So, for a couple months now, we've been planning to rig the chicken coop so that the hens can let themselves out in the morning, and we finally got it to work! This was the second try- awhile back we had the idea and Matt built a pedal system so that the chickens could unlatch the coop door with their weight. It wasn't until he had it all set up that we realized the gaping hole in our plan: that any raccoon (the primary threat to chickens in these parts) with any sense could reach through the welded wire side of the coop and trigger the thing. Whoops. It was back to the drawing board, as we realized that we would have to rig the door of the henhouse, which is solid wood with no gaps for predator paws. I am terrible at anything involving engineering, but luckily Matt has a great mind for it, and a couple days ago he installed the new system.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
(Matt asks that you pardon the funny expression on his face in this photo). Unfortunately our initial coop design wasn't the most practical for humans, and Matt had to take a section of wire and the roof of the henhouse off to do the job, and as he was stuck in the coop, I brought him tools as he needed them so he wouldn't have to climb out!
Inside the henhouse, the door is latched shut with a gate latch, and the string that opens the latch is attached to a pedal that releases the latch when a chicken stands on it. The door is spring loaded from the outside with a long screen door spring that is attached to the frame of the coop, so it swings all the way open when triggered. (The stick you see across this picture is one of the roosts).
So the hens can let themselves out when it gets light and they wake up, which is when the raccoons go to bed. And the door can't be opened from the outside, at least not without a lot of work. Humans can shut the door easily by pulling a cord that runs from the door across the bottom of the henhouse (under the straw) and out through a tiny hole in the back of the henhouse. And the system really works- the first day, we awoke to lots of squawking as the hens realized they were trapped in the henhouse, something they are really not used to. But as soon as I went outside and called them, they crowded the door and were released! After that, they've been letting themselves out and letting us sleep in peace. Mission accomplished!