Whether you have a large laying flock or just a few backyard hens, keeping them fed is a regular chore (never mind the expense), especially if the feeder isn’t weatherproof and allows rodents and wild birds access. One way to keep the feed safe from spoilage and purloinage is to keep it covered – but how will the chickens gain access? Through a bit of physics, it’s possible to employ some carefully designed levers and fulcrums that will cause the feeder to open when a chicken (or an object of similar weight) steps on a perch-like treadle; let us teach you how to build a chicken feeder. The best part is that you can build a treadle-opened feeder yourself – in fact, it makes a fun weekend project that can be completed with common tools and basic carpentry skills. You will be pleased with the result because the feed is kept dry, songbirds, mice and other rodents can’t get in the feed, less feed is wasted by the chickens scattering it, and the feeder will hold several days’ worth of food. Follow these directions to build a chicken feeder.
Using the feeder
This was our first time raising chickens, and when I first put the feeder out, the chicks were too small and frightened to raise the lid by themselves. I put a brick on the treadle and left the lid up for a few weeks. After the chickens got used to standing on the platform to eat, I removed the brick. They had no problem adapting to the treadle after that.
Several people have been concerned that the feeder will become some type of decapitation device, clamping down on a chicken’s head, leaving the chicken running around like a … well, you know. First of all, cedar is a fairly light wood, so the lid does not crash shut with a lot of force. Second, chickens learn quickly – they only have to get whacked on the head a couple of times before they figure out the process.
The first few days after removing the brick from the treadle, I did notice a process I called “eating from the side.” One chicken would stand on the treadle eating, while a second chicken would come in from the side and start eating without being on the treadle. When the first chicken finished eating and stepped off the treadle, the second chicken would get whacked on the head. But, once again, chickens learn pretty quickly. Our chickens are growing just fine, and they don’t seem to have suffered any harm; they’re every bit as entertaining as they’ve always been.
I constructed my feeder using one 21⁄32-inch-by-16-inch-by-72-inch edge–glued pine panel for the body of the feeder and two 5⁄8-inch-by-6-inch-by-72-inch cedar fence boards for the trim and arm pieces. You may substitute plywood for the pine and cedar boards. I used scraps from my chicken coop construction for the first feeder I constructed. Even purchasing all of the lumber, the cost was less than $20: $15.79 for the pine panel and about $2 each for the cedar fence boards. Add a few wood screws and wood glue, and you have all the supplies you need to get started.
Drill with countersink drill bit
Hand saw (I recommend the finer-cut Japanese pull saw)
Electric sander or sandpaper
Miter saw (optional)
Air nail gun (optional)
21⁄32” x 16” x 72” paint–grade, edge-glued pine panel (1)
5⁄8” x 6” x 72” cedar fence board for lid, trim and treadle (2)
#6 1 1⁄2” wood screws (40)
#6 1” wood screws (4)
Exterior wood glue
Primer and paint of choice
1. Attach sides 1 and 2 to the base using 1 1⁄2-inch wood screws and glue.
2. Attach back of feeder to the sides and base with 1 1⁄2-inch wood screws and glue. The 15-degree angle along the top should be flush with the angle of sides 1 and 2.
3. Attach the 2 front pieces to front of feeder with 1 1⁄2-inch wood screws.
4. Attach the 11⁄2-inch cedar trim pieces to the top of the lid board so that the lid will nest over the top of the feeder box.
Hinged trough cover
5. Attach the 6-inch-wide cedar board to the 1 1⁄2-inch cedar arms using 1-inch wood screws. The cedar splits easily, so predrill carefully.
6. To attach the cover to the feeder, I put the cover in place in the closed position, and then marked my attachment point on the feeder box. I experimented with using wooden dowels, machine screws, and various nuts and bolts. All of them worked fine, but not any better than using 11⁄2-inch wood screws.
7. Remember not to screw the arms tight to the side of the feeder, leave some wiggle room for the cover to swing freely.
8. The treadle is constructed in the same fashion as the trough cover. Attach to the feeder box with 1 1⁄2-inch wood screws 9 inches from the front end of the platform.
9. The riser arms are screwed to the treadle arms 1 inch from each end using 1-inch wood screws. With the riser arms attached to the treadle, depress the treadle all the way down, as if a chicken were standing on it, and then raise the trough lid as wide open as you would like it to be when in use. Put a board or brick on the treadle so you don’t have to hold it. Now you can attach the riser arms to the trough lid using 1-inch wood screws. Mine is 7 1⁄2 inches from the front of the trough lid. The further away from the hinge point you attach the riser arm, the less force it takes to raise the lid, but the lid will not open as wide. The further back you attach the riser arms, the more weight required to open the lid, but the lid opens wider. If you are starting off with small chicks, adjust the riser arms further from the hinge point — it is easy to adjust this mechanism as the chicks grow.
Jeff and Rebecca Nickols reside on seven acres in Southwest Missouri. Check out their blog and see a video of the chicken feeder at work at http://bit.ly/1v6wgNF.