Can Chickens Smell and Taste?

Anyone tending a backyard flock quickly learns that chickens can be as picky about food as a crabby child. Put a pan of kitchen scraps into the run and hens enthusiastically devour bread, meat scraps, and some greens yet shun citrus, turnip chunks and many other goodies. They seem to instantly know what foods are a delicious break from dry feed.

Midsummer is a time of food plenty for chickens and wild birds, and it’s fascinating to watch what they will and won’t eat. Any grasshopper misfortunate enough to hop into a chicken run becomes an instant protein-rich snack. Hens entirely ignore box elder bugs buzzing around them. They’ll eat grasses that grow in their run and shun other plants, like motherwort. How do they know what’s good to eat and what’s not?

Scientists have been debating how well birds can taste and smell for years. Because they have tough bony beaks and small hard tongues it’s more difficult to study their tasting ability than it is with mammals.  According to an ornithologist, Dr. Neil Bernstein, the bird brain is heavily developed for sight, sound, and balance with smell and taste much less acute. Their sense of touch varies by species.

Humans mouths contain about 9,000 taste buds compared with 50 to 500 for birds.  One researcher discovered about 400 taste buds in ducks. Chickens have some taste buds, but they are located in the back of their mouth. So, before they can taste something they’ve already committed to swallowing it.

Studies on the chicken sense of smell and taste are scarce, but more research has been done on wild birds visiting feeders stocked with diverse seeds.  Wild birds, such as chickadees and cardinals, use their keen sense of vision to locate seeds and seem to know which ones are tastiest or most nutritious. For example, they’ll pick every sunflower seed out of a blend of seeds before eating a single milo seed.

Chickens aren’t bird brains. They have intelligence and memory, and this may be a clue on how they react to food.  “I once ate popcorn not knowing I was about to develop the flu.  To put it politely, I tasted popcorn that night on the way out.  It was years before I could eat popcorn again because I unconsciously associated it with illness,” said ornithologist Bernstein.  The same might happen with chickens. A bird who gobbled down a box elder bug and had her throat badly scratched may remember it and take this common insect off her food list.

In many ways, chickens are like humans. People have food preferences. So, do hens.  Although generally, every bird in a flock is likely to like or dislike a certain food, this can vary.  One hen may like tomato scraps, but a flock sister won’t touch them.

Some birds can detect odor. Turkey vultures can locate food hidden under a dense tree cover by chemicals emitted from decaying dead animals. In contrast, great horned owls have been known to kill and eat skunks. “Because skunk spray can hurt owl eyes I don’t think they seek skunks often.  Owls don’t seem to have a sense of smell, but they certainly have food preferences,” said Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center. “For example, they don’t seem to like ground squirrels but love voles,” she added. For a great horned owl having no sense of smell is a benefit. But, how about chickens?

Chickens don’t seem to have much ability to smell or taste. That may be an advantage. They seem to prefer foods of certain colors. Toss scraps of red tomatoes into the run, and they’ll be instantly devoured, while green pepper scraps are ignored. Why hens will eat green grass yet avoid nearby green motherwort or buckwheat plants is a mystery perhaps known only to chickens.

One thing is certain. When given a diversity of foods chickens, and other bird species, have an amazing ability to choose those that are nutritious. One of the benefits of keeping a flock is observing them. It doesn’t take long to learn that they are amazingly perceptive.

 

Boredom Busters in the Coop

Winter getting the best of you and your chickens? Cabin fever set in? Then take a look at these boredom busters to incorporate into your coop during the long winter months.

Variety in Diet

It’s important to continue your regular commercial feed regiment during the winter, but other variety in the way of diet can go far. Ambitious owners can sprout grain to give their flock a winter treat of greenery. Additionally, table scraps can serve as an exciting treat for your feathered friends. Among the better scraps to feed chickens are small amounts of salad, greens, pumpkin and squash seeds, bits of vegetables, popcorn, and almost any other food that is relatively dry. Please remember that MODERATION is KEY when it comes to scraps and treats.

