The chicken's may always come home to roost, but they don't close the coop door behind them. Remembering to close a backyard chicken coop door is actually the most challenging responsibility of raising chickens. For the most part, chickens are easier to care for than dogs or cats. Yet if you don't close that coop door each night after sunset, you're likely to wake up to a bloody mess the next morning. If you haven't already experienced this, then trust me. I've had my run-ins with raccoons. I've been face-to-face with nothing between me and a snarled-toothed possum but a shovel. And my wife and I have been watching the sunset from a sidewalk cafe only to realize that we left the coop door open.
No matter how secure and predator-proof your coop, it's worthless if you don't close the door.
That's why I finally committed to creating a smart coop with an automated chicken door. Now, each night when the sun sets and chickens have nestled in for the night, the coop door automatically closes.
It's actually quite simple. Here's how I did it.
- Door. I created a guillotine style door from a small piece of plywood. Here's a great video showing how to make a guillotine style coop door. This video shows a manual door with a rope pull. However, this same door type can be used for an automated door. For an automated door, the slide track should be placed on the inside of the coop rather than the outside as shown in this video. Placing the door on the inside allows you to attach the string to the drapery motor in a weatherproof area.
- Motor. I attached the door to a drapery motor. Drapery motors are easy to find. In fact, they are even marketed for use in chicken coops. You can purchase one on Amazon for under $100.
- Timer. I plugged the drapery motor into an astronomical timer. It's important to get a really good one of these. You can save a few bucks and by a standard plug timer, but it's not worth it. Spend the extra $15 dollars and get a good digital astronomical timer. This timer can be set to close the coop at sunset and open the coop at dawn. I recommend setting the clock 15 minutes back from the actual time. This will allow any straggling chickens to make it inside before the coop closes. You don't want birds who go in a few minutes after sunset to be stuck on the wrong side of the door.
Setting the timer can be a bit of a trick. To be sure that it's working as intended, it's a good idea to check the coop door every night for a week or so. It took me a while to get used to the idea and trust that the timer would reliably close the door. But after a year and half the door as not failed to close right on time.
If this is too much work for you to build from scratch, you can purchase a pre-built door, but you'll pay a bit more for the convenience.