Introduction: Big Mama Chicken Feeder...
As we recently got some chickens, I was searching for chicken feeder plans and was amazed at the number of different designs available. But one thing which struck me was that they (almost all) have small feed containers, which would need filling up every day or two. That wasn't for me, I wanted something that would last around a week unattended, so I set around designing something a bit beefier (if you'll excuse the phrase).
Our hutch, which is made out of a packing crate (I haven't made an ınstructable yet, if anyone is interested, let me know!), is raised above the ground so I wanted something that the chickens could comfortably feed from and would keep the feed dry in rainy weather. Also being able to fill it without entering the run would be an advantage especially in winter when things get muddy inside.
So, let's get started... Please let me have your comments and suggestions for improvements. I'll try to include an Update with changes that I made to the original design at the end.
Thanks for visiting/reading/contributing!
Step 1: Gathering Materials, Planning, Measuring...
The first thing to do (before buying anything!) is to decide where and how you want to fix your feeder. This will determine what parts you need and may vary from my design.
As our coop is elevated I wanted the feeder to be under the covered part to keep the feed dry. As I was thinking to mount the "barrel/hopper" part outside the run I decided to fix it to the back wall of the coop, with the tubes snaking into the run through the chicken wire.
Here's a list of the parts I used, yours may vary: (Imperial measurements rounded)
- 150mm (6") drain pipe, 750mm (30") long
- 150mm blank plug/cover/end cap call it what you will
- 150mm - 100mm adaptor (6" - 4" I don't know what standard sizes are available where you are!)
100mm - 75mm adaptor (4" - 3")
- Two 45 degree 75mm (3") bends
- Two 75mm (3") pipes, 750mm (30") long (this will depend on the number of chickens you want to feed at one time, but remember that feed doesn't like travelling horizontally on its own. Our birds usually take turns to feed from the hole nearest the hopper which renders the other holes and length of pipe useless) move to step...
- Two 75mm (3") end caps (for some reason one has escaped from the photo, it must have been hiding)
- Two 150mm (6") support brackets for the hopper
- A few self-drilling screws (or pop rivets if you prefer)
- Electric drill and various bits
- angle grinder with small-diameter sanding disk (not essential but saves time!)
- Holesaw to suit chicken head size (Note: The first holes I drilled were much too big and our birds spent most of their time scooping out feed to get to the best bits - we ended up with a layer of feed 5cm thick under the feeder until I replaced the pipes and drilled smaller holes. Now they're rubbing the feathers off the top of their heads which goes to prove you can't have your eggs and eat them!) move to Step...
- Fine-tooth saw/hacksaw
- Optional: soft-faced mallet to help fit pipes together
- Screwdrivers to suit.
Step 2: Cutting, Shaping Etc...
As I've mentioned before, the exact dimensions of your feeder will vary from mine, so all I can do is give general advice at this stage.
I cut about 50mm (2") off the narrow end off of the pipe which will become the hopper in order to use it later to keep the lid in place. As you'll see later, the reducers fit into the wide end of the pipe so to make the lid we're left with two equal-diameter parts to connect (see step 4 for more details).
Before connecting everything permanently, lay the parts out as you expect to connect them to check for misfits etc. I didn't use glue as the pipes have an internal rubber washer which holds firm enough and enables dismantling if necessary. When you're sure everything is OK press them together - this may require help from a soft-faced mallet or block of wood. Smearing a bit of grease or petroleum jelly (Vaseline etc.) on the seals makes it easier to put them together but we don't want them so slippery that they fall out again later on!
You will notice that the reducers are offset; this enables me to have the outlet pipe in the center of the hopper, I think this is important to enable gravity flow of feed through the system. Again suit yourself and do what YOU need!
Step 3: More Measuring and Testing...
Time to fit the horizontal pipes and angle corners together. Again plug them into each other as you require and seat them firmly.
At this stage I decided to test the system to see how easily feed would travel along the pipes. So I had to decide exactly where I would fit the feeder and prepare the brackets.
As the wall of our coop is thin (6mm, 1/4" plywood), I drove the screws into a 13mm (1/2") block of plywood on the inside of the coop to carry the load. This also prevents the chickens from injuring themselves on the screw point which would be dangerous if left exposed inside the coop.
