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An automated chicken coop is well within our grasps today, thanks to the plethora of technology and the wonderful world wide web. I’ve been on a quest to automate my chicken’s lives. As part of that quest, I’ve been looking at what the market has to offer for automated chicken coop doors, and there are quite a few!
Automated Chicken Coop Doors
But why buy an automated chicken coop door? My family is a bunch of night shifters. We tend to wake up late, which leaves our birds cooped up for several hours of daylight. Especially in the winter, that can equate to a lot of missed freedom for the girls.
I reached out to several companies I believe to be leaders in the space, and some replied. These companies sent me samples at no charge. The manufacturers did not compensate me in any way. There was no offering or guarantee of a favorable review. The following is my personal opinion and findings.
The first test subject was the T50 automated chicken coop door from Run-Chicken. Run-Chicken is based out of Slovenia but markets to the U.S. Find them at run-chicken.com.
Two AA batteries power the T50. It features one multi-color LED indicator light and one lone momentary button. The door is driven with a gear that interfaces with the door directly. The gearing, battery, and electronics are all housed in the removable black box on the top of the frame.
The T50 comes assembled, but you do need to remove the control box via four screws. Once the frame is installed on the coop, you power up the box and reattach it to the frame.
The installation of the T50 was very straightforward. Place the frame against the wall you’re installing it onto, and trace the inside of the frame. I drilled the corners of my tracing and cut the hole with a jigsaw. I then screwed the frame to the wall with the six included screws.
The T50 was the simplest of all the test subjects. Out of the box, it’s programmed to open on sun-up and close on sun-down. If you wish to set it to a schedule instead, you can. Programming the unit is somewhat inconvenient since you push and hold the one button until it flashes, then again to confirm, at the actual time you want it to open or close. It’s somewhat rudimentary, but it’s effective. Otherwise, it’s as simple as it gets, and you can manually trigger the door with a momentary press of the button to open or close at any time.
My first look at the T50 was promising. It’s a cleanly designed unit with sturdy steel construction. The fit and finish are top-shelf, and the construction gives an appearance of security and promises longevity. I did notice that the door shuts with authority, and Run-Chicken warns about the potential danger. Please don’t stick your finger in it as I did; It is forceful. I don’t believe it’s forceful enough to squash a chicken, but it certainly won’t stop on accord of a bird in the door. On the flip side of that note, it also won’t be pushed open nor chewed through.
The T50 embodies the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) principle. It has rudimentary logic capacity, which is just enough to give you scheduling abilities. It’s a great set-and-forget type of automated chicken coop door with strong security, and I’m quite fond of it. If you’re looking for advanced control options and connectivity, however, this is not your jam.
My Favorite Chicken
The second test subject was the Coop Defender by My Favorite Chicken. My Favorite Chicken (the company) hails from Texas. Find them at myfavoritechicken.com.
The Coop Defender is a winch-type opener that reels a string in or out to actuate the door. It holds four AA batteries, and you open the driver box with four plastic screws to load them. The box is well sealed and weather-tight. Notably, it has a tension sensor inside. The door is nothing more than two aluminum tracks and an aluminum plate. Simple but effective.
The Coop Defender drive unit comes pre-assembled, and It was simple to open with four plastic screws to add batteries. The battery tray is not anchored but fits nicely into a slot in the box.
The Coop Defender kit was a bit more fidgety to install. I used the same hole I made for the T50, but it would have been simple to trace the door plate and detract a small margin. The fidgeting began with the string. I had to ascertain if the mechanism was in the open or shut position, then tie the string to the door. I didn’t read the directions well. Had I done so, I would have known there was a way of adjusting the string length via the interface. Instead, I untied and retied my knot three times like the silly individual I am. After that, it was a simple matter of dangling the door from the string, lining it up with the hole in the wall, and attaching the drive unit to the wall with the included screws. That step is important since the hole the string comes out of is off-center in the driver box. I then screwed the tracks on either side of the door. I ran into a binding issue, having set the tracks too close to the door. To fix it, I had to fiddle with the tracks until the door ran true.
The Coop Defender has a straightforward yet intuitive interface. A minute of poking at the buttons will show you most of the unit’s abilities without reading up on it. Its menu allows you to set the time, select modes, set daily open and shut times, and fine-tune the sensor value thresholds (how much light it takes to trigger open or shut). It’s impressively comprehensive for its size.
Honestly, I like the Coop Defender more than I thought I would. It lets you open and close with the sensor, timer, or mix the two, which I thought to be very clever. For example, I can set it to open with sunrise but close at 10 pm regardless of when the sun falls. The winch cord seems robust, but time will tell of its weathering ability. The included door and track are simple and effective. I also like that the drive unit adapts its self to whatever size door you have. When tension is released by the door reaching its lower stop, it knows to stop winching out. The same design feature also stops the door from continuing to drop if a chicken is perched in the door, making it a built-in safety feature as well.
I believe the Coop Defender is best for those who already have a guillotine door on their coop (up to two lbs) or someone looking for a custom door size. The Gold kit is best for coop-to-run openings that won’t be exposed to predators because it’s easy to slide the door open. My Favorite Chicken offers a self-locking door, which would be a requirement for my free-range coop. I didn’t receive a sample of that door, but from what I can surmise from their web page, it looks robust enough to keep the trash pandas at bay.
