Chickens can be useful critters to have on an urban homestead, seeing as how they're almost like little egg-making machines that run on food scraps. OK, that's a bit of a stretch, as keeping chickens does require a lot more than just collecting the eggs. It's not incredibly difficult or time-consuming, but keeping chickens does come with a set of responsibilities that can't be avoided.
And because keeping chickens at your home is fast becoming an acceptable method of local food production, sometimes people get into it before they really know what they're getting into. After the first rush of "I have chickens!" comes the not-so-fun realization that you've now got a few extra daily chores, and you need to be available to shut the hens in and let them out of their coop each day. Sure, you can try to let nature sort itself out, but usually nature says, "Less chickens for you, more chickens for the neighborhood dogs and raccoons."
PHOTO BREAK: 8 awesome urban chicken coops
One way to make it easier to keep chickens is by adding a bit of automation to your chicken coop. Whether it's automating the door to the coop, or managing the ventilation and inside temperature, or watching a remote feed of your chickens while you're away, you can take it as far as you want in order to make caring for your own chickens a bit more convenient.
If you're more comfortable with doing things manually, and the thought of adding a gizmo to your chicken coop is a bit intimidating, the good news is that it's easier than ever to integrate some smart technology into the backyard chicken coop. Thanks to the proliferation of affordable and accessible tech components such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, coupled with the large number of how-to and DIY plans on the Internet for adding automation to just about anything these days, aspiring "smart coop" keepers can get started implementing automated solutions quickly.
What can you automate?
The first place to start might be the most common automation addition for chicken coops, which is an automatic door opener. Having an automatic chicken coop door opener (as well as one that can be remotely operated) can help eliminate a trip or two to the coop each day, and can give you peace of mind if you're away during dawn or dusk.
After researching a number of options for chicken coop door openers, it seems that one of the easiest methods of adding automation to the door is installing this device, which uses a standard appliance timer to schedule the opening and closing of the door. It does require a power supply, so you'll need to either run an extension cord out to the coop or add on a small battery and solar panel to the system to provide electricity to the timer and motor. Here's an example of that setup:
Of course, just adding a motorized door opener with a timer on it doesn't give you nearly the amount of control over the door as a system that adds a bit of "smart" control to the door and that can be operated remotely from a smartphone or Web interface. To add that feature, the chicken keeper below paired the door opener above with an Insteon module, which gave the owner the ability to open and close it with an app.
In a similar vein, this chicken coop door opener is automated, but with a Raspberry Pi as the controller, with the necessary code available on Github. However, if simply closing the door on the chicken coop isn't enough to foil the predators near you, this guy's Raspberry Pi solution doesn't just lift the door, it lifts the whole darn coop out of reach.
If you're starting to really get into chicken coop automation, and are handy with Arduino and really doing-it-yourself, as opposed to wanting a plug-and-play kit, this Arduino setup below has a lot of features to it, and although it's a rather involved project, it might be the gateway gadget that leads you to want to build an entire automated coop, which the maker has done in his “El Pollo Palace.”
And finally, if you're looking to build the chicken coop to beat all chicken coops, at least as far as homegrown solutions go, you'll want to take a few pointers from this guy, whose "Super coop" includes a living roof, solar power, wheels, automated doors and feed station and more. Or if you'd rather go old-school, this automated door opener might be able to solve another issue at the same time, by watering the hens as well.
If making fewer trips to the henhouse and having less worries about if the hens are safe inside at night (and can get out in the morning) sound like benefits to you and your hens, perhaps it's time to bring some automation to your chicken coop. No, it won't mean automated egg deliveries to your kitchen door, and the chickens will still require your regular care, but the Internet of Things could help to take care of the boring bits.