In September 2008 I got a phone call from my post office in Los Angeles. They told me a package addressed to me was making high-pitched noises. They wanted me to come get it immediately. I was in Illinois on business, but I called my wife and she went in to pick up the package. Inside were six Plymouth Rock chicks, which we’d ordered online from My Pet Chicken (mypetchicken.com).
Before I left for Illinois, I’d prepared a large cardboard box by lining it with sawdust and adding a feeder, a waterer, and an infrared light for warmth. My wife and kids took good care of the chicks, and when I returned a few days later the birds had already grown compared to the photos my wife had emailed me.
In six weeks the chicks were big enough to move to a proper henhouse outside. I wanted them to be able to scratch and roam around our yard in the day, and sleep in the henhouse at night, safe from the raccoons, skunks, owls, hawks, bobcats, and coyotes that live in our neighborhood.
The problem was that my chickens are early risers and I’m not. They scolded me whenever I let them out after 7 a.m.
After a few weeks of waking to the alarm clock, I went online to find a motorized chicken door opener with a timer. There were a few, but I didn’t like any of the commercial products, because for one reason or another they didn’t meet my needs, or they just didn’t seem very good.
Then I stumbled across an automated chicken door invented by John Beaty, the director of technology programs at Northeastern University in Boston. His door (see it here: makezine.com/go/beatycoop) used a motorized drapery puller, the kind used by home automation enthusiasts. The beauty of the drapery puller is that when current is applied to it, it turns its motor in one direction, and when current is applied again, the motor reverses direction.
Beaty’s door slid up and down, connected by a cord to the drapery puller, which was plugged into an ordinary appliance timer switch. When the timer turned the power on (once in the morning and again at night), the motor’s pulley would draw the cord attached to the chicken door up or down.
This looked perfect. I ordered the drapery puller and followed Beaty’s description to build an automated chicken door of my own. I was very happy with the results (here’s a video: vimeo.com/4177373). A few months later MAKE managing editor Shawn Connally and her husband made one for their chicken coop.
Automatically or remotely controlling tasks is the theme of this issue. An automated chicken door is just one of many cool features in Alan Graham’s high-tech henhouse on page 64, which he controls via his computer or iPhone, so that his chickens are always warm, well-fed, and safe at night.
You’ll also learn how to make a remote control lawn mower, hack remote control power outlets, cheaply control appliances over the web, turn off TVs with a sweatshirt zipper, and drive a toy car with “telekinesis” (there’s a trick involved, but it’s neat anyway). As usual, the magazine is loaded with lots of other projects you can make and use.
By the way, I’ve got a new book out about my experiences with raising chickens and bees, building cigar box guitars, growing vegetables, and other DIY projects. Many of the people who regularly contribute to MAKE are featured. It’s called Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (Penguin), and it’s available at your favorite bookstore or online at the Maker Shed (makershed.com).