Bob the Robot Chicken Coop Opener

Spoiling the chickens

Oh, the constant struggle of animal owners and wanting to go on vacation. What to do, what to do! Farm sitters are great but we free range our chickens and having someone come over first thing in the mornings to open them up then after dark to close the doors can be tedious. Their coops are small and because we free range them, we *could* leave them in their coops but I don’t like that more than a day. We have done it and they were not happy about it, constant texts, the calls….

The solution… a chicken coop opener! I wanted one that I could plug in to an orange extension cord, it will open the door, wait then when I want it to, it will close it, preferably automatic.

Searching this on Amazon and you’ll find one for $250. While this will be an amazing tool to have around here, that’s a but rich for my blood.  Searching the interwebs gave me the same things. I was fine building the outside, even figuring out the door. What I needed was the little pulley to pull up the door then stop. My technical skills are not that great.

I wasn’t willing to pay $250 but scrolling down, the motor was available!

I watched a video and this guy had it hooked to a solar cell, detecting light levels and opening it and closing it based on the sun. I’m fine with plugging it in and some of the components seemed a little more than I understood at this moment. UPDATE: Looking around at a few plans, it looks like adding solar and a battery wouldn’t be that hard or expensive! $53!! Project for later to be sure!

I went ahead, got on Amazon and ordered the motor and a simple automatic light timer, total of $100.

I wanted a door that wouldn’t jam and swell if it rained. It will be exposed to the elements, being and outside door. I saw someone used a cutting board and just HAPPEN to have a couple of plastic cutting boards  from a shopping trip my sister and I took to IKEA.  $1.99! Score!

 

All the parts from Amazon
Fishing line, mounting screws and safety cotter pin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It comes with the motor, the mounting piece, plug and itty bitty parts. The timer was basic, 3 sets of on/off tabs. I only needed 2 sets for this project. 3 would royally mess this up.

The basic principle of this motor is, when current goes to it, the motor starts and a little pulley inside pulls a string up to a certain point. The motor stops when the “actuators” flip the switch, turning off the motor. It’s still getting current, it has just turned itself off. That’s why the timer is good. When it hits the green tab on the timer, current flows, turning on the motor. The motor turns itself off and when the timer gets to the red tab, the current turns off until next time. I have ours set at 8:30 AM and 8:30 PM. I’ll adjust it when the sun rises later and later. the shut off are about 30 minutes after that. No sense in having it go longer.

This piece turns and when either actuator flips the switch, the motor turns off.

How far the motor pulls the string up depends on how far apart the actuators are from each other. They are tough to turn but the one of the left will turn, separating them, giving the motor more time to run, thus pulling the door up further. This is one of several ways to adjust how high the door opens.

The motor can pull up to 25 pounds, that’s a crazy heavy door and you may need that in some areas for big predators. The line is 65 pound braided fishing line!

 

 

We don’t really have many freezing nights and rarely will it ice up without panic inducing warnings so having the door freeze shut isn’t really a problem but that was factored into this design. It comes with this little safety cotter pin called a Door Safety Connector. It’s supposed to go over a screw into the door. My “door” (cutting board) has a handle so I changed it up a bit. Shower curtain rings are some of my favorite things to use!

Safety Mechanism and motor saver.

This simple little feature is wonderful. While We don’t have many times here in Georgia where the door will freeze shut, it is a problem in places in the country. The fishing line goes on the cotter pin and it clips onto the shower ring. What happens is if the door freezes shut, instead of the motor constantly running and burning up, the cotter pin, comes off the shower ring, disengaging and going up, leaving the frozen door in place. Sure, your chickens won’t get out but your $90 motor is fine. Great design, simple, cheap!

One problem we saw before we started was, the plug goes into the side of the timer, right? 99.8% of the time, this timer gets plugged into a wall socket. Well, we were going to be plugging it into an extension cord, hmmm. Solution, power strip! I can mount the power strip on the wall but mounting the timer would be a huge pain! Yay, $3 power strip!

Plug, timer and power strip, problem solved!

We did a test run in the house so I could learn what this does, why and how. The test run went really well. We drew a door on the dishwasher (You wouldn’t believe how many times I checked to make sure it wasn’t a Sharpie!).

The all important Dishwasher test!

Alrighty, that went well, let’s put it in the coop!

The fancy schmancy kits come with cool rails, cool doors and probably more stuff. These rails were made from scrap 1×3’s and the door is a cutting board I got from IKEA.

Rails made of scrap 1×3’s and a cutting board for a door.

I made sure there would be plenty of overlap so if the door sagged, it wouldn’t come out of the rail but had enough room to glide, but not too much. The rails needed to be one solid piece, I didn’t want any change they would snag on a random piece or one piece would swell when it got wet.

You can see there’s about 1/4 inch between the door and the rail and about 1/2 inch of rail over the door. The perspective is weird in the picture.
Rails from the front, I jiggled the door back and forth to make sure it wasn’t going to jump off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had to cut a hole in the side of the coop. It was the one place where I didn’t think they would poop on it! I cut a hole first with a drill in the corners, then using a reciprocating saw, cut the door out. I added a piece of the cutout later to the bottom, I wanted to make sure critters couldn’t get their nails under it and lift it.

Trying to keep bigger critters out! I’ll frame it later to keep water out and make it look a bit better.

I mounted the rails on the side of the coop slid the door up and down, making sure nothing was going to snag it and make it break. So far so good!

Time to mount the power strip and connect it up! Here’s the entire set up.

The whole set up!

You can see the power strip at the top. We didn’t put the timer in yet, we were still testing and the switch on the strip made it super easy. The extension cord comes in through the door and over that board. I’ll get a better feel for putting the wires away. The motor is mounted on that strip with holes in it. The instructions that come with it made it really easy to mount, you mount the strip first then the motor slides over it.  I wanted to make sure when it was all the way open, it was above the cut out hole so they wouldn’t bump the door and jar it.

 

 

To fine tune the door closing, there are several ways to adjust this. First, you can adjust the fishing line, but I’d already put a big knot in it. The second way is to adjust the actuators so it runs longer, making it open for longer or shorter,  but that’s time consuming. It will however help you see how the door glides in the rails. The third and coolest is those little holes on the mounting bracket. There’s a little tab on the motor that goes in them, keeping it adjusted. Just move the whole motor up or down to adjust and, easy-peasy, it’s done!

 

I’m all about efficiency and frugalness. If it takes an absurd amount of time, mental energy and physical energy and the P.I.T.A* factor is way high, it may not be worth it. If it costs a stupid amount, again, is it worth it?

The total cost for one of these was $100 for motor and timer, $2 for the cutting board,  $3.50 for the power strip, scrap wood and assorted screws for a grand total of $110-ish! I’m fine with that.

Now how about time? If I had watched more videos and prepared, it may not have taken as long. The first one we did took a bit, maybe a couple of hours, and that was figuring out rails, finding scraps, adjustments and basically learning the mechanics of it. The second one was maybe an hour, if that, not bad at all!

This was a fun project, I felt like we figured some things out, learned simple electrical facts, and it improved our lives and the lives of the chickens.

I’ll do a run through video later, Please, if you have any other questions about how this works or anything I didn’t explain, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Hope this helped and inspires you to get out, build and learn a new skill!

Have fun!

*Pain In The …Booty. General unhappy hassle.

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