Sunday, February 20, 2011

CLUCK TIPS: Ingenious Treadle Feeders Protect Chicken Feed and Minimize Waste

One goal with coop design is finding a way to feed the birds that minimizes waste and reduces the likelihood that anything other than chickens will end up eating the food. That saves on food and thwarts hungry vermin. Chickens like to vigorously swing their heads from side to side as they sort through pellets or grain looking for the choicest morsels. The result can be a lot of far-flung waste. Many feeders seek to minimize this by having the food level recessed and a lip that reduces scatter. That helps with waste but doesn't secure the food from other hungry grain eaters. The ultimate design therefore would allow chickens to feed but not other animals. The most common solution is to use the chicken's body weight to open the feeder since songbirds, mice, etc weigh less than chickens. This is obviously an in-coop solution since raccoons could easily learn to press the treadle for food if they could access it.

Watch a video of a treadle feeder in action here.

Grandpa's Feeder (metal)
One commercial model is Grandpa's Feeder (shown above), a sturdy looking metal model that will set you back close to $200. The chicken steps on a lever (treadle) that uses the weight of the bird and mechanical linkages to raise a hatch that exposes the food. I found another metal model on eBay for about $100. The two obvious advantages of these marketed metal feeders are: 1) You simply pay for one and they ship it and you are ready to go, and 2) Mice or other grain-hungry critters are unlikely to gnaw through some corner of the device to gain access to the feed - a possible problem with wooden models.

The other lower-cost option is to make your own. Here's a Backyard Chicken link to an elegant homemade treadle feeder and detailed plans (shown below).  

Mason jar simulates weight of chicken

Here's another comparable design by Rebecca Nickols (Mother Earth Newswith a simpler linkage that holds less feed (shown below). 

And click here to access plans to build the model shown below from Rod's Woodworking Shop. These are very complete and detailed plans.

Here a rock is a stand-in for the chicken
But all of the above models rely on somewhat complicated mechanical linkages with two or three pivot points. There is another approach suggested Warren Lewis of Butte Montana in 1910. His version uses one pivot axis and pulleys.

All these designs require that you train your hens to use them. This involves leaving the lid open during an introductory period. 

If you decide to make one, please send photos (and possibly plans) to CLUCK and we'll post them.

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