Lazy Chicken Farmer 101

Chickens get up early, poop a lot and waste a ton of food – all of which are problems for lazy chicken farmers, like ourselves.  Over the two years we have owned our chickens, I have devised a few strategies that have allowed us to continue to be as lazy, or perhaps efficient, as possible.

First of all, I have to give a shout out to Mark King of King’s Berry Farm  who made us our coop.  It is a project I could have done myself, but the time it would have taken me versus the cost Mark charges to make these made it a no brainer.

Problem 1:  Sunrise

As soon as the first shafts of light start to penetrate our chicken coop, our Buff Orpingtons (all named Dorothy, after Dina’s grandmother) are ready to take on the day.  I however, need my 8 hours of sleep and when the sun rises I am often up in my roost and not ready to come out until many hours later.  Our chicken coop comes with a sliding door which helps protect the birds from varmints (raccoons, possums, etc.) and keeps the hen house warmer and less drafty in the winter.  The problem is that if that door is closed in the morning when the chickens wake up they are shut off from their food and water and are more prone to pluck out the each other’s feathers (hence the term “pecking order.” Ouch.)

Solution: Drapery Motor + Timer

I ordered this drapery motor from discounthomeautomation.com (which is designed to automatically open and close curtains) and plugged it into an ordinary electric timer from home depot.

Now I can’t claim at this is solely my invention.  I got the idea from Jarrett Man at Stone Soup Farm, but here is how it works in our coop:


DiscountAutomation.com explicitly says not to use this particular model for chicken coops but mine has been working for two years without a problem.  To account for the weight of the absent curtain, I added an old paint can and filled it with rocks and water.


In the summers I set my timer to trigger the door to shut at 9pm and open again at 5:30am.  As the days get shorter, I readjust the timer accordingly.

And here is what it looks like in action:

Problem 2: Poop

I think chickens poop more than they don’t, which is actually a good thing for gardeners.  Chicken manure when properly composted can add a great deal of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to your garden beds.  So we love the stuff, we just want to scoop it up as little as possible.  For a while, when I cleaned out the coop, I would just put the straw and poop straight into the composter.  But the coop need cleaning weekly and the straw didn’t break down well in the compost.

Solution: Poop Gutter

Eventually, I noticed that every night when the Dorothy’s went in to roost, they would usually orient themselves in the exact same way.  And every morning the bedding under their roost would get poopier and poopier.   So I decided a catch system was in order.


Using an old gutter and a 2×4 ripped at 45 degrees I mounted this “Poop Gutter” right under the Dorothy’s butts to catch their nighttime production.


The gutter slides in and out easily and allows us to put the poop straight into the composter with no straw.  It also keeps the bedding cleaner and instead of weekly cleanings, we are doing a cleaning once a month, at most.  This in-turn, helps prevent fly problems.

Problem 3: Playing with your Food

Urban chicken proponents argue that having chickens in the city is no more of a nuisance than having a cat or a dog.  We are big advocates of keeping keeping chickens in the city, but if you’re not contentious, there are many ways in which chickens can be more troublesome than traditional pets.  If you don’t have a poop gutter or good management techniques, chickens can smell and attract flies.  They can also attract mice who often make their way into nearby homes.  We found this out last winter when a neighbor dug up a box of mice-chewed clothes they had in storage.  This is not unusual when storing things in houses that are over 100 years old.  But in this case our Dorothy’s were implicated by the stash of chicken food that the mice had also left laying around in bottom of the box.

Solution: Food Catch

Poultry feeders are ordinarily out of the reach of pests and are designed to minimize food getting wasted on the ground.  But our Dorothy’s make a huge mess of it anyway.  So to try and prevent the all-you-can-eat mouse buffet I put together another catch system to collect the food that was spilling out of the feeder.


I built a box about 1 and 1/2 inches deep and laid the plastic grid from a florescent light in the top.


The holes are big enough to allow stray food to pass through and collect in the bottom of the box but small enough to prevent mice from getting access to it.


The grid slips off easily and when the box gets full, I can just poor the spilled food back into the feeder, saving our neighbor’s clothes as well as a decent amount of money on chicken food.

