How to Build an Automatic Chicken Feeder
Reading Time: 5 minutes
I like fresh farm eggs, and having chickens brings a lot of “life” to my place. I built some chicken tractors so my chickens could have the best life possible, eating fresh greens and all the bugs they could find. I also have goats and while I was in their pen, I noticed that it was much bigger than my three Nigerian goats needed. It has a small pond for water so I thought, “Why not have the animals together? The chickens could roam to their heart’s content and even help keep the bugs away from the goats.” It was a good thought, at least until the next day when it was time to feed the chickens some grain. The goats pushed the chickens out of the way and gobbled up all the grain they could get their lips on. So, I walked around the yard and sprinkled a little here and there. The chickens had to forage and find the grain, but at least the goats didn’t get it all.
I had just finished a small plumbing project and was packing up the extra supplies to take back to the store when one of the items started a thought in my head. Chickens’ necks are pretty long. It might not look like it, but they can stretch it out over five inches. If I could use a product that allowed the chickens’ heads and necks to go through, but small enough so the goats couldn’t lick up the grain, it would eliminate another chore that has to be done every night.
One of the plumbing supplies that I was packing up was a three-inch PVC street elbow. (A street elbow is different than a regular elbow, one side is smaller — same size as a pipe — and the other side is a fitting for a pipe to go into.) I had a hole saw that was very close to the size of the small side of the street elbow. With a regular elbow, both ends of the elbow are bigger so a pipe can slide in, but it would be harder to seal it up from the weather.
I also had a spare 55-gallon food-grade plastic drum with a removable top. I pick them up when I see them for $5 to $10 each and they come in handy for many projects.
I wanted the big end of the elbow to be close to the bottom of the inside of the barrel, but it had to be far enough away so the grain could slide under the elbow allowing the chickens to eat. I looked around and decided to use a standard piece of 2×4 stock, which is roughly 1.50 inches thick.
With the barrel standing up, I placed the wood on the ground with the big end of the street elbow on the wood. I traced around the small end of the elbow, which was touching the barrel. This gave me the location to drill the hole.
After drilling the first hole, I had to decide how many chickens I wanted eating at the same time. Plus, when I looked at the barrel, I didn’t want to just have one or two holes in it and have the grain that is not by the holes be wasted since the chickens would not be able to get to it. Six holes seemed to be just about right. After drilling the holes, I noticed that they were not spaced exactly even, but it will still work.
As you can see in the photo, the elbows were placed in the holes from the inside out. And since the holes were exactly the size of the pipe, it was a nice press fit. I made sure the elbows were pointing down. A dry fit was done to see how it looked and if more should be added.
On the outside, I left roughly 1.5 inches sticking out. There was a line on the elbow where it would normally fit into another pipe fitting and was used as a guideline when inserted. I wanted to seal up the elbows as much as possible, so I removed the elbows and added 100% silicone caulking around each hole. As I reinserted the elbow, I twisted it around to coat it, then placed a bead of silicone on both the outside and the inside of the barrel. It was easier to have the barrel upside down when I applied the outside silicone.
I then I put very small pinholes in the bottom of the barrel just in case any water would get in and needed a way to seep out.
The next day the silicone was dry and it was time to try it out and see how it worked.
I placed the feeder on some shelving to try and raise the bottom of the barrel so it was even with the chest of the shortest chicken. I only added 20 gallons of feed as I wanted it heavy enough so the goats couldn’t push it over, but light enough (if this didn’t work) that it would be easy to move. I then clamped the top back in place to make it waterproof.
It was time to train the chickens. I placed some grain in the elbow so the chickens could see and smell it and dribbled more around the feeder. They came running (so did the goats).
It was about 15-20 minutes before the first chicken stuck its head inside to start eating (it was probably afraid because it blocked its peripheral vision), but once one did it, they all did it.
Eventually, I took the feeder off the shelving as they could reach it without it being raised. Plus, it made it easier to refill.
The only thing I would change is to make a cone for the middle that will direct the grain to the sides of the barrel so that chickens can get to it when the feeder gets low.
When the feeder is full, I only have to refill it once a month during the summer and every two to three weeks during the winter (they eat bugs in the summer). This is a true time saver since the chickens now feed themselves.