automatic chicken coop door opener
October 4, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Our chickens are very anxious to get out of the coop and roam the yard in the morning. How can I create some sort of mechanism to automatically open the coop door early each morning?

Our chickens roam around our yard during the day. Then come evening time, we lock them in their coop so that they are not vulnerable to night-time predators.

The chickens are very anxious to get out of the coop in the morning and it is obviously a real bummer to them that we do not get up as early as they do. They pace neurotically around the door of the coop, and we are sometimes awakened by their squawks of impatience and displeasure.

How could we let the chickens out of the coop in the morning without having to get up early ourselves? I'm thinking some sort of mechanism with a timer or some sort of mechanism the chickens themselves can trigger? (They might be able to learn a very simple behavior, like to step in a certain spot.)

Here's a picture of our coop door so that you can get an idea of the setup.
posted by scrambles to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm waiting on the results from this Mother Earth News contest for an automatically closing (at dusk) door. I figure something solar powered will be the best bet.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2011

Sounds like an excellent opportunity for a wonky project.

Having owned chickens, I wouldn't particularly trust them to learn to open the door themselves, or to wait until the right time to open the door. Solar-powered solutions are one option, but the simplest timer you can get would be an appliance timer like this one. Set the "start"/"on" time to sunrise, and it will activate whatever mechanism you devise.

Then it's just a matter of devising a mechanism. I notice you have a hook latch on the coop door. If you rigged up a light spring to the door to pull it open- so that when the door is closed, the hook latch is holding it closed against the spring- all your device would need to do is pull that hook upwards, and the door would open itself. Perhaps a small motor mounted to the top of the coop? A relay could operate an electromagnet or other actuator to "unlatch" a device which pulls the hook up.

That's just what I had on the top of my head- does any of that sound feasible?
posted by aaronbeekay at 10:20 AM on October 4, 2011

A balance mechanism with a weight at one side of a fulcrum and an empty container of water on the other. Above the empty container of water there is a second container which acts as a reservoir to fill the one on the balance bar. A small hole in the bottom of the reservoir (or an adjustable tap) allows water to drip from one container to the other through a connecting pipe. After several hours the water container becomes sufficiently full to overcome the counter-balance and move the bar down. The bar is attached to the catch on your coup door by a piece of string and hence its movement unfastens the catch. You could consider having a separate counterweight mechanism which spring loads the door slightly causing it to open when the catch is lifted. In the evening swap the empty container below for the full one above.
posted by rongorongo at 10:50 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder if this Automatic Chicken Coop Door is any good.
posted by Ery at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2011

This situation is just BEGGING for a Rube Goldberg machine solution.

Is there a particular time you want the coop door to open? What else happens around that time? For example, if your alarm goes off at 5am, you could set the contraption in motion. If the mailman drops off letters early, the mechanism could be attached to the mailbox. If you trust the chickens to let themselves out, perhaps a food dish could be rigged that, when empty, the door will open.

Whatever you decide, make sure you record it, speed it up to doubletime, add the Benny Hill show music, and post it on YouTube.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2011

Go to amazon and search for "door lock timer". There are tons of options in the $100 range. Check out the slunk DM-100 for example, it opens and shuts the door on a timer or by remote.
posted by fshgrl at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2011

Mark Frauenfelder made a pretty cool automatic chicken door.

There are a few companies manufacturing automatic doors. I've always dreamed of buying the Chicken Butler because it has the best name.

(My personal solution was to buy an alarm clock with two alarms. I get up about 30 minutes before daybreak (when it's still mostly dark) and open their door, then go back to bed. Alarm #2 is for the real wake-up time.

But admittedly this only works because I am the Champion of Getting Back To Sleep.)
posted by ErikaB at 10:59 AM on October 4, 2011

A low tech and low cost solution:

1) Replace the hook of the latch with a loop, to overlap with the loop already there. Now the door will be held shut by a removable pin that drops through both loops.

2) Get an old mechanical alarm clock, and take the bells off the top. You don't actually need to remove the bells, I just expect that you, your chickens and your neighbours really, really want you to.

3) Tie a 30cm length of dowel to the clapper, extending away from the body of the clock.

4) Put the modified alarm clock on top of the coop, on its side and with the clapper/dowel angled downwards. Tie a length of string from the tip of the dowel to the pin that holds the door shut.

5) Wind the clock, set the alarm. Done!

When the alarm goes off, the clapper's movement waves the dowel, which pulls the string to open the latch. The door can now swing open, possibly aided by an elastic cord, angled hinge, pair of strong magnets set to repel each other, weight and pulley mechanism, a small plank stood upright and leaning away from the door to create tension in a string, etc.

You might need to play around with the length of the dowel. Shorter will give a stronger pull with less range of movement, longer will increase the range of movement but weaken the pull. 30cm is just a guess really.
posted by metaBugs at 11:54 AM on October 4, 2011

Well, you can do this, but should you? I think you always need to take a look-see of the environment, because you don't know what's lurking or what happened during the night.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want one that ignores time zones and time changes, it needs to be directly rigged up to a solar panel. I'm picturing an electro magnet scavenged off of a maglock door that is attached to a dowel above the exterior side of the opening door. They use only a few watts.

When the sun comes out, the current should increase, pulling the magnets together and the dowel up out of the way.

It may be tricky adjusting the assembly to aim for dawn.
posted by notion at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2011

Hmmm, my chickens like to get out in the morning, but they are pretty content to scratch about with grain I've tossed down on the ground in their coop after they've gone to roost at night. They only start clambering around at the gate when they see me come outside. Of course, I have a hen house and 10x15 coop, but in yours, I would think they'd work up the litter on the floor and be happy.

Or could you put in a small separate one-way swinging hen door that you'd unlatch after they've gone to roost, and they could push against it to open it in the morning? I'd be worried about predators prowling around at the crack of dawn. That's when I've lost chicks to owls and seen coyotes trotting through the yard. Letting my hens out at nine or so seems safest.

I wouldn't have a clue how to go about it, but maybe you could work out something like those foot pedal garbage cans where the lid opens when stepped on?

Sorry, I'm not high-tech when it comes to my chickens.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:12 PM on October 4, 2011

It seems you could simply buy one of the pre made solutions already mentioned, but there are more fun things you could do. Do you have automatic sprinklers? We have a sprinkler controller with 12 channels on it, and we only use three of them. It would be easy to connect an extra channel to a motor that runs for 1 minute in the morning to open a door.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:09 PM on October 4, 2011

These are awesome ideas! Keep them coming. I had no idea there were so many products already for sale on the market. Those are a bit out of our price range though so we'll probably try one of the do-it-yourself ideas first. Thanks everyone!
posted by scrambles at 5:13 PM on October 4, 2011

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