterer auto-filling cups.

  1. Zero training is needed with auto-filling cups. Just drink drink drink...
  2. They are still a huge improvement over traditional open waterers because the water is sealed in the container rather than having the whole can constantly exposed to whatever gunk the chickens kick around.
  3. HERE IS OUR FAVORITE REASON TO KEEP AT LEAST ONE AUTO-FILLING CUP AROUND... YOU CAN HELP THE BEES!!! Bees often drown in standing water but the float valve on these cups offer a wonderful safety ramp for bees to drink and then exit. Here at Love My Barnyard we have a small apiary and we were extactic when we first discovered this benefit of auto-filling poultry waterers!

Cons of chicken waterer auto-filling cups.

  1. Cups collect the poop, food, bedding and outdoor debris, while nipples don't. 
  2. The collected muck is constantly mixing with the water that is drunk.
  3. Standing water is your enemy, it's not as fresh, it grows algea, it gets stinky.
  4. Slimy cups are a pain in the butt. But still, not as much work as having to scrub clean a whole waterer!
  5. The cups hang below the poultry waterer can and thus make it more challenging to set it down when filling or cleaning.

Pros of chicken waterer pecking cups.

  1. Pecking cups are really just enormous nipples. They work the same, but instead of a tiny stainless steel flange, you have a really big paddle for pecking. They do collect debris, but it doesn't really matter much because there is no standing water in the cups.
  2. They can be a tiny bit easier to work with when teaching your chickens to use them than are nipples because you can manually pre-fill them with water to show the chickens that it is a water source. But we at Love My Barnyard think this is a pretty insignificant benefit over nipples.
  3. But Remember, they are still way better than traditional waterers because the water is nicely sealed away in the can and not exposed to the mucky elements that chicken environments produce.

Cons of chicken waterer pecking cups. 

  1. The cups are just a place for stuff to collect, and you do have to clean them out once in a while. However, this is not nearly as much of an issue as it is with auto-filling cups.
  2. Unlike nipple poultry waterers the cups hang below the can and get in the way so you can't easily set the waterer down when filling it or cleaning it. 

So, now, how do you choose if your poultry waterer should have nipples or cups:

If you don't mind the extra mess and you are really not up for any training at all, then the auto-filling cups are surely your best bet. Some people live in super hot places and are especially concerned that their birds will just not extract enough water if it is not from a standing source. Some folks believe that their birds drink more water if it is more easily accessed. In our experience, if we give the birds a choice they do go for the easiest one. Do they actually, drink more? We don't know. Our empircal study on this is not in great depth. But if you live way south, and you do not monitor your birds well being all that frequently, then you might feel safer offering standing water. Another common and sound reason to choose the auto-filling cups is if you have scary chickens that do not like to be handled and you are not on speaking terms. If the task of training them to peck for their water is too daunting, then no worries, you are still way ahead of the game using a sealed container and auto-filling cups. Don't feel bad about this, as some chickens and roosters are truely hard to manage let alone teach. We totally get it!

But, if you are willing to do a little handling with your birds (and most of the time, it is just that, a little handling), then you can teach them. If you hate cleaning scum and you don't like the idea of inviting more algea and standing water to the party, then the choice is between pecking cups and horizontal nipples. (We are not even considering vertical nipples because we see no benefit to them over horizontal nipples, except maybe for a few bucks in cost.)

Here at Love My Barnyard we do sell both pecking cups and nipples even though they are functionally pretty similar. This is because a lot of the world just intuitively believes that cups are easier. In our opinion, the difference is really minimal. We have found that it takes about as much energy to teach them to hit the paddle as it does to hit the nipple flange. The nipples have several good benefits over the pecking cups and they lack the combersomeness of the cups. They are less likely to freeze and they are your ultimate choice in cleanliness.

Curious about how to train your birds to use a poultry nipple waterer? Here is a video where we took our seven week old chicks to the nipples for the first time.

A side note:

We here, at are a bit biased, and so we would say that choosing a food-grade stainless steel waterer, regardless of the nipple vs. cup choice, will give you a significantly easier time of it when it comes to keeping your drinker can clean, compared to the plastic containers most of the world has choosen. This is because 1) plastic tends to let in more light and thus harbor more algea, and 2) plastic is harder to wash than is stainless steel. 

As for cups vs. nipples... we use both. All of our birds are first taught to drink from nipples, but we also keep a few auto-filling cups around to keep our bees happy. These cups are an amazing solution to protecting bees from the treachery of drowning in standing water.


Okay, that's our scoop on nipples and cups!

We totally welcome feedback.

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Love My Hens Nipple Waterer


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