Other treat options can include a snack of scratch grain or cracked corn, but only a few handfuls daily are all a small flock should have.

Space

Giving your birds space in the coop is important in keeping peace and contentment among the flock. Four square feet of floor space per bird is the minimum. Include perches and roosts at different heights and angles to offer exercise for hens. Add some stumps to the coop floor as well, to add some variety in perch options for your friends.

New and Different

Your girls will love the addition of something new and different to the coop during those long, cold months. Try securing a mirror in the coop, chickens find their own reflection fascinating! Do avoid if you have a rooster as they may mistake their reflection for another rooster in the flock.

Additionally, just spending more time with your birds can help to break up their day (and yours!) And remember, stay strong, Spring will be here eventually!

A Diversity of Eggs

Delightful gifts that a hen gives the family caring for them are delicious eggs with shells of varied sizes, hues, and shapes. Some are speckled. Most are solid color. These gorgeous gems soon transition into tasty and nutritious food.

Many flock owners keep several chicken breeds that lay a diversity of shell colors ranging from light to dark brown, blue/green, white, and virtually every shade in between. Some shells are smooth and glossy, while others are more textured. When arranged in an egg carton they are a delight to the eye and a striking contrast to the sameness of supermarket eggs.

Many wonder why eggs are so diverse. The answer is simple. Chickens are genetically complex.  They have between 20,000 and 23,000 genes in about one billion DNA base pairs. This compares with the 20,000-25,000 human genes in 2.8 billion DNA base pairs.  Enormous genetic complexity results in much individual variation.  Just as people come in many shapes, sizes, and colors because of genetic diversity, so do chickens.  This explains why chickens range in size from the tiny Serama bantam breed to immense Jersey Giants.  Chicken feathers come in dozens of color shades and marking patterns.

Chicken breeds were developed over centuries by human selection for certain traits, like egg production, shell color, fast growth, pleasant demeanor, and attractive feathers. As a rule breeds developed around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Leghorns and Anconas, are relatively small in body size, are nervous and active, and lay many white shelled eggs. Some more northern European breeds, like Hamburgs, also lay white eggs. In contrast, most breeds developed in England, the United States, and Australia are large bodied and lay brown shelled eggs. Marans, a French breed, lays exceptionally dark shelled brown eggs.  Araucanas from South America are oddballs that lay eggs with shells ranging from greenish to blueish.  No matter how diverse chickens are, they are all of the same species.

When breeds are crossbred, egg shell color is usually (but not always) a blend of what the parent breed lays. Genetics get complicated but modern poultry breeds generally understand the key to traits and have created hybrid broilers that grow astonishingly fast and also hyper laying strains.

Eggs of all birds are amazing far beyond their color. Shape varies with species and within a species. Generally, wild birds that make sparse nests on rocky cliffs lay pointy, oblong eggs that roll in a circle, keeping them in the nest. Birds that nest in tree cavities, where it’s impossible for eggs to roll out, tend to lay more round eggs.  Chickens fall somewhere in between.  In the wild they nest on the ground, so eggs are mildly asymmetric, although some are nearly round.  Usually during laying, the blunt end emerges from the hen’s body first, followed by the tapered skinny end.

Individual hens usually lay similar eggs that may vary in shape from another hen of the same breed. For example, a Barred Rock hen in a small flock may lay eggs that are unusually round while another Barred Rock may lay much more oblong ones.  Each will continue laying eggs of that shape throughout her life.  One hen may also lay darker brown eggs than a sister of the same breed, and this characteristic will persist through her life. Generally, brown eggs get somewhat lighter in shell color as a hen ages.

According to Pat Leonard, who wrote an extensive article on egg color for the Summer 2017 issue of Living Bird magazine, egg pigments are complex molecules synthesized in the shell glad.  A pigment called protoporphyrin produces reddish-brown colors while biliverdin produces blue and green shades. Varied amounts of each explains the intensity of shell color and when pigments are absent the shell is white.

