Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Chicken-Operated Door!

I wouldn't call our chickens spoiled (we certainly aren't overly attached to them- they squawk so loudly after laying that I'm sure they can be heard several blocks away, at least once a week one manages to escape from the run into the yard, and we tend to swear at them and tell them to shut up a lot. It never works), but they certainly act like it. We take good care of them, they get a nice varied diet, lots of space to roam, and lots of straw and dirt to scratch in. They earn their keep with eggs for our kitchen and manure for our compost, but since they are used to ranging around first the yard, and now their run, they are never content just to stay in their coop, unless it is pouring rain. So, at the crack of dawn every day, they start to crowd the door of their coop and pitch a (very loud) fit until one of us gets out of bed and lets them out. That wasn't so bad right after daylight savings, when it didn't get light until 7:30 AM. But come June, the sun starts to make its appearance around 4 AM, a time of day when we're not enthusiastic (and I'm sure our neighbors would agree) about getting out of bed because half a dozen chickens are squawking loudly and incessantly outside our window.

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!


Kerry Andrus said...

I love your chicken door! I've been looking for a way to rig the door without running electricity to the coop. Would you be able to shed a little more light on the entire set-up?
I'd love to see how the door works from the outside.
Also, what if you're chickens are little bird brains and can't figure out how to open the door? Can you open it from the outside for them still?
Love you're ingenious invention!

Liz said...

Hi Kerry, Unfortunately, the chickens devolved about two days after learning to use this door, and we are back to square one. As you say, bird brains! Now when they are shut in, instead of going to the door/pedal to get out, they jump up onto their roosts, where they can see out into the light, thinking they can get out that way. So we are back to letting them out ourselves.