12.31.2011

Project: Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener (ongoing)

Spouse writes:

Getting up to “manage” the animals is a time-honored, if sleep-interrupting tradition. The usual time for this is the crack of dawn. Unfortunately our sleep habits make this too #$%^ early. The animals disagree but I firmly believe that if our animals had a snooze button they would be getting up at a civilized afternoon hour like the rest of us.

Letting the chickens out of the coop is the priority, since they fuss about knowing that the lazy geese and ducks are eating up nature's bounty that must have sprung up overnight while they were locked in their cell. In order to free them from their sleeping quarters (and allow me to stay in mine) I have tried several methods of automating the chicken coop door. The first was a process control system that was cool but expensive and rejected after an expensive part failed.

The cheaper alternative we used for several months was based on an inexpensive power screw driver and an outdoor timer. I modeled it on the one shown here. The screwdriver displayed is no longer available and I had to adapt it to the cheapest cordless screwdriver Harbor Freight had available. This solution worked well but would commit suicide unless we kept the area under the door free of debris. The chickens seem to sense this and deposited as much “debris” as possible. It would take a couple of hours to remove the burned-out relay and solder in another.

Finally I read about the drapery motor. Yup - d.a. re-decorated the coop with roman shades… uh no. There is a drapery motor that will run one way and then the other as power is applied. It is a little pricey but I was tired of inhaling solder fumes and it was worth a try. It worked great all summer, but when it got cold the rubber wheel that the rope travels on started to slip. I tried fixing it with a thinner, rougher twine. This worked for a few days until the twine got wrapped up in the roller and the motor fried itself. The replacement twine was too thin.

We ordered another motor. I changed the design to include some pulleys and a counterweight so the motor wasn’t doing all the hard work. The result is shown below. I have since added a sheet metal cover to keep the chickens from bombing the drapery motor with more “debris”.

Picture of mechanism:



Picture of timer.



Flash movie of the door in action:

4 comments:

  1. I LOVE it! That is seriously the most amazing thing ever. I am lucky in that I don't need to open and close my coop each day (I use the Eglu), but if I did, I would be looking for any way possible to teach the chickens to do it themselves.

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  2. @Kara - thanks! Spouse is really crafty with soldering irons and putting things together to make other interesting things.

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  3. Okay lets put our thinking caps on....
    This is a great idea; congrats! It looks super.
    But what if the power dies?

    So.... how can we make a door opener that will operate even without electric power? Falling weights could raise the door. Or a heavy metal door could be made to drop of it's own weight and open the pop hole. But what releases it, without electric power?

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    Replies
    1. Hi @david, thanks for stopping by! In answer to your constructive musings, the timer has a built-in battery backup for the fairly frequent power blips we encounter. We also have a solar option if need be - there's enough pieces and parts around here to make another solar/battery/power unit. Then there's the backup solar option - at this point, I'm so used to getting up early that I wake up whenever the light in the sky changes :-).

      We do alot of things with solar energy around the property - gates, electric fence, and the like. Hope to look into bigger solar & wind options in the near future.

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