Chicken Coop Mechanical Engineering
August 22, 2013 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I will be building a custom chicken coop in the next few months and (being a tech person) would like to get very fancy with the features I install. I have a few features I need help sourcing the parts on and would like input. Help me make a fantastic chicken coop. (I primarily need suggestions for the electrical parts I can use, Motors, remote controls, etc)

All the prep and planning of becoming a chicken owner is done and I am in the planning stages of the coop itself. We will have electricity (and data cables if need be) run to the coop so now I just need the hardware. I have a few features that I know I want:

A Webcam to monitor for predators/track movement.(This one I have taken care of. I have a wireless webcam and the coop design we are looking at mimicking has one in it). But if anyone has any suggestions or recommendations that would be fanastic.

2.Motorized Door: the first
I would like to motorize the door that leads from the roost to interior of the coop. My principle plan is that I would have my PC as the input to allow me to remotely open/close the door from the house. This door is a simple sliding door that goes up, generally on a string attached to a pulley system. Some people have theirs set up on an automatic timer, but do some unique constraints, I would like to have manual, but remote control over this door. So I basically just need a remote controlled motor that can talk to a PC.

3. Motorized Door Part 2: First Blood
Similar to the above I would like the same thing for the door going from the coop to the exterior run. Something that would allow me to move a latch/pulley the door closed. This isn't as critical as we will be using that door when we are going out there already or when we are home. However if it is easy enough to do I wouldn't mind.

4. A thermostat
I want to monitor the temperature in the coop itself. This is easy enough to do with a cheap thermostat, and I've seen quite a few coop designs that do it. Here is where I go all snowflakey. Is there a cheap way to have a temperature monitoring device automatically report back to my computer and leave a log of the temperature at certain times of the day? I am aware of the Nest thermostat (and really really really really want one for my actual home) but they are a wee bit more than I want to spend. Cheap alternatives or ideas are very welcome. (Once I have something that will report back, I am savvy enough to go from there as far as alerts go, I just need hardware ideas.)

And finally:

Open Forum.
Any suggestions of other neat/helpful things I could add to the coop for comfort of the ladies and ease of care are GREATLY appreciated.
posted by Twain Device to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I was eyeballing this arduino-based automatic coop door design for awhile, but we ended up putting our coop and run in an area without any power nearby. Other designs I've seen use a recycled automobile antenna motor. I'd troll around on the backyardchickens website too.

We're giving the deep litter method a try, which means having an easy way to sweep all of the litter out en masse, so our coop design includes a large low door that extends the entire short-end of the coop. Open it up and push all the litter straight out onto a tarp, drag to garden area.

For a waterer, I'd skip the inverted-can ones. I bought a couple of those at Tractor Supply and will probably replace them shortly with something like this connected to a 5 gallon bucket outside the coop.
posted by jquinby at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2013

If you want to get extremely DIY you could run the motors off a raspberry pi and then have it running a web server for remote control. You can also get temperature sensors cheaply - I've gone as far as getting a temp/humidity sensor working but I haven't built a proper enclosure yet to deploy it in the chicken coop.

For something cheaper, a standard indoor/outdoor thermometer could probably be hooked up to a PC somehow.
posted by GuyZero at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2013

Oh - something else. One thing I've learned in these first couple of months is that the inside of the coop gets fairly grody - pine shavings, chicken feed, guano (of course), feathers, flies and cobwebs all over the place near the ceiling. It's a bit messier than I originally thought, and I've had pet birds before.
posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ohhh thats a good point. I do own a Raspberry pi, so that is certainly usable for this.
posted by Twain Device at 8:02 AM on August 22, 2013

As far as running motors and doing remote control and logging temperature and the like I think the best thing to do would be to roll your own using a raspberry pi and also possibly using an AirPi kit which includes all of the sensors and logging software you would need. I think it would log to their webserver, but I bet you could change the code (freely available and open source) to log anywhere. You could also use the camera board as an additional webcam if you wanted to monitor the inside. What about putting a RFID tag on each chicken and closing the door once every chicken is inside for the night?
posted by koolkat at 8:03 AM on August 22, 2013

Response by poster: Yes koolkat, I'm glad you mention that. I do want to RFID each chicken (initially for monitoring their movements. FOR SCIENCE)
posted by Twain Device at 8:05 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might use a automotive power window regulator as a door operator
posted by Raybun at 8:07 AM on August 22, 2013

koolkat: "What about putting a RFID tag on each chicken and closing the door once every chicken is inside for the night?"

You'd need a failsafe in the event you lose a chicken to a dog or fox, or the coop would remain open all night. :(

Most of the automatic doors I've seen close so-much-time after dark, by which time the flock should all be roosting within.
posted by jquinby at 8:07 AM on August 22, 2013

A Webcam to monitor for predators

This isn't going to work. Most predators show up at night, and unless you have a night vision or infrared webcam, they're not going to show up on the camera. And you won't be looking anyway, since you'll be asleep. Even if you have such a camera, you need some sort of motion detector to wake you when it sees something moving around the coop at night if you want this to be helpful. And even then, you have a good chance of being too late. Chickens will actually wake you all by themselves when they're attacked, but by then you've probably already lost a chicken.

