Chicken Care Automation Part 1: Automatic Chicken Door May 28, 2014

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.

Neighbors are happy to help out collecting eggs,  but appreciate making fewer visits.

Neighbors are happy to help out collecting eggs, but appreciate making fewer visits.

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?

Always good to know my girls are enjoying the fresh air and safe from harm.

Always good to know my girls are enjoying the fresh air and safe from harm.

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!

Automatic chicken door from afar

Ready for some chicken watching from afar.

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.

The automatic chicken door will look nice trimmed out and with a little roof atop.

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!

Deb Handrich May 30th, 2014

We don’t have electricity running to our coop & enclosure so I have been researching battery powered door openers… does anyone know how long the batteries would run on this type of unit?

Any reviews on the model sold through My Pet Chicken?

Skimmer33 May 30th, 2014

Do you ever get any locked out that didn’t make it back to the coop in time? That would worry me.

Judit June 2nd, 2014

We haven’t had an issue with that. We adjust the timer routinely to close the door after sunset. We also have a visual to the coop/run and would be able to see a bird pacing by the fence if locked out. You could set up a motion sensor spotlight on a timer – that way after nightfall you could check things out if anyone was triggering the light. Hope that helps!

Alyssa Norbury June 3rd, 2014

I have a battery operated automatic door for my chicken coop, I love it! I programmed it to close at 8:30pm, it closes at that time on the dot then a few minutes later it will open again for one minute and then close, that is just in case there was a slow poke who didn’t make it in with the others lol! Then I programmed it to open at 5:30am. I live in MA, but travel to VT a lot to see my family, this has been a life saver for us, the girls are so good about going right in at dusk, we have never had a problem with them getting shut out. We have five red star’s 6 weeks old.

Just the Chicken Weirdo June 30th, 2014

Will the door let predators into the coop? If a smart fox or raccoon gets into the run at night and waits for the door to open, or is just there when it does, can’t the girls get eaten? I know that predator proofing is a MUST for runs and all, but you can’t think of everything, or know about every weak barrier. I don’t know how you would do it, but is there a predator proof version? I hope I don’t sound paranoid. O-o

And, another question, if the door gets jammed while your gone ( frozen shut, motor problems) is it easy enough to fix that your daily chicken sitter will be able to fix it?

Lissa July 2nd, 2014

Yes, this is no different than a manual door in that sense: a predator that can fit through the pop hole can enter the coop when the door is open. However, the automatic door prevents you from forgetting to close the coop at night. With a manual door, you can forget–and worse, you don’t want to close a manual door late when it’s dark and nocturnal predators are prowling! An automatic door addresses those issues.

If the door should get jammed, of course it would depend on the cause as to how easy or difficult it is to fix (and it would also depend on the handiness of your chicken sitter as to his or her capability to fix it). That said, I’ve had an automatic door for a few years now, and it’s never gotten jammed open or shut.

Julie July 20th, 2014

Where did Alyssa Norbury find a battery powered door?

Lyn August 17th, 2014

I have the battery-powered automatic door from My Pet Chicken and I love it. However – my chickens like to sleep right next to the door inside the coop and 1 or 2 always get shut out!
Does anyone have any suggestion on how to get them to go ALL the way inside their coop so this doesn’t happen?
Thanks for your help!

Judit August 19th, 2014

Hi Lyn,
Have you tried physically setting the reluctant-to-fully-enter hens in the coop (or even on their perches) at night right before the door shuts – for a few consecutive nights? This might help them learn that their home is fully inside the coop and has worked in the past for me when my girls got in the habit of nesting in nearby trees. Or give them a late night snack so they are fully in when the door shuts; hopefully they will then be encouraged to find a new favorite spot.

Lyn August 20th, 2014

Hi Judit. Great idea. Thanks! I usually get home from work after the sun goes down (and the door is shut) but will give the treats and hen placement (haha) a try. Maybe I can recruit some helpers for a few nights in a row.
Thank you so much!

Somerzby May 17th, 2015

Great idea with the automatic door on the coop, definitely worth some consideration.. i find that most of our chickens on our coop will adapt to the change but there are a couple that will need some coaching.

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