Recently the pop door opener for the old chicken coop stopped working. The pop door is the small door that enables the chickens to go from the coop to their run. It has a door that slides closed at night (on a light sensor), and open in the morning.
So, I purchased a replacement.
One likely factor in the failure of the old opener was that the cord went through the wall then horizontal then vertical, via three pulleys. This complicated system would have put more strain on the motor. Plus, I had a fairly heavy pop door. Here’s the old system, when it was first installed (in January 2016; wow, seems much longer ago):
So in addition to replacing the opener, I simplified the cord system. It still goes through the wall, since the light sensor needs to be outside, but there are now only two pulleys, on a more direct path. Here’s the inside of the new opener, and the pulley above the hole in the wall:
The opener control panel, awaiting installation:
Installed control panel:
On the inside, the hole and second pulley:
The cord now goes straight down from the hole:
The wooden door is also more lightweight now; thick plywood instead of solid wood. Not quite as secure, but should still suffice.
I expect this new setup should last much longer.
I wrote an article that appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine, describing the chicken coop I designed and built last year.
The article covers six pages, most of it my photos. There’s an excerpt available online, but the article is only available to subscribers of the magazine.
You can see more of the coop on the Yellow Cottage Homestead blog; if you prefer, you can filter to see only chicken-related posts, or alternatively look at only posts about the chicken coop.
Jenn gave me a couple of chicken-themed gifts for Christmas: a sign for the coop, and a stamp for the egg cartons.
The sign is a fun custom one via Etsy, that says “Coopacabana, est. 2017”. That’s our name for the new coop, since it was painted in bright Caribbean-inspired colors:
The stamp was also via Etsy, and says “Farm Fresh Eggs, Yellow Cottage Homestead, Laid On: _______”, with a space for the date stamp I use to mark when the eggs were laid.
Today I made a wooden block to act as a brace for an egg carton while stamping the top. The cartons we use have a perforation down the middle, so they can be split into two six-packs, so I made the block with two parts, connected in the middle, to fit that carton style. (I actually made it out of a single 2×4, but in retrospect it would have been easier and tidier to make two separate blocks and connect them together via another bit of wood; oh well.)
It’s getting cold, starting to drop below freezing at night, so it’s time to put out the waterer heaters. Each of the coops now has a metal water dispenser that sits on a heated base. The base only comes on when the temperature drops below freezing, to warm up the water a little, just enough to prevent it from freezing:
The coops themselves aren’t heated or insulated. It may seem counterintuitive, but providing heat is actually bad for the chickens — since a sudden power loss could result in them freezing to death. If they gradually get used to colder temperatures, they build up fat and fluff to keep themselves warm. They also snuggle together while roosting.
The main requirements for winter are to prevent the water from freezing (and thus preventing them from drinking it), avoiding cold drafts while ensuring ventilation, and collecting eggs more often so they don’t freeze (and crack).
Yesterday I did a bunch of relatively small projects for the chicken coop and run, as the last building projects for it (for now, at least). Namely to make an oyster shell and grit dispenser for inside, moving and seeding the grazing frame, building outdoor roosts, making swings, and adding logs. With all that done, I was finally able to put away the tools that have been living around the coop for the last several months. A very satisfying feeling to be officially done at last.
Here’s the oyster & grit dispenser; oyster shell is good for chickens to help make strong egg shells, and they need grit to help digest treats and such (they can find sand and such in the run to serve that purpose, but convenient to have it on hand if they want it):
Installed, between the waterers and feed tube:
Outside, I moved the grazing frame, which exposed some grass that had started to regrow… this is almost all gone now, a day later:
The grazing frame is now in the opposite corner of the run. I added some soil and grass seed, so before long they’ll have more tasty grass to nibble on:
I next built some roosting bars in the corner where the grazing frame was before:
It was met with approval:
A couple of chicken swings, which they could perch on to keep them entertained (not sure how successful these will be):
And finally, I added some logs and branches as additional entertainment and perch opportunities:
Today I crossed another couple of little chicken projects off my list.
