A Smart Coop For Your Backyard

Setting your coop on autopilot.

A Smart Coop For Your Backyard

In this world of smart homes, smart devices, and smart plugs, there’s no reason we can’t have a smart coop in our backyard! Chickens thrive on routine, and automation makes our lives easier, but technology is forever finicky at best. Let’s dive into some concepts, considerations, solutions, and workarounds I’ve found while striving to automate my chickens’ lives.

Smart Coop

The term “smart coop” is relative. There are “smart” devices and “no-so-smart” devices, much like there are smart chickens and not-so-smart chickens (you know the ones). Both device types can achieve some level of automation, but I’ll focus on the smarter of the two.


Not-so-smart devices can be considered more autonomous than smart devices because they can make their own judgment call, which is backward if you think of it. A prime example of this category could include bucket de-icers, thermostatically controlled outlets, Automated chicken doors, and mechanical timers. These devices work, but they don’t offer flexibility, or they are negatively affected by power losses, such as timers, which could cause great harm to the girls.

“Not-so-smart” additions to your coop can be highly beneficial, like this light-sensor-driven automated chicken door.

Smart Devices

Smart devices are more dynamic because you can alter their logic, typically through a graphical user interface, such as an app on your phone or a website. These devices allow you to specify things like “Turn off at 8 p.m. ” or “Turn on if the local temperature reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit”. The beauty of these more flexible solutions is the scheduling ability and remote control they afford to your smart coop, but not all smart device systems are created equal.


Nearly everything has a protocol in the digital world. All USB devices use the same language or protocol to talk to your computer; your cell phone adheres to a protocol so that it works with your service provider’s network. As such, it should be no surprise that smart devices have a protocol or two or three.

Creating conditions such as “Turn on if colder than 35 degrees Fahrenheit” or “On at 6 a.m.” has great utility for automating a chicken coop.

Wi-Fi and Routers

Wifi is likely the easiest protocol to build your smart coop with. Most people already have a wifi network at home, and that network likely reaches their backyard coop. Modern wifi operates on two frequencies; 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. I’ll avoid going into the why (that would be wading into the technical weeds), but a 2.4 GHz wifi signal does a better job of penetrating walls and traveling a longer distance, which means it’s the better option for us if we’re trying to reach our smart coop in the backyard.

Building a smart coop with Wi-Fi devices is the simplest method, mainly because you probably have a network already. That said, you may need to configure your Wi-Fi router to operate on 2.4 GHz or create two networks. Many home network routers can make two Wi-Fi networks at once, so you can operate your computer or streaming device on a 5 GHz network to get the best speed while also having a 2.4 GHz network for your smart coop devices. This is how I have my setup built currently.

Wi-Fi controllers like these are what I use to automate my coops.

Zigbee And Z-wave

Zigbee and Z-wave are two popular but competing protocols that share the same premise but achieve the result a little differently. Both protocols create a network that talks to and controls smart devices, providing a local control hub. This network operates independently from any Wi-Fi network in the sense that smart devices don’t use your Wi-Fi. The control hub, however, can interact with your local Wi-Fi network.

Cloud Vs Local

Smart coops that rely on Wi-Fi networks use the cloud to control them, or in other words, someone else’s computer, such as Google’s. The primary functional downfall of this cloud approach is; if you lose internet service or don’t have it, your devices won’t work. With Zigbee or Z-wave, you have a local hub that, in most instances, can operate without an internet connection.

Cheesing Wi-Fi

If I were to start all over, I would build a local Zigbee network to control my smart devices, both in the coop and in the home. Unfortunately, I’m already invested in Wi-Fi gear, and I’m not inclined to change it because I’ve worked around the general issues I’ve found. The biggest issue I’ve found in my smart coop is light timing. If the internet is down when the cloud service sends the message to turn the light off, the light in my coop never gets the message. I’ve set it up so that every hour, the service is either telling the device to turn on or off. If the light is on when an “on” command is sent, it stays on, and the same goes for off. When set up like this, whenever the power or internet comes back on, within an hour at maximum, the cloud service will correct the light for me, so I don’t leave the girls in darkness or perpetual light, which can cause a stop in laying or egg-bound fatalities, respectively.

Using smart devices helps me keep the girls happy, healthy, and productive year-round.

Safety and Automation

Not all smart coop devices are created equal. Most wall plug or light socket control units are rated to 10-amps of power draw, more than enough for your 40-watt equivalent LED light bulb. These 10-amp units are not a wise choice for operating everyone’s favorite heating source, the old reliable 250-watt infrared bulb, however. In the interest of preventing a fire hazard, or destroying your smart devices, use a 15-watt rated smart plug when regulating a heat source or other high-draw device in the coop, especially anything with a motor. Also, look for UL-approved devices for additional peace of mind since not all devices sold are certified.

Affordable smart devices have made our lives easier, and now they can make your chickens’ lives better too! Do you use smart devices in your coop? Has this article inspired you to try it out? Let us know in the comments below!

At 12 years old, JEREMY CHARTIER became involved with his local 4-H group, later joined the local FFA chapter, and showed livestock until his
college years. After graduating from the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut, he joined University of Maine’s Poultry Service Provider training program. Today Jeremy sells started pullets to local backyard farmers, is still involved with 4-H as a poultry showmanship judge and writes about his passion for farming.

One thought on “A Smart Coop For Your Backyard”
  1. Jeremy, look into a ‘Pi” device.., its a stand alone macro computer that runs Linux. You can use it as your cloud. Then your not dependent on anything else.

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