Fitting the hopper temporarily into its brackets and then adding the horizontal (feeder) pipe enabled me to test the system. As I expected wheat didn't travel along the pipes at all until I gave them a couple of knocks which made it go further. Don't worry, the feeder will get a few shakes as the chickens feed from it so there shouldn't be a problem.
Step 4: Let's Make the Lid Now...
Every container needs a lid, so now it's time to make a lid for our feeder.
As the blank plug we will use is the same diameter as the pipe, we need to do something to keep it in place. This is where the thin slice of the main pipe we cut off earlier comes in handy.
Don't worry if you didn't cut a piece off, you can use any plastic to the same effect. The only thing to ensure is that it would prevent rain from getting into the feeder and making the feed damp.
Cutting the ring of plastic vertically gave me an open ring which I fitted around the plug with self-drilling screws. Having said that, they may be "self-drilling" but it is a good idea to drill a small (2mm, 5/64") hole beforehand to start the screws. Alternatively you can use pop rivets if you have them.
I didn't bother waterproofing the joint or even completing the full circle as my feeder will be under the roof of the coop. If yours will be exposed to rain it would be worth sealing the joint BEFORE screwing together with a bead of mastic or something suitable. Also you might want to find a longer piece of plastic which isn't going to leave a gap where rain may enter.
After fixing the ring, I sanded a chamfer on the inside of the ring to make it easier to fit the lid. Be careful!
Step 5: Time to Drill Some Big Holes...
This is where I made a mistake... Having looked at many feeder plans on the internet, I couldn't find out how big the holes for the chickens feeding should be. So first, out of kindness, I estimated the size of their heads and drilled holes which would allow them to easily get their heads into the feed pipes.
The problem with this was that when chickens feed, they scratch with their feet to get better things from under what they are eating. In my case they were pulling the wheat out of the feeder by dragging it with their chins. After a week we had a 50mm (2") "carpet" of wheat below the feeder and the hopper was emptying every two days.
I decided to replace the horizontal pipes and drill holes that they would only be able to get their heads into to feed, no scraping please! The diameter of the holes is now 50mm (2") and the amount of feed spilled has been reduced - but they still manage to scrape it out somehow!
I drilled enough holes so that they could all feed at the same time but this rarely occurs; they prefer to stick their heads into the nearest holes and eat directly from the T piece. Again, this depends on your preference.
I supported the pipes in pipe clips while drilling as I was working on my own. If you've got a helper this task would be easier.
Run the hole saw at a low speed as it might kick when contacting the plastic - as always, BE CAREFUL!
After the holes have been drilled, clean the edges with sandpaper or a file to remove swarf and sharp edges that may injure your chickens.
Step 6: Close the Open Ends...
Now it's time to block off the ends of the tubes. We don't want feed pouring out onto the floor (not much chance of it getting that far, but nevertheless!).
One of the blank caps will fit into the open end of one of the pipes. Just plug it in after smearing Vaseline on the rubber washer.
The other end presents a similar situation as the main hopper lid - two parts of the same diameter. In this case, I decided to use the blanks which were left from cutting the feeding holes - they just happened to fit in nicely and I fixed them with self-drilling screws (rivets if you prefer).
Before finally fitting both end caps, I cut some foam plastic to suit the inside of the tubes to prevent feed from building up in the ends of the tubes and going stale. But be careful that whatever you use isn't likely to be eaten by chickens; ours love expanded polystyrene (whenever they find some blowing around the garden) but this isn't really a suitable thing for them to eat!
Step 7: Final Inspection by the Customer...
Before installing, let your customers have a look around. They might suggest something you've missed or some changes they want made before it is finished!
All that is left is to fix the feeder into place and fill it up for a first "live test".
See Step 3 for details of how I fixed the feeder. No need to repeat here!
Please let me know if I've missed explaining anything and if you have any questions.
Step 8: Here's the Moment You've All Been Waiting For!
Well, not exactly a blockbuster, but at least you can see they liked their new feeder! Sorry about the sound, it's mostly my camera's autofocus motor...