My third contender came from Pennsylvania, built by the Coop Tender team. Find them at cooptender.com.
The coop tender is a standout in the crowd for many reasons. Visually, it’s the robust, hefty wooden construction of the cabinet and door. Mechanically, it’s the impressive machine screw that actuates it; it’s a slow actuation but the most forceful of all our contestants. Operationally, it’s the web connectivity it offers. It really is a unique offering at a minimum.
There was effectively no assembly required, except for two plugs. You don’t need to open the cabinet for anything, as far as I know. The unit I received was a 110-volt plug-in unit; however, you can add a backup battery and a solar panel for off-grid operation.
Assembly was simple, but the setup, however, was a little more tricky. I’m a relatively tech-savvy individual, but I myself nearly made a fatal (to the unit) error while setting it up. Read the instructions thoroughly, and note that the “order number” you need to register the device with is printed on the wifi manual, not your actual order number from your emailed receipt. The setup procedure is not insurmountable but certainly not self-explanatory by any means.
The install is a little more carpentry-centric on this unit. On any wall with sidings such as texture-111 or plywood, it behooves you to place studs on either side of the cutout. I also found it necessary to add trim to hide my lack of carpentry skills when installing it. There is a plate across the entire door that serves to hold it from falling in, and you can screw that to your coop. Long story short, cut the prescribed hole, frame it, slide the door in, and secure it.
The front of the unit has a 12 key number pad, four LED lights, and an LCD screen. I admittedly did not read up on the number pad; however, it’s far from intuitive. Once I achieved Wi-Fi connectivity and successfully made my second account on the Coop Tender web interface (I botched the first), I found myself wandering the webpage. I found all the important bits accidentally when I spotted the faint gear icon to the far right of the status indicator. I was largely befuddled beforehand, but once I found that, I was golden. The web interface allows you to open, stop, or close on command. You can also set schedules as well as set temperature and light thresholds. With optional expansion units, you can also control lights, heating units, and more.
The Coop Tender is truly an automated chicken coop door in the highest sense. One must appreciate the amount of ingenuity baked into this unit. The Coop Tender smacks of an electrical engineer that went wild on an IoT (internet of things) coop door using a mix of open-source hardware. With all its addons, the Coop Tender is more of a remote coop management system than a door.
This door requires wifi. If your coop is too far from your router, you lose some functionality, which may entirely defeat the purpose. I would suggest this door to someone like my friend Nick; he’s a tinkerer and an IT guy by trade. The incredible things it can do would put him over the moon. My parents, however, would be utterly lost.
The Auto Door by Omlet was our fourth and final contestant. You can find Omlet on the other side of the pond; In the United Kingdom, or at omlet.us.
Omlet’s Auto Door is yet another beast unto itself. This refined, injection plastic-built automated chicken coop door features a gear-driven door and a control unit to keep everything working. The unit I received also included a coop light, and I noted a power jack for 12-volt input and a jack labeled “heater.” This leads me to believe that you could plug into 110-volt power with a converter or add a solar kit of some sort. The heater jack, I’m willing to believe, is for an Eglu coop of some design.
The Omlet comes with a dauntingly large instruction manual; until you realize it contains multiple languages and an Ikea-like pictorial. You need to put a whopping four parts together; the gear, its holder, and the two rails to hold the door to the track. The four AA batteries go into the control unit, which is held together with four screws. Aside from that, it’s plug-and-play.
The installation was about as simple as the T50. Place the Auto Door on the surface you want to install it onto, then trace the door opening and the four bolt holes. After some drilling and a jigsaw, your coop is ready to receive the door. I used the four long bolts with wing nuts and brace plates; all included in the “fixings” kit. The control unit has an angled bracket to be hung on and the light screws onto your wall.
The Auto Door’s interface was intuitive, much like the Coop Defender. I didn’t need the manual to set the door up or understand all its functions. You can set it up in manual mode; it will open and close when you push the button. You can set it up on Light sensor mode and adjust the sensitivity, and you can set it up on timer mode and set your schedule. You can also manually open or close under any mode, as well as lock the door or turn on the light.
The Auto Door by Omlet was the most polished and comprehensive offering, but what makes it truly stand apart for me is the crash bar. This door has a crash bar sensor that stops the door from crushing a bird or errant finger. If an object impacts the bar while the door is closing, such as a roosting chicken, it will reverse the door then reattempt the closing. It will keep doing this until the obstruction decides to find a new perch.
The Auto Door is a stand-alone unit that works with any coop, but it clearly exists in Omlet’s ecosystem of coops. The Auto Door can be ordered with fitment kits to add this to fenced runs or specific coops that Omlet sells. If you have an Eglu coop or a wire mesh run you want to add a door to; this door is your pick. My only qualm with the Auto Door is its plastic; it’s not the most chew-resistant material.
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The Bottom Line
Each door I tested holds its own; they all have their merits and pitfalls, and it’s more a question of which you believe will work best for your scenario. I love the T50 for its “nifty” factor and simplicity. The Coop Defender is a top-notch product that fills a specific need and offers customizability that the others can’t. The Coop Tender is an IoT wonder sure to please the technologically inclined, and the Auto Door is a great all-around crowd-pleaser with mounting options for about any surface you can think of.
Which door tickles your fancy? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy.