In some strange manner it intrigues me when I have a problem with poultry keeping and in doing random research find the same problem discussed a hundred years or more ago. Such was the case with chicken waterers. We try to use the type in which the container is filled while upside down, the base affixed, then the waterer flipped so that the water trickles out into the base as needed. It works well usually although I confess to less than 100% comprehension of the principle by which it works even after Dear Husband has explained it multiple times, but it does not work well in a small confined space.
The problem with this system is that in a small space a hen with young chicks fills the base with dirt. In her never-ending scratching the hen plows through the sandy earth flinging the soil behind into the base of the waterer and in short order the whole contraption is completely and hopelessly clogged with no access to water.
Someone identifying himself as “Cock of the Walk”, did a review of this type waterer in 1873 and described exactly the same issue. He concluded with, “Now sir, you will excuse this long tirade when I say that my object is to request some of your correspondents to inform me if I have proved myself incapable “to run the machine,” and that he will inform me if there is to be found anything better and more efficiently adapted to the purpose of supplying water for chickens in coops.” While this gentleman’s waterer was made of crockery and ours is plastic the principle is the same, and no, dear sir, all these years later we are still plagued with this inadequacy.
Just as today poultry keepers were always searching for a better waterer and as often as not they fashioned one from materials found about the home place just as we do. “I have about a peck of good fresh sugar-trough gourd seed that I dislike to destroy. If any one will send a two-cent stamp for mailing a package I will send some seeds free. The gourds are large, convenient, and useful. They make cheap and excellent troughs for watering chickens. . .”. I suspect gourds have served as drinking vessels for countless generations.
Prior to the second half of the Victorian era one of the best sources of information is early Dutch paintings. Many of the paintings feature a natural water source – a spring, small creek, pond, etc. – which leads me to believe in those days prior to modern plumbing such sources may have been so common poultry simply drank from the stream or pond. The closest thing I’ve found to a waterer from the 18th century or earlier is a shallow redware dish in a few of the paintings.
My usual closing, “Blissful Meals”, isn’t especially appropriate but I’ll say it anyway. I hope you enjoyed the piece.
Bib: Poultry World. Aug. 1881; Gleanings in Bee Culture. April 1, 1893.