After my experience with this, I found that the thing that worked best for protecting my chickens was a roof over their enclosure. They have a 12'x15' run with a 4'x3' coop inside. I leave the door on the coop open since "nothing can get in the run" and it lets them in and out easily. The "nothing can get in the run" part was clearly less true than I thought before adding the roof, but since then it seems fine.

My backup predator solution is a shotgun. No I'm not kidding. When you run outside to a horrible chicken screaming noise in your pajamas at 3:30 in the morning to find one of your chickens gasping on the ground and a raccoon staring at you like "What? You'd better not take my chicken." You're going to have the thought cross your mind, "Well, what will I do with this raccoon if he gets back in here?"

Luckily for that particular raccoon, he never figured out how to circumvent the roof.

I have also seen a Cooper's hawk dive on the neighbor's dove coop. Even if you saw this on the camera, your bird would be dead before you could get up from your seat. All you'll be able to do is chase the hawk away from it's meal.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:27 AM on August 22, 2013

Response by poster: The webcam I have has nightvision and motion detection. I've actually tested it (after we got broken into) and it works extremely well. I set it up to email me when it detects motion and my future plan is that I will have a specific email inbox for it that will give me a very loud alert that will wake me up. This is mainly for night predators, and to monitor if they can get into the enclosed run. It will take even a raccoon a minute or two to breach the roost area from the internal run, as it will have multiple safeguards to prevent just that.

However, yes the camera won't do much about birds, but that's a separate issue I suppose.
posted by Twain Device at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2013

FWIW this is the temp sensor I used.

The AirPi is fancier and maybe easier to handle, but it wasn't out a few months ago.

Anyway, the simple temp sensor is easy to wire up and it was a few lines of python to read the current temp.
posted by GuyZero at 9:22 AM on August 22, 2013

Sounds like an awesome coop! Since you seem open to the science (read potentially gross but really fascinating) aspect of chicken keeping, may I suggest setting up a Black Soldier Fly bucket. Its sort of like composting, oddly addictive and hugely satisfying.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:52 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have the coop light sensor electronic door from Foy's Pigeon Supply. It is FABULOUS. Seems like it wouldn't be difficult to mod it for remote use.

In other thoughts. How would you like to do this SCIENCE in a multisite trial? I would be open to becoming a site - the sponsor would have to set up the equipment, but I am totally down with maintaining records and such for the opportunity.

Also, seconding the keeping of black soldier flies.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:05 AM on August 22, 2013

Also, I would add that a remote controlled fan and mister for hot days, depending on where you are and/or a heating supply for the water (again, dependent on location) would be a nice touch for the girls.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:07 AM on August 22, 2013

Prepare for all your electronics to be destroyed by ammonia. I've never actually installed electronic gadgets in a chicken coop, so perhaps I'm overstating the effect, but I expect they won't fare well.
posted by ryanrs at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a remote thermometer in my coop - install it securely on a wall and it will be more-or-less OK.
posted by GuyZero at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2013

Prepare for all your electronics to be destroyed by ammonia. I've never actually installed electronic gadgets in a chicken coop, so perhaps I'm overstating the effect, but I expect they won't fare well.

Seconding this. Exposure to elements/dust/dirt/poo/feathers will take a toll. If you haven't been in a coop before I'd suggest you make an effort to visit one or two before you finalize your plans. I'm not trying to discourage you, just be aware of what it is that you're facing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:38 AM on August 22, 2013

Re: open forum.

Depending on the size of your property and the # of chicken, a mobile (on wheels) coop helps to keep grass green.

I'd add an automatic feeder that holds feed for 3 or 4 days (same with water) so they are taken care of when you want to get away over the weekend. The light sensor electronic door Sophie1 mentioned helps for getaways as well.

A poop tray that can be pulled out and cleaned off from the outside is great.

Windows that bring in light and allow for cross ventilation are good as well.

Insulation will depend on your area, but the better insulated the better for the chicken (cooler in summer/warmer in winter).
posted by travelwithcats at 3:07 PM on August 22, 2013

Instead of the e-mail alert, you could use Twilio to sms/call your phone directly.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 6:16 PM on August 22, 2013

I have a twine in my coop for monitoring temp, and it's great. It can do orientation and vibration sensing, too, so I'm thinking about rigging it to show door state. you can also get add-on sensors and an interface for arduino. It's small and fairly rugged. Needs to be in wifi range, obvs.

Your project sounds great. Would you have a link for the design you're working from?
posted by Mngo at 9:18 AM on August 23, 2013

You might find this site interesting: - they have a few webcams for the chickens and goats, and she talks about what kinds and so forth.
posted by lemniskate at 11:57 AM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: Mngo, This is the coop design we are working from. We will probably make some minor modifications, but I have a few very handy handymen in the family that will be able to assist.
posted by Twain Device at 8:28 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's a nice design! Just moved our birds into the new bigger coop and we're going to have to re-learn where to lay (it's kind of passive-aggressive to lay an egg right out in the open in the center of the run, don't you think?). Anyway, that made me think that it would be ultra-geeky to have an IR beam running across your nest boxes so when a chicken goes in to lay it would signal you (or release a chicken treat, or something).
posted by Mngo at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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