Firstly, I built a poop tray — a nested tray to collect the poop chickens release overnight while roosting, to make it easier to keep the coop clean.
Here is the outer tray, which features an opening at the back (towards us) and a welded wire screen to keep the chickens out:
And the inner tray, with a small opening at one end to enable scooping out the waste:
They fit together like this within the coop, accessed via the poop door:
Both could be removed if I want to sweep out the entire coop. But typically just the inner tray will be pulled out to clean out, without exposing the whole doorway:
Here’s what it looks like inside:
Next up, I built a grazing frame — a structure with a hardware cloth screen on top. We can plant grass or other fodder inside the frame, which will grow up through the wire, so the chickens can eat the tops without destroying the entire plant. (Given an opportunity, chickens will turn any amount of foliage to barren dirt in time, by scratching and pecking plants into oblivion.)
The chickies are intrigued:
Several of the new chickens are looking ever closer to being ready to start laying, so I took a little time this morning to finish off the nesting boxes.
Firstly I added shelf liner and plastic nesting pads to the sloping bottoms of the nesting boxes (see this previous post on the construction of the boxes), along with fake wooden eggs to test the rolling, and act as a guide to the girls:
Merida and Domino peeking out the front window from the roost above the nesting boxes:
Here’s the view from outside, showing the collection area. I used shelf liner for the screen too; not ideal, being semi-transparent, but it’ll do. There is also a foam bumper at the front edge, which isn’t visible in this picture:
I also added floral curtains that Jenn provided to the box entrances, mounted on curtain rods and tied open. In addition to looking nice, it’ll give the chickens a bit more privacy and dark, two things they like when laying:
Here are some closer looks inside a box:
One of the last steps on building the new chicken coop is making the nesting boxes.
Rather than just buying plastic boxes like in the old coop, I wanted to make custom roll-out boxes, where the eggs roll down a gentle slope to a collection area after being laid. This will not only make gathering the eggs easier, it’ll also keep them cleaner, and reduce the risk of breakages (or chickens eating the eggs, which can happen if they get a taste for them).
When I built the coop, I allowed for this with double doors below the front window, but I didn’t bother to build the nesting boxes before the chicks moved in, since they wouldn’t be laying for a few months. But they’re not too far away from being old enough now — their first eggs will likely arrive sometime over the next few weeks. So it’s time to make the boxes.
First up, I removed the temporary panel in the internal wall:
Then built the side walls:
A step in front of the middle floor (as modeled by Merida), and a roost in front of the window, so the chickens can look out:
Ramps in each nesting box, and fencing wire below the window roost, to keep them off the poop tray below the roost (and keep them from getting out the doors when opened):
The view from outside the coop, showing the egg collection area:
This concludes the construction of the nesting boxes, though they will have some finishing touches — nesting pads, liners, padding, and perhaps even curtains. Stay tuned for further adventures!
This morning I finished the new chicken run fencing, and installed the automatic pop door opener (with a little help from Domino), enabling the chickens to access the run:
The opener is mounted to a small door, so it can be accessed from inside the coop:
Here’s the pop door open for the first time, much to the chickies surprise:
Outside the coop, the opener is behind a window, so the light sensor can work:
And a close-up:
Chickies peeking out of the pop door:
Unsurprisingly, our bravest new chicken, imaginatively named Merida after the Pixar movie character, was the first to leave the coop to the newly fenced chicken run (YouTube video):
Followed by Domino:
And a few others:
But some weren’t yet brave enough:
Good thing it was a bit cloudy this morning; once the sun came out, they were all much more reluctant to leave the coop.
My first attempt at a custom chicken feeder didn’t work so well — the feed tended to not make it far enough past the 90° elbow to reach the holes where the chicks eat.
So I modified it to use a 45° connector instead (which Jenn kindly picked up on the way home from work). I didn’t want it quite that steep, so I joined the parts with some duct tape:
The new angle works much better; the food freely flows down to fill the tube, but doesn’t overflow:
Having four hole heights means chickens of all sizes can reach the food without a platform, too.
Hopefully this will work reliably; time will tell.