The article lists several other interesting egg facts. For example, eggshells can have from a few hundred to tens of thousands of pores and eggs that hatch into chicks able to walk and feed shortly after hatching, like chickens, have larger yolks than species that hatch naked and helpless, like baby robins.

People who tend small flocks enjoy the delightful diversity of eggs of many shapes, sizes, and hues. A carton full is a delight to the eye.

Are Pheasants for You?

So you’ve mastered poultry care and are ready for the next challenge, are pheasants for you? These beautiful birds will for sure test your skills, but can be just as rewarding to have as part of your flock.

It’s important to note, that pheasants aren’t for the faint of heart. They require delicate care, and can differ drastically in nutrition and personality compared to poultry. Here are a few basics to consider, if you are serious about exploring pheasants:

Breeds

The more popular pheasant breeds reside in the Ringneck family, including: Manchurian Cross Ringneck, Chinese Ringneck and Extra Large Ringneck. You may also be interested in the Chukar, Melanistic Mutant and K Thunder breeds.

Starting Out

The easiest way to start out with pheasants is to purchase them as pheasant chicks. As with poultry, you want to create a brooder house that protects the chicks from weather, drafts and predators. Heat lamps are important to include into your brooder when bringing home pheasant chicks. It’s not recommended to use wood shavings for their bedding, but instead chopped straw, as they have a tendency to eat the shavings. Adequate space for your pheasant chicks should also be factored in, as with chicks.

Nutrition

Pheasants, in general, require a higher protein starter feed such as Nutrena Country Feeds Meatbird 22% Crumble. When ready to move onto a grower feed, options can include Nutrena Country Feeds Gamebird or Nutrena NatureWise Meatbird poultry feed.

When birds reach 16-20 weeks, maintenance feeds like Nutrena NatureWise Layer 16% Crumble Feed or Nutrena NatureWise Feather Fixer would be a sufficient option.

Remember, just like any other bird, adequate water is highly important. Note that pheasants may be more likely to drown in a water dish, so consider a thin-lipped auto waterer or adding some marbles to your waterer to protect the birds.

General Considerations

  • Pheasants have a tendency to spook easier than other birds, so use caution when working around and caring for your pheasants.
  • Pheasants will pick at each other in captivity, so make sure you have given your birds enough space in the pen, as well as at the feeder.
  • Try not to mix species if you have other birds or poultry. Chickens may have a tendency to pick on the pheasants.
  • The personality of a pheasant is often much different than that of poultry, so recognize that your pheasants may not exemplify the docile characteristics you see in the rest of your flock.

Although a challenge, these beautiful creatures can offer much reward to bird enthusiasts. If you follow these tips, do your research, and provide diligent care, you are likely to see success in the field of pheasant raising!

Water Is Essential, but Can It Be Harmful?

Providing clean, free choice water 24/7 is the most essential aspect of management when keeping your poultry healthy.

As those of us in cold climates know very well, it is a challenge to keep water liquid during harsh winter temperatures. Poultry will actually need more water in the winter because of the dry air. There are many options for you to choose including:

  • Hauling warm water multiple times a day and breaking ice
  • Heated buckets and waterers
  • Heated bases
  • Keeping the coop above freezing

All these solutions have their benefits and drawbacks. Keep in mind that anything involving electricity provides a potential cause for shock and fire. Be safe!

Can water be potentially harmful?

Yes. Water, in vapor form from breath, evaporation from wet litter and water sources can cause unsafe conditions inside your coop. It seems counterproductive to have a well-ventilated coop when you are trying to keep it warm, but this is one reason airflow is important.

