The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Converting a scanner into an automatic coop door opener

using an old scanner for an automatic chicken coop door opener and closer

Got an old document scanner you don't use anymore? Why not give it a new life by converting it into an automatic chicken coop door opener and closer.

Chicken has some of the details, but be aware this is an advanced project compared to other automatic chicken coop door openers. Some knowledge of Linux will be required to control the scanner.

Makes me wonder if the scanning arm of an old printer would offer the same results. What I like about this project is the availability of used scanners out there. I've seen them in thrift stores in the 10 to 20 dollar range and if you know someone who has upgraded lately you might find an old free one in their barn.
Automatic chicken door

Edited to add:

After years of research, Mark eventually settled on
this automatic chicken door.

You can see a summary of the best chicken door alternatives and why he chose this version here.

If you're planning on automating your coop, don't forget to pick up one of our chicken waterers.  They never spill or fill with poop, and if done right, can only need filling every few days or weeks!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I wonder how long the relatively fragile electronics of a scanner will last in the semi-protected environment of a chicken coop. I'd think that chicken manure will contain (precursors of) corrosive chemicals. The mechanism of a scanner is definitely not constructed with this use in mind. :-)

The difficult bit is usually to take all the corner cases into account; e.g. if some straw gets stuck in the door and prevents it from closing. A simple program will power the motor until the closing switch trips, which in the aforementioned case would probably burn out the motor.

Using electronics in an extremely flammable environment like a chicken coop is something else to think about. One spark could be sufficient to burn the whole coop down.

And of course you'd want to construct the door in such a way that it would be impossible for a predator to pry open.

(BTW, cycling computers usually contain magnetic reed switches. Usually, the magnet is clipped to a spoke and the magnetic switch is placed on a leg of the front fork and connected to the cycling computer mount with a wire)

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 1 05:50:56 2011
The simplest solution that I can think of is a disc that covers the door of the coop. It should continuously rotate with a speed of one full revolution every day. Part of the circumference of the disc should be cut away as to expose the opening in the coop during certain times of the day. You should have different discs (e.g. one for every month?) to account for the varying length of the days. You could power it with the mechanism of a clock slowed by a factor of 2 to account for a 24 hour day. The clock could be electrical but also mechanical, e.g. powered by weights on a rope.
Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 1 05:52:05 2011

The delicacy of the scanner is an excellent point. And that's also a great point about how the real world setting of a chicken coop poses problems that the engineer might not consider. :-)

I love the simplicity of your solution!! If we were going to build a coop door opener/closer, I think I'd definitely vote for that answer.

Comment by anna Sun May 1 10:41:31 2011

Part of the job of an engineer is to think of everything that pertains to solving the problem at hand. Of course we do not always succeed. :-/ But we do try and learn from our mistakes (see FMEA).

But the method for solving problems is in principle not difficult. It basically amounts to using logic and common sense, combined with a knowledge of the physical laws of nature;

  • Define the problem you are trying to solve. (for the coop it could be "prevent predators from entering the coop")
  • Gather possible solutions. This is where you'll need domain-specific knowlegde. In this case you'll need to know about the abilities of chickens and their local predators. (E.g. Chickens might be able to "fly" to an opening high enough so that predators cannot reach it. Surround the face of the coop around that opening with a smooth and slippery material so predators cannot climb in) Do not hesitate to look for solutions elsewhere. Engineers rejoice in re-using solutions. Laziness is a virtue here.
  • Grade the solutions. How this is done depends on the situation. Effectiveness, ease of implementation and cost are usually factors in the decision. An important factor is the KISS principle. Simple solutions are generally better than complex ones. IN this case you could translate that into; if possible, go for a solution without moving parts. (E.g. a U-turn maze entrance just big enough for a chicken will keep out larger predators.)
  • Implement the chosen solution. When (generally not if :-) ) difficulties arise, you might need to revisit the previous steps. Engineering tends to be an iterative process.
Comment by Roland_Smith Sun May 1 12:35:38 2011
Great list of steps in the process!
Comment by anna Sun May 1 13:45:44 2011
Look, you're out of moderation! :-)
Comment by anna Sun May 1 13:47:44 2011

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