Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Solar Powered - Self Moving Poultry Coop

Sustainable poultry farmers have been pulling coops around the pastures for quite some time now. Various methods are employed to do this... tractors, wheels, dollys,  I even saw an arrangement for an ox powered coop! So many ways to accomplish the same thing... but all with a downside or two. We have ourselves suffered from some of these issues such as:

1. Coops with wheels sink in the mud and therefore can't be pulled in the winter here.

2. Coops small enough to be pulled by hand are either not sturdy enough or too small to be efficient.

3. Pulling coops with tractors, atvs, etc causes extra mud ruts in the winter and grass damage in the summer, causing more damage than preferable.

4. Dolly arrangements fall prey to both #1 and #2

5. Periodic full movement of the coops is not nearly as effective as nearly constant coops. The goal after all is to simulate nature, and in nature birds roam constantly looking for food on fresh ground. Moving once or twice a day does not accomplish this and in fact can leave the ground overused in certain weather.

6. Coops need to be free to move in all directions to follow land contours to prevent holes that would grant access  to predators

7. Water and feed must move with the coops in some fashion.

8. Labor is a big concern, as the amount of labor required to maintain a decent number of coops can get in the way of profitability.

When you combine these concerns, it becomes obvious that, at least for us, none of the current coop designs / processes work well year round with low labor. A new approach is necessary to be efficient, healthy for the birds, low maintenance, strong protection, and weatherproof.


Our answer is perhaps a bit extravagant, but touches on all the concerns above. We have redesigned the coop itself, and are designing a solar powered winch system to allow the coop to creep slowly  around a pasture unattended with no external movement source. Ultimately only a visit every few days is the requirement. More often visit for reasons OTHER than moving and maintaining things is always a recommended option, but not a requirement as it is now.

Yes, you read that right, a coop large enough to house 50 heritage turkeys, that can move
ITSELF around a pasture unattended  for a couple of days, providing a constant patch of grass and ground every hour. WITH NO LABOR!

That is our goal!

We already have the coop designed (except for the nesting boxes for chickens)  and this design worked extremely well for this year's turkey flock.  Now we are working on a solar powered timer and winch setup to allow the coop to creep by itself around the pasture.

How will t his work? Simple... At first we were contemplating putting 120V winches on the fence line, on a timer, to pull the coops up to the fence over a series of days.  The problem with this is it limits you to work in straight lines to the fence (because of power).  Through a lot of thought and playing we discovered it is much easier to put the winch on the COOP itself! Give the coop the ability to pull it self along by extending the cable out, driving a short stake in the ground, and letting the timer run the coop a few seconds every hour. Add a solar panel and battery and you no longer need a power cable at all. You now have a fully autonomous coop that can move itself without wheels around any terrain, far away from power, and it can move in any direction (circles, squares, triangles, lines, etc) to avoid obstacles. It works in wet or dry weather without leaving ruts (because the coop is on skids), is strong enough to pull along a water source and feed, and can do this unattended up to the length of the cable.

All the components have been assembled to create this magical self moving, self watering coop. Sure it costs a bit more than the other designs we have used, but the labor savings will be astounding! It preserves the soil and grass in winter while giving the birds the healthiest, most natural environment. I don't have the numbers pulled together on the initial investment yet, but It's probably in the neighborhood of $500 per coop.  Careful procurement could drop this substantially.

So off we go on a new adventure... building robotic poultry coops that can run around the pasture on their own with minimal human involvement!

Stay tuned, as we work the bugs out we will be posting pictures and how to's to duplicate this crazy idea.  Hopefully, with a little luck, some inspiration, and lots of hard work through trial and error, this will work!

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE: I managed to get an initial prototype working yesterday. Unfortunately after crawling about 10 feet, the cable caught and wrapped around the winch motor shaft. Sigh. I forgot to install the cable guide. Today we get to unravel this by dismantling the winch itself... then the fun can continue.

    The good news is.. it worked! (for a short time)