Introduction: Keeping Your Chickens Safe at Night With Those Little LEDs Oh So Bright
Most of us like to eat chicken, but even if you don’t this may come as no surprise: everything else out there does. So, if you’re like me and like to keep a small flock of free-range chickens around just for fresh eggs (and the occasional fresh, chemical-free fryer) I have no doubt that keeping them off the drive-thru dinner menu for every fox, dog, hawk, mink and ferret that you run into can be an exercise in futility. And if you live out in the country like me it can be darn near impossible. Don't belive me? Just ask my chickens:-).
Several flocks later I have learned that the only way to keep the daytime cruisers from grabbing a quick feathery snack is to keep them in an enclosed fenced in area, preferably underneath a large shade tree (so the hawks don’t swoop down and grab one). This way every morning I can let them out of the coop and let them poke around a few hundred square feet of grass without worrying about the four-footed variety of hunters. But I’m not here to tell you how to protect your flock against those daytime Jonny-come-lately’s; That’s easy…no ‘ible’ needed there. Nope, I’m here to help you against those really sneaky creatures…the ones that keep you up at night. Hopefully this ass-kicking ‘ible’ from Kentucky Bum will give you some piece of mind by showing you how to cut down the number of night-time snack raids to your coop and give you a few more peaceful night’s sleep.
I engineered this solution from a fact that I read somewhere that most of the really nasty things that sneak around at night are freaked out by blinking LEDs (I had a problem with ferrets and minks [the nastiest of the nasties]). It said the lights appear to them as other predator’s eyes. (Authors note: I have found that they don’t work so well against raccoons, but most coops aren’t that unprotected.) With further research I went on to find a company that makes a solar-charged blinking red LED light and that you are suppose to surround your coop with as many of them as you need, but at $25 a pop I don’t think so. Besides, what good are they if you can’t use them inside the coop to keep things out? Here’s how I made a good work-around solution.
Tools you will need:
-Multi-meter that can read DC volts and show polarity
-Wire snips and strippers
-[Maybe] a soldering gun & solder.
Parts you need:
-Blinky LED lights (I have red ones, but if other colors work let me know)
-10’to 30’ of light weight, low-voltage 2-strand shielded wire
-A handful of small wire nuts (the kind you get with any ‘wire-it-up-yourself’ light fixture).
-A handful of thumbtacks
(Another Authors note: Read Step 1 and then Step 2 before you do anything; you probably already have some of these parts laying around, and since they tend to be voltage specific it may behoove you to buy those parts that operate at the same [or nearly the same] voltage of the parts you may already have.)
Step 1: Buy Some LEDs!
The first step is to buy some blinking LEDs; grab about 3 or 4. Most of the circuit boards that run LEDs can run on any voltage from 6 to 15 volts DC (battery power) but try to find some that run on 9 volt batteries because it’s easier to get access to the wires that the battery plugs into [unless you have a soldering gun or don’t mind replacing batteries every other week]. A while back I got on eBay and found somebody selling a bunch of surplus 9-volt circuit boards with blinking LEDs; 25 boards for $8 + SH&H (Sweet!).
Step 2: Grab an AC-DC Transformer/Adapter
The second step is to get your hands on an old AC-DC transformer, the kind that you plug into the wall to power (or charge) some other electronic device. If you’re like me chances are you have a box full of ‘em laying around in the garage from all of those ‘toys’ you long-since discarded but decided to keep the wall charger “just in case you needed it someday”. Well, today’s that day. Find one that uses 115 Volts AC INPUT (like I said, the kind you plug in a wall) and has somewhere between 5 and 15 [or so] volts DC OUTPUT. Most of these AC to DC plug in transformers will fall into that range, just make sure it’s AC to DC and not AC to AC (some are). It will be labeled somewhere on the charger.
You’ll also need to get your hands a few feet of low-voltage, light weight double-strand insulated wire. Any kind will do, even old interior grade extension wire (but that’s over kill because we are talking milli-amps here). You will need enough wire to string along the inside of the coop so that when wired in series you have enough blinky LED lights to be seen from every part of the coop. If you have a few blind spots in the coop you may need more lights and more wire, but usually 3 or 4 blinky LEDs cover the ‘kill zone’ adequately. I have a big, walk-in coop so I needed about 30’, but you may need more or less. I used some old excess wire I had saved from an electric garage door project. It was the small, white wire that went from the door open/close optical sensors, perfect and easy to tack into place.
Step 3: Plan Your Run.
Determine where you can get power from (my coop has an outlet in it for heat lamps in the winter) but you may have to run an extension cord from someplace. If you do, make sure it’s an exterior grade cord and the plug ends up inside the coop undercover and out of the weather; most AC-DC transformers are not weather proof so you’ll need to keep that undercover. Pick a spot where you want to tack your first board into and start from there. It is ideal if you can locate them to be visible from the outside AND inside at any potential angle of entry; the goal is to scare them off before they get inside the coop. But if they do sneak through a hole in the wall you want them to see the blinking LEDs just as they peer into the coop and look around. That’s why it may take more than 2 or 3. (Authors note: I tacked a few LEDs high and a few LEDs low, but all of them are out of reach from the chickens so they don’t ‘play’ with them when they are bored or fly into them when they leave their perch in the morning.)
Step 4: Last Step: Start Splicing and Tacking in Place
Cut the end of the AC-DC adapter off ([usually] the round plug) [see Step 2] but leave the entire power chord attached to the transformer. If it makes sense you can splice the wires from your first board right up to those wires and locate it near the plug. If not, splice a run of 2-strand wire to the cord from the transformer and connect up a board by matching the Positive Output of the transformer to the Positive Input of the circuit board. Important: wire them together along with the next run of extension wire long enough to get to the next location in the coop so make a T-wire connection at each board for each power lead so that if the board fails the others will keep blinking. If you use boards that don’t have wire leads on them you may have to solder a couple on each one.
You’re done! But before you tack them in place make sure they all blink away after you plug them in. It’s easier to replace them on the bench than up in the rafters of a coop. You can also plug the string of lights into a timer so they only come on just before dark and turn off after sunrise but I didn’t. They use so little power that a timer doesn’t pay for itself, and beside that way I don’t have to keep track of the changing hours of daylight year round.