I spent 10 years in NATO assignments, so I’m pretty acquainted with the challenges of trying to accommodate seemingly incompatible desires. Hey, if I could somehow deal diplomatically with both sides of the Aegean Sea dispute between Turkey and Greece, I should be able to figure out a farm, right?
OK, we’re not talking international incidents, but our chickens did provide us with a challenge, caused (as most challenges are) by competing agendas:
1. We want to raise our chickens in a natural, free-range environment (for all of these reasons)
2. We want our chickens to feed us, not the local predators, and
3. We want to be able to leave the house every once and a while and not have to chase the chickens inside before we leave, or wonder if we remembered to close the door for the night, or have to rush back home to close the door before the raccoons, possums, and skunks start prowling.
As I’ve said before, I’m a gadget guy, and we tend to accumulate gadgets that don’t necessarily save time or effort. However, every once in a while, I do find a gadget that does some good. In this case, it was a gadget that met all those agendas… an automatic chicken coop door.
I’d heard of them before – pretty cool gadgets that open the door in the morning to let the birds out, then shut in the evening when they’re roosted to keep them safe for the night. I put on my Google-Fu gameface and went to work. Sure enough, I found all types of doors available… simple to complex, hinged doors, vertical sliders, horizontal sliders…
… and they started at about $200 shipped, and went up almost to $400. Ouch.
Undeterred, I added “DIY” to the start of my search string. And boy did I find some great designs.
One had an electronic schematic involving diodes, transistors, limiting switches, solar panels, and a flux capacitor.
I’m a pilot, not an engineer, and I couldn’t afford the Mr Fusion required to run the sun-following solar panel positioner.
The next one used an old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock. No kidding.
Simple, promising, but it lacked bling, and I worried about Homeland Security knocking on my door.
Here’s one that uses a power door lock actuator to drop the door closed.
Getting warmer, and the “no raccoons” sign was a big plus.. But I wanted one that would open the door also.
Finally, I found one done by the same guy that used a car antenna motor, a lamp timer, and a couple transformers. Simple and straightforward, and made a cool electric motor noise when it operated. It wasn’t the kind of status I could get by installing the Cheyenne Mountain blast doors, or the Star Trek elevators with their “swish-swish,” but pretty cool nonetheless.
Now this one used diodes also, but I figured I could bypass that nifty-keen aspect and replace the light-sensitive timer with a manual lamp timer. Winner, winner, chicken dinner (for me, not the foxes).
So, I started shopping around for the components. Holy diminishing returns, Batman! We were up past $100 again.
Enter the wonderful folks at www.backyardchickens.com, who not only have simple, step-by-step instructions for how to make this, but also tell you how to get the materials for about $50 total.
I ended up saving even a few more $$ when I realized aftermarket Wii controllers are 12v, 3.7A (plenty to run the motor) and were on sale from Amazon for $4 each (and free shipping with the antenna motor)!
Once the parts came in, I essentially followed the instructions and put my door together. One thing I changed was to use a clear Lexan panel for the door (again, because I found one for cheap).
Worked like a charm… a few mods to make it open and close smoothly and we were in business.
Except the chickens wouldn’t use the door.
Seems they tried to go out while the door was closed, through the crystal-clear Lexan, and bumped their beaks one too many times. Evidently, they decided that just because a cool noise went off, and it looked like the door had moved, they weren’t going to get tricked by the invisible Lexan forcefield again.
Easy fix – I covered the Lexan with spraypaint (now that I think about it, I should’ve used a “No Raccoons” picture), opened the door, and pushed the chickens out by hand. By the next day, they’d figured it out.
Everything was now working great. The door opened in the morning. Chickens filed out and started reducing our tick population. In the evening, they filed back in to the roost. The door closed. Everyone was safe. We got to stay out late keeping Tractor Supply and Home Depot in business. Life was good.
Then we got goats. Within 24 hours, both of them (these are pretty dang big goats, mind you) had squeezed through the 8.5” x 11” opening to get to the chicken feed, shattering the Lexan door in the process.
However, that’s another story for another day.