I love to travel. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like, but when the opportunity comes my way I’m determined not to miss out. Usually our jaunts are a night or two at my in-laws’ cabin in Massachusetts (living in New England, you either suffer through the cold, hunkering in front of the wood stove sipping hot tea—or embrace it and go skiing. I do plenty of both). In the summer months we like to go camping and boating off Long Island sound. We don’t go very far and we don’t go very often, but when we want to go, we go. A huge issue for anyone is what to do with the animals in your care. Our dog Ruby almost always accompanies us, and we leave her with trusted friends if we’re not going somewhere pet-friendly. Our avian pets however, are a different matter. I’ve tried to drop them off along with Ruby, but my dog-sitting friends were surprisingly averse to the idea of chicken-sitting. I’m just joking of course. Our coop is not at all mobile, and frankly, our friends are just not interested in cruising across town to tend our chickens twice a day. In the past we have enlisted the help of neighbors, which is a great solution if it’s convenient for anyone near you. Many people will happily care for your birds in exchange for getting to keep the gorgeous and delicious eggs they’ll gather.
However, where we currently live, I don’t feel comfortable asking someone to trek all the way to my coop at least two times a day, especially in the winter months when our steep driveway gets treacherous after even the slightest snow. So we’ve set up our coop and run so we can go away for an overnight or even two without requiring anyone’s attention. We usually ask a neighbor to come now and again to collect the prize eggs (and this they do happily) during peak laying seasons, but our helpers are not forced to come twice a day, and there’s no added stress of coming to close up the girls before the hellions of the predator world creep out after dark. What has made this carefree lifestyle (with chickens) a possibility? An automatic feeder, a high volume, heated waterer, and yeah, you guessed it: the automatic chicken door. We purchased a guillotine style door about a year ago, and for us, it has made all the difference. The benefits of an automatic chicken door abound. Though you could theoretically just leave the girls locked up in the coop— I’ve always felt really guilty about this—and our coop is not designed to be large enough, since they are usually out in the run during the day. Our automatic chicken door works on a timer, while some models work by light sensor (or give you the option to set the door to close by timer or light sensor). Call me a control freak: I like to set the time, but of course the advantage of the alternative is that it doesn’t require you to make adjustments as sunrise and sunset times change. In either case, what I really love is the peace of mind it affords us. In the past when I asked a friend or neighbor to care for the girls, I was constantly worrying—Did they remember? Did they think of opening the coop up before noon? Far worse, what if they forgot to close it at dusk and a dread raccoon lurked in?
The installation was a breeze and took under an hour. We had already fitted the coop with outlets and had run power for lights, which are really handy to have. Our coop is well suited for this type of installation because it there is plenty of overhead room and it was built with studs at standard intervals. There are doors suited to smaller coops on the market, though, if your coop doesn’t fit that description, and some economizing and industrious flock owners have come up with their own ingenious automatic chicken door solutions. For our coop, my husband used a circular saw and sawzall to cut a hole (the dimensions were provided in the instructions) and popped in the door. He secured it with galvanized screws, and voila. Aside from that virtually all we had to do was plug it in and set the timer. The door is set to open in the morning and close just after dusk. We make routine adjustments so open and close are correctly timed, but changing the settings is so simple we don’t mind. If you are running power to your coop of course that will take more time, investment and planning – you’ll want to make sure all wiring is safe and hidden from curious beaks, and place the outlet, timer, etc, either outside their living area or up by the ceiling, where the birds will not be tempted to roost. The bonus of the automatic chicken door is added protection. In addition to freeing us up for overnight trips—and even to go out to dinner (how often have you run home at dusk to close up the coop?)—the automatic chicken door offers added safety for our birds. Even the most diligent and mindful flock owner runs the risk of forgetting, or is delayed on occasion. This can have devastating consequences for your gals if you live in a high-predation area. And then the icing on the cake: it just feels so darn good when you’re lounging around on a Sunday morning in jammies, sipping hot coffee, to gaze out the window and catch sight of your girls joyously clucking around their run. You take your time, let them lay their eggs, and then go feed, water, and collect all at once—and only once you’ve exhausted yourself being lazy and re-reading that issue of Backyard Poultry. And the pink-frosting-roses on the icing on the cake? You won’t have to make a return visit to close them up!
A few things to consider: 1) Cover: The aluminum door has on occasion frozen shut when there is rain or snow coupled with windy conditions. It has to be a perfect storm: The wind drives rain/snow at the door, then when the temperatures drop below freezing (or in the case of snow, when there is a melt and a re-freeze) and the motor tries to open the now frozen-shut door, the cord mechanism snaps, and we have to thaw the door and reattach the cord before it can resume functioning. We’ve learned to check the door when we know the likelihood of this happening is high so we can deice before it will becomes an issue, but when we muster up the motivation, we will put a dormer over the automatic chicken door. This should happen—no, must happen—before next winter. If your run is covered, which is ideal, you probably won’t encounter this issue. 2) Backup: The addition of the automatic chicken door was an afterthought for us, so we have a traditional door to use also. But unless your automatic chicken door can also function manually, I think it’s handy to have a traditional door anyway. You will need one if you encounter a mechanical failure (for instance in case the door gets frozen shut, see #1). It’s also crucial in the event of a power failure. Though on our model there is a battery backup for the timer so it doesn’t lose your setting in the case of a power outage, it doesn’t operate the door, so you need a door you can open manually for when the power is out for extended periods. This has happened to us a few times over the past two years. This is irrelevant, of course, if you choose to get a battery operated automatic chicken door such as this one.
3) Attention: This should go without saying, but say I will: you still have to mind your flock, visiting them daily to make sure they are in good health, in good company (no predators lurking, no chicken bullying), well fed, and always have access to plenty of fresh water. Also, you need to maintain the door itself. It’s important to clear away debris and keep the door mechanism clean so there are no obstructions to keep it from closing properly. The automatic chicken door is a worthwhile investment by my measure, even just for the peace of mind it affords. While you can get by without it, as is the case with many an amenity, once you’ve had an automatic chicken door you won’t want to go back. This weekend we’re of for the first boating overnight of the season—our chicken friends will wish us ‘bon voyage’ and we’ll be greeted with a heap of yummy eggs and a flock of happy hens when we return. Au revoir, friends!