Small-farm Automation Keeps Livestock Safe And Happy

Life down on the farm isn’t easy, and a little technology can go a long way to making things easier for the farmer. It’ll be a while before any farmer can kick back on the beach and run his place from a smartphone, but that’s clearly the direction things are heading with this small farm automation project.

1239891449500446540[Vince]’s livestock appears to consist of chickens and sheep at this point, and the fact that they share housing helped him to deploy some tech for both species. The chickens got an automated door that lets them out in the morning and shuts them in safely once they’ve returned to roost for the night – important protection against predators. The door is hoisted by a Somfy window-treatment motor, which seems a little on the overkill side to us; a thrift-store electric drill and a homebrew drum might have worked too. A Teensy with an RTC opens and closes the door according to sunrise and sunset times, and temperature and humidity sensors provide feedback on conditions inside the coop. The sheep benefit from a PTZ webcam to keep an eye on their mischief, and the whole thing is controlled by a custom web interface from [Vince]’s smartphone.

There’s just something about automating chicken coop doors that seems to inspire hackers; check out this nice self-locking design. As for [Vince]’s farm, it looks like his system has a lot of room for expansion – food and water status would be a great next step. We’re looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.

15 thoughts on “Small-farm Automation Keeps Livestock Safe And Happy

  1. I obviously don’t know much about farms, but I’d be hesitant to use a time-based coop door automation scheme. I think I’d prefer to somehow determine when all the chickens are back, instead of inadvertently locking a latecomer out.

      1. One of those projects that I never seem to find time for. I want to put RFID leg tags on my birds and a scale in the nesting box to tell when one is laying so I can figure out who are the producers and who are the freeloaders that need to be culled.

    1. Hi, I remember working on my grandfathers farm for a while. One of my duties was to open and close the gate for the chickens. First few times I rallied the chicken and tried to get them into the stable. That resulted in two things: Me – running around, chicken – not getting in the stable in time. My grandfather told me not to do that. Instead I should open and close the gate at the same time. Some chicken were left out for a day. Those chicken were the ones waiting around the stable the next day. After a short while (4 days max) every chicken was in the stable some time before I’m off to the gate.

    2. My flock got seriously culled over a six-week period by an owl of all things – kept picking off the hens that preferred to roost on top of the coop overnight. I used to make the effort to move the roof-sleepers inside every night, but then I realized they were happier roosting al fresco and I just left them. Probably weren’t too happy when the owl zapped them, but at the end of the day, they’re just chickens and they’re easily replaced.

      1. Some places in the not-farm-areas are talking about registering chickens. A bit like licensing your dog or cat. Government officials say it’s to keep track of birds when (officials never say “if”) they catch the avian flu. Not surprisingly, the proposed laws are written in such a way to exempt the huge bird farms like KFC. Generally targetting middle sized farms all the way down to your 4H family with 5 chickens. The cost is fairly high on a per bird basis.

        Point is, letting your birds get picked off can get pretty expensive.

        On a side note, can other birds be trained the same way? I live in one of those areas where we see a lot of hawks, coyotes and oppossums where a lot of people also raise chickens, doves, ducks and geese and we have wild cranes and turkeys and feral peacocks.

        1. Ducks can definitely be trained to enter/leave a coop at dusk/dawn. Mind you, the training is pretty exciting, and takes a week or so, but once they have it down, getting them in and out of the coop is a piece of cake.

          And I couldn’t agree more that subsidizing the local predator population with one’s livestock is an expensive proposition. A chick is cheap, but the labour and food need to get them to harvest-weight or to the point of egg-laying is where the expense is. For this reason, farm automation is something that I am very interested in.

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