High humidity in the coop can cause condensation and a wet environment causing these potential problems:

  • Wet feathers that lose their ability to insulate; especially in fancy breeds (Silkies, Frizzles, etc)
  • Icing on perches, windows, electrical outlets
  • Frostbite on wet combs and wattles
  • A breeding ground for bacteria and microorganisms that can cause disease

How can you tell if you have this problem? Check windows for ice accumulation on the inside, this is a sign that the humidity in your coop is high. Also, check your birds’ feathers for ice accumulation and to see if they feel wet. Birds who are wet will be cold and more susceptible to sickness.

Brave the cold. Keep water where it belongs, fresh liquid in your birds’ waterers!

For more information on air quality in coops, read our post about Ventilation in Chicken Coops.

Egg Nog – Holiday Spirit in a Cup!

If you are like a lot of poultry enthusiasts out there, then you’re likely always looking for fun and unique ways to use up that egg supply. With the holiday’s right around the corner, what better way to put those eggs to work than a cup of Saint Nick’s Egg Nog! Thanks to the incredibleegg.org, here’s a recipe to master the holiday delicacy!

Saint Nick’s Egg Nog

Total Time: 25m, Prep Time: 10m, Cook Time: 15m

Ingredients:

6 large EGGS
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups whole milk, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
12 cinnamon sticks for garnish

Yields: 12 servings (6 cups)

Directions:
1. BEAT eggs, sugar and salt in large heavy saucepan until blended. STIR IN 2 cups milk.

2. COOK over low heat, stirring constantly but gently, until mixture is just thick enough to just coat a metal spoon with a thin film and temperature reaches 160°F, about 15 minutes. Do not allow to boil. REMOVE from heat immediately.

3. STIR IN remaining 2 cups milk and vanilla. REFRIGERATE, covered, until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight.

Insider Info:
Just before serving, stir brandy, liqueur, rum or bourbon into eggnog, if desired. For a festive presentation, garnish with whipped cream, ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or candy canes.

Secrets of success: Low heat, a heavy sauce pan, constant stirring and patience are the keys to making the eggnog. If you increase the cooking temperature to try to speed the process along, the mixture is likely to curdle. Stirring constantly, making sure to cover the entire bottom and corners of the pan, prevents scorching and ensures that the mixture heats.

Watch carefully and test frequently toward the end of the cooking time, after about 10 to 12 minutes. The last few minutes are crucial. Undercooked eggnog will be thin and watery; overcooked custard will curdle. The difference is a matter of only a few degrees.

For perfectly smooth eggnog: Pour through a sieve before chilling.

For a richer eggnog: Substitute half-and-half or light cream for some of the milk.

To keep eggnog cold during a party, set punch bowl or pitcher in a bed of crushed ice, or freeze some of the eggnog in ice cube trays or ice ring using a bundt pan and add to bowl right before party.

Use leftover eggnog in French toast or pancake batter.

Recipe compliments of www.incredibleegg.org/.

DIY Your Coop with Scrap Lumber

Backyard flock owners tinker with their coop attempting to increase chicken comfort while making flock management easier. There’s always need for lumber for a new pop hole door, roost, or angled boards to keep birds from perching and pooping on otherwise horizontal surfaces. Only modest carpentry skill are needed to craft them and make waterer stands, feeders, and many other useful items. Even making a new modest sized coop isn’t difficult and can be mostly built with free scrap wood.

It’s possible to buy almost everything a well-equipped coop needs. Feeders, waterers, nests, and even gourmet specialty food are stocked in stores that sell chicks each spring. But, shopping for chicken needs can get expensive. A solution is finding and using free lumber and to craft coops and chicken furniture at home.

FINDING FREE LUMBER

Plenty of useful lumber, plywood, and insulation are free for the asking and hauling.   Often building sites, industrial and shipping areas, and stores that sell large items are great sources for free wood.

CONSTRUCTION SITES

One of the first items to appear when a house is about to be built is a dumpster. Carpenters regularly toss lumber, insulation, and plywood into it to be hauled off to the landfill. Since everything in the dumpster is new wood it’s clean and often nail free. Sometimes even full sized 2x4s are tossed in the trash.  Visit the site when carpenters are working and ask if it’s ok to remove items. They’ll usually happily grant permission.  After all anything that gets hauled off reduces the cost of disposal to the builder.