Problem 4: Uncultured and Uninspired Chickens:

Egg laying can be monotonous and our chickens don’t get out much.  We wish they were free range, but the limitations of the city prevent them from getting out and socializing.

Solution: Artwork

We thought a soaring balk eagle, made by 99-year-old Louis Charpentier and a painting Dina picked up in Haiti would help our birds to aspire to all that they can be.

Yes, I realize that no real self-respecting farmer would have the time or energy for this, but that’s okay.  We’re fine with being fake farmers for the time being.

12 comments

  • June 13, 2012 at 10:59 am // Reply

    You may have out-nerded Lee here, Erik. The chicken gutter idea is definitely getting implemented in my chicken house. Right now, I use a windshield ice scraper to “lift” the chicken poop off all flat surfaces before mucking out the chicken house, and the charm of this method has a very short half-life.

    Lee is in the process of building a new coop right now, so I will send him this blog link. Very timely!

  • February 9, 2013 at 11:13 pm // Reply

    Really like the idea of opening and closing the door.
    I’ve been looking at Chicken Coops but I don’t want to use it for chickens. I want to use it for my cats in the winter. I have 6 cats and they stay on my front porch and by the time Spring comes it’s a mess and stinks even though I have a litter pan. I saw a Chicken Coop at a place that was selling sheds and when I first saw it I thought Cathouse. I’m figuring of making one and insulating it really well plus put in a fenced in area for them to walk around in. But instead of using a wire cage fence I’m thinking of using that clear corragated plastic roofing to surround the area and put a roof on it too, that way when the sun is out it will heat up the area. I’m also thinking of buying an indoor/outdoor heating pad for dogs. Then too I saw where you can buy a heater for a doghouse.
    But, I’m leaning towards a heating pad. They say a large one uses 60 watts, figure that would be cheaper to run then a heater.
    Do you think my idea for a cathouse would work?
    pam

    • February 13, 2013 at 11:02 am // Reply

      Hi Pam,
      I’m not sure. We have a cat in addition to our chickens and I’m pretty sure he’d be miserable in our chicken coop. And I think the smell and mess problem would be likely to just travel from your porch to the new enclosure. Better for you but maybe not better for the cats. If the structure is enclosed, I’d make sure there is plenty of ventilation so that fresh air circulates constantly. The heater sounds like a nice touch for them.

  • April 26, 2013 at 7:50 am // Reply

    fantastic post!!! We are in the final design phase for our new chicken coop… and as we ramp up to build it (THIS memorial day) I hope to implement your VERY smart ideas!
    simply BRILLIANT! Loved the video! thanks for sharing your ideas :)

  • August 21, 2013 at 10:15 am // Reply

    Your website is great! Just like you, I am a person who loves to stay in bed for longest time. We will definitely try the drapery motor + timer idea to be incorporated in our chicken coop design. Wish us luck . And yes that poop gutter will also come in handy! Kudos your improvisations make sense and worth considering. :-)

  • October 22, 2013 at 5:29 am // Reply

    This is what we call real chicken farming! I really loved your video dude and thank you for this post.

  • January 20, 2014 at 7:18 am // Reply

    Wow! Great methods you have used. Fantastic post with cool photos.

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm // Reply

    Thank you for posting the details about the drapery motor and timer – incredible idea! Very creative and effective, I really liked it. Appreciate your posting the video so I could see it in action – I think I need to rig something similar to my kids’ bedroom doors (kidding).

    Cool coop – cheers.

  • March 22, 2014 at 4:24 am // Reply

    i’ve had chicken 30-40 years( kid to now,,, ) , your a genius. you should post all of these ideas to backyard chickens.
    we’re going to be building a new coop and it will have poop gutter, the grid under the feed – they always bill it out and so much is wasted. this way they can’t stand in it and make a “muck of it ”
    and i see they have the auto curtain opener and say to use a different one for chicken house doors.. did they have that option when you bought yours? is there a reason you used the one you did?
    Thank you !

    • March 22, 2014 at 9:58 am // Reply

      Thanks Robbin. Yes, there is a specific drapery motor designed for opening and closing coop doors. I didn’t get that one at the time because I was going to try and have the motor open two doors at the same time (an idea I abandoned quickly). If I were to do it again, with one door to open, I’d go with the one recommended.

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