STORES

Motorcycles, garden tractors, and machinery of all sorts are often shipped in wooden crates. Once at the store employees remove the items and toss the wood in the dumpster. Again, asking usually secures permission to take wood. Crate wood is normally new but may have some nails in it.

PALLETS

Every day two billion pallets are shipped virtually everywhere in the world.  Many are reused, but far too many companies simply toss them in piles and eventually pay to have them hauled to a landfill.  Most pallets are perfectly safe to use for dozens of projects, while others could be hazardous.

Look for piles of pallets near businesses that ship or receive large quantities of heavy items. Companies are often happy to have people remove them to save disposal cost.

It’s important to understand pallets to choose and those that are most useful, easiest to reconstruct, and safe. Many pallets have the logo of the International Plant Protection Convention or IPPC printed on the wood. They also contain printed codes. Pallets shipped long distances are usually treated to kill insect pests or their eggs that may be hiding in the wood, waiting to hitch a ride to a new place to infest.

Pallets bearing the IPPC logo have been treated to kill pests. Most have “HT” printed on them in bold black letters. This stands for HEAT TREATED and means they were baked in an oven to kill insects. Avoid any pallet marked “MB”. This means it was treated with methyl bromide, a toxic chemical that could be hazardous to humans and chickens.  Also avoid pallets that have had chemicals spilled on them. Some pallets shipped smaller distances domestically may be unmarked.

It helps to be able to identify the species of wood used to make pallets. Usually they are fabricated from spruce or pine, which are soft, easy to work, and light in color. Other pallets are made from oak, ash, elm, or even exotic hardwoods.  These often are darker in color than softwoods and are heavier and more durable. These woods are expensive to buy at the lumberyard but free from the pallet pile.

Deconstructing a Pallet

Often wood scrounged from construction sites are short boards that are new, clean, and free of nails. No extra work is needed to put them to use. Pallets and crates, in contrast, are held together by nails and screws. They must be deconstructed before use in the coop.

These tools are very helpful for deconstructing a pallet or crate:

  • Claw hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Nail puller
  • Pliers
  • Saw – Cordless crosscut saw can be very useful
  • Leather gloves
  • Hearing protection – Ear muffs or plugs

Some companies even sell special prying tools for removing boards but they aren’t essential.

There are many ways to disassemble a crate or pallet but the most common way is to use a pry bar and hammer to separate nailed boards. Sometimes boards split when pried, but these make excellent kindling for starting fires. Pull nails with the pry bar or specially pulling tool, but be careful. Wear leather gloves. Discard nails in a container.

A quicker way to deconstruct a pallet is to use a power saw to cut the boards free of the 2x4s they are usually nailed to. It works fine but results in shorter boards.

For detailed information on pallets and projects that can be made from them check www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/.

Once free wood has been gathered, denailed, and stacked it’s time to begin converting it into useful chicken projects. Salvaging wood otherwise destined for the landfill saves money and feels good.

Poultry Winter Care for Varying Climates

We all know the importance of preparedness for winter, especially for our feather friends, but sometimes that means different things to different regions of our country. Winter can sure mean something else to a Minnesotan in comparison to a Texan, so read on (and reference our handy map!) to find the best winter readiness tips for your portion of the US.

 

Zone 1 – Coldest Region:

  • Heated waterers. Dehydration can happen (yes, even in winter) if your chickens don’t have an adequate water source.
  • Eliminate coop drafts. Plug cracks in walls or around windows with caulking or bits of fiberglass insulation that can be pushed into gaps with a screwdriver. Bits of cloth work in a pinch.
  • Avoid metal perches. (Think of your tongue to a metal pole on a cold day, same discomfort can apply to your chickens).
  • Keep feeders filled and treat the hens to some extra grain. Corn and scratch are low in protein but high in cold fighting energy. Chickens also eat more when it’s cold.
  • Put a coating of Vaseline on combs and wattles. These are the body parts most likely to be frostbitten. (Thinking ahead, consider buying breeds that have tiny pea combs, which are much less likely to freeze than breeds that sport large single combs.)
  • Warm the birds – slightly. There is an enormous difference between zero and 25 below zero.   It’s not necessary to make the coop warm but it is important to take the edge off extreme cold. Warming the interior of the coop to zero on very cold nights will help the birds come through the chill in good shape.
  • Coop ventilation. Obviously you want to prevent drafts in your coop, but a small vent in the top corner can help to keep air fresh in an otherwise tight, sealed up space.

Zone 2 – Middle Region:

  • Water source. Again, making sure your chickens have an adequate water supply that isn’t freezing is key to overall health and egg production.
  • Safe outdoor option. In this middle region of the country, you might consider outdoor options for your chickens during the day. A great consideration would also be an automated pop hole door set to a timer that allows your chickens that outdoor time during the day, while still keeping them safe and warm at night.
  • Back-up plan for power outages. Consider the possibility of loss of power due to ice storms or other weather conditions. Take extra precaution during these times to make sure your chickens still have access to water.

Zone 3 – Warmer Region:

  • Keep coop clean and dry. This is always an important consideration, but wintertime in the warmer regions might mean more moisture build-up, thus requiring a little extra care in the way of coop cleanliness.
  • Wind protection. Although the temperatures might not warrant extreme measures of protection, it is worth noting that wind and cooler temps can leave your ladies feeling a bit cold. So keeping an eye to the forecast and planning accordingly can help in coop comfort.
  • Chick preparation. The southern regions of the US will likely be receiving chicks much earlier than in the north, so planning for their arrival will be part of your winter checklist.

So remember, with a little foresight and planning, winter is sure to be a lot more comfortable this year for both you and your chickens. No matter where you’re located!

Turkey Talk

“I am going to raise my own Thanksgiving turkey someday!” Has this thought crossed your mind? With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we thought the time was right to give you a brief overview about raising turkeys and some of the key differences between commercial and heritage breeds.

Let’s review some quick turkey terminology first.

At the grocery store

Commercially raised turkeys are primarily white and bronze breeds. These turkeys typically dress (or finish) at 40+ pounds for a Tom and nearly 20 pounds for a hen. Tom turkey meat is traditionally used for deli meats, turkey bacon, or ground turkey while almost all whole birds on your thanksgiving table are female hens. They are a mix of both dark and white meat, and it is their large white breast meat that make them a popular choice for the commercial turkey business. These breeds of turkeys also are common for 4-H show projects. As a backyard flock, however, they are not ideal, unless you have a strict harvest date in mind. Bred for fast production of breast meat, these breeds are unable to mate naturally, so, in a commercial setting are bred using artificial insemination.

Heritage breeds for your backyard

Heritage breed turkeys are often a logical choice for the backyard poultry enthusiast. These birds dress at around 15 pounds, and include almost all dark meat. Breeds within the Heritage family include Black Spanish, Blue Slate, Red Bourbon, Royal Palm and Narragansetts. Heritage turkeys serve as an advantage due to their longer life-span and ability to breed naturally. If you’re looking for a smaller option of Heritage turkey, a great breed would be the Midget White turkey. These dress at around 8-13 pounds and are known for their friendly temperament.

If you’re interested in starting your own turkey flock, doing your research is vital. Turkeys require slightly more attention than your typical backyard chicken, so making sure your facility is ready to take on turkeys is key.

Some of the unique turkey-keeping aspects include:

  • Location: Choose a spot that has never had chickens grown on it – some diseases like Blackhead won’t impact chickens but will kill turkeys.
  • Feed: Young turkeys need an extremely high protein content feed. Without enough protein, turkeys have been known to eat eachother. Country Feeds Gamebird feed is a great choice. Don’t worry about limit feeding as turkeys can have access feed 24 hours a day.
  • Poults: Baby turkeys grow quickly, but, like chicks, cannot regulate body temperature well. Even though they may look like adult birds, don’t introduce young turkeys to outdoors until after 10 weeks of age
  • Space: Turkeys are much bigger than chickens, so allow an appropriate amount of space for them to grow without being crowed.

If you are raising for the purpose of harvesting the turkeys, it’s important to get your timing right. You will want to be purchasing poults in April/May for butchering at Thanksgiving time. Don’t forget to book your butchering far in advance, as facilities book up fast on these services.

Turkeys can be a fun and rewarding project with proper preparation and care.

So go forth and gobble!

 

Coop Upgrade – Automatic Pop Hole Doors

People forget but hungry raccoons never do. Keeping predators from decimating a flock is the best reason for installing an automatic pop hole door on the chicken coop.

Sunset signals bed time for chickens. As daylight dims they’ll leave their outdoor run, enter the coop through the pop hole and hop up to a roost for a good night’s sleep.   Unfortunately, just as chickens tuck themselves in for the night, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes and even mink wake up hungry and begin seeking dinner.

Wise flock owners tighten up their coop so nocturnal predators can’t enter, but the weak link in predator defense is the pop hole. Forget to close it even once and odds are good sleeping chickens will become a tasty meal for a hungry wild creature.

Manually closed and clasped pop hole doors work fine for keeping predators at bay but they require someone to always be available to close it at sunset and open it the next morning. That’s not always possible for forgetful people or those with busy schedules who might not be home when chickens doze off and predators waken.

Automatic pop hole doors close without the need for someone to physically be present.  They frustrate hungry raccoons but save flocks. Automatic pop hole doors don’t do anything that human fingers closing a manual door do, but they work when no one is around or someone forgets to close the pop hole. Controlled by either a timer or light sensor automatic devices close the door at a set time and reopen it the next morning.   There are generally two types and each works well.

Timer Controlled Doors

An electric motor closes and opens the door controlled by a timer plugged into an outlet. This requires the owner to set the timer to close the door just after sunset and reopen it after sunrise. Because day length changes with the seasons, resetting the timer five or six times a year is necessary so the door closes and opens around sunset and sunrise. Not too early in the evening to avoid having a chicken left outside, and not too late in the morning so chickens are not unnecessarily cooped up.

Sensor Controlled Doors

Some doors are controlled by a light sensor so they close as light dims and open after the next morning’s sunrise. They eliminate the need to reset a timer as day length changes but often are more expensive than timer operated doors. Some users have reported that the light sensor controlled doors have closed on dark cloudy days with the chickens still outside, but generally they work fine.

Some sophisticated doors can be opened and closed remotely with a smart phone and they can be fitted with a battery so the mechanism works during a power failure. A solar photovoltaic panel can be fitted to keep the battery charged. These may be appealing options for people who love technology and aren’t concerned about cost.

Automatic pop hole doors aren’t foolproof and need occasional attention. Sticks can blow into the opening and snow and ice can form. Either can keep the door from properly closing. Power failures are threats to auto doors that don’t have battery backup. However, these problems don’t happen often and doors generally work flawlessly.

A Few Things to Consider

Automatic pop hole doors are ideal for busy families. Often, no one gets home until after school or work hours, which can be several hours past sunset. Having the device close the door gives peace of mind. Pop hole doors aren’t completely free of the need for a person to visit the coop daily. Someone should collect eggs, fill feeders and waterers and make sure the pop hole door is working properly every day. Nothing beats having a neighbor, friend, or relative available to care for the flock during vacations or long weekends away.

Automatic doors of many types can be purchased through the internet, and kits are also available that offer some cost savings. A few inventive people have designed and built their own.

Automatic pop hole doors save chickens owned by people who forget to close the door or who simply love the convenience of sitting indoors on a cold morning and watching the chickens troop outside when the door opens by itself. They make life a little easier and keep hens safe.