Building a chicken feeder

We’ve been using a chicken feeder we made from scrap parts ever since the chickens were two months old. Lately it’s been driving Robin a little crazy. Our eleven laying hens eat about 100 lbs of feed a month, which translates into refilling their small and awkward feeder every 3 days. After 7 months, it was time to build something better.

Having reviewed various suggestions online, I was struck by the simplicity of the feed hopper design at the top right of chapter 5 of Handy Farm Devices. Make a box. Install a lip to serve the feed and an angled panel to hold the feed. Add a hinged panel to fill. Simple! Of course, nothing I embark on is quite that simple, but I liked the concept. My version is this:

As you can see, I made a number of improvements to the basic design. The lid is angled at 45° to prevent hens from standing on it. The bottom is angled at 15° to encourage the last of the feed to slide to the front. The front panel is two separate pieces arranged to increase the capacity. The sides are 2×6 material, and everything else is made from scrap 1/2″ panel material (either plywood painted on one side or OSB with the sealed surface facing the feed).

Everything was assembled with screws. Since the box is 27.5″ wide, I added a small block at the middle of the tray to hold the three bottom panels tightly together. (In the event that we switch back to serving mash feed.) As I was working on this feeder, I came upon a rather interesting idea. Instead of screwing it to the coop wall, I would attach an angled rail to the back which could hang from a matching angled rail installed in the coop. A small spacer block at the bottom of the feeder would keep things plumb against the wall. We could then build several feeders of varying widths, and mix and match them to the feed. Lots of free range food? Add a narrow 8″ feeder with free-choice oyster shell to boost their calcium intake. Home grown corn or grain? Install two 16″ hoppers, one with a commercial mix (so the chickens can balance their dietary intake) and one with the grain. Any future feeders I build to this design will use a single angled front panel to simplify construction.

We invaded the chicken coop at 11pm to take some measurements and return with a rail to be screwed into the wall. (Robin didn’t want to wait another day after it was finished.) With the feeder hung, we poured in a full 50 lb bag of feed and there was still room for another 30 lbs or so. So, not only will this new feeder reduce the frequency of refills by at least 7x, but refills are now simply a matter of cutting open a bag of feed and dumping the whole thing into the feeder. Much simpler!

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14 Responses to Building a chicken feeder

  1. Lynn says:

    Nice feeder! Now how about the waterer – how often do you have to fill that? I have to fill my feeder & waterer every 3 days or so, which I agree, is a chore.

  2. lee says:

    Thanks Lynn! Yeah, the waterer is our last too-frequent chore. Every three days for us as well. Wash it out, refill, haul to the coop dripping water the whole way. If it gets off canter when it’s nears empty, the remaining water runs off the edge. I’m sure you know the drill with all those chickens. 🙂

    We are considering several options, either a waterer with a really large storage tank (external) or an automatic waterer connected to a hose. I’d like to reconfigure the roosts (we have 15′ linear feet of roosts and the chickens all squeeze into 5′), and add another rail at the front. The waterer would then wall mount onto the same rail system, with a small hole for the hose to enter.

  3. Lynn says:

    The auto-waterer with a hose sounds perfect!

    Just recently I got to know our chicken waterer very well, and later had a laugh at myself. Normally Randy deals with the waterer because it’s too heavy for me to carry when full. But then he had to go away for 3 weeks, so he assumed I understood what to do. The 1st time it got empty, I carried it into the house, then had a real tough time getting the top off. Had to pry it with a crow-bar – Randy really had it on tight! I cleaned it in the tub, refilled it, man it was heavy to lug back out to the coop, dripping thru the house. I made sure to leave the top loose so I wouldn’t have a tough time removing it next time. Back in the coop, I removed the stopper, and the water POURED out, over the waterer rim, all over the coop; the chickens were running and screaming. I was like, “this doesn’t happen when Randy fills the water!”. Then I realized the top had to be on tight! I learned real quick – a tight waterer lid is good, just keep that crow-bar handy.
    -Lynn

  4. lee says:

    Ha ha, I can picture the chickens “running and screaming”. That made me laugh. 🙂

    Well, thankfully our waterer just has a twist lock base, so it doesn’t take herculean strength to open and close. It’s only 1.75 gallons though, which is why the 11 hens go through it so fast.

  5. Leigh says:

    Bad Bloglines! My feed reader just now gave me an update on your four latest posts, so it’s 6 days behind! Anyway, hurray for Handy Farm Devices! Great feeder. We have that book but I didn’t realize it was online (though I should have because I know about the Small Farms Index Library). Even so, thanks for the link.

  6. Pingback: Building an automatic chicken waterer » Farm Folly

  7. Cindy Boggs says:

    I am interested in this feeder but wonder about mice. I have mice getting in the houses especially in the winter, but also in the summer so I started feeding out in the run to keep them down in the house. Is there any way to seal or close this to keep varmits out? Tks so much.

  8. lee says:

    Hi Cindy,

    I’ll admit we haven’t had problems with mice in our coop, but I think this feeder design should be pretty secure. All the edges where the plywood panels come together have to be tight anyway so feed won’t leak out, and the top edge with the hinged lid can close up tight too (ours doesn’t, but it’s all about hinge placement). The advantage of this design is that there’s no feeding trough cantilevered out in front for a mouse to jump onto. Since it is recessed, the only direct route I can think of would be for them to drop off the lid of the feeder and swing into the trough, or jump up from the floor somehow. Seems pretty unlikely.

    The more common problem I’ve read about is that the chickens spill food and the mice eat it off the floor. We don’t seem to have any problem with wasted food in this design. The first version gravity-filled a little too high, so I just made a new front lip that was 1/2″ taller and it retains the feed well. The feed level is 9″ above ‘average litter height’, so our chickens can’t seem to dig in the feeder with their feet. Of course, as with most livestock things, the habits of your birds may be very different than ours …

  9. katiekate says:

    I’m so happy to have found this… the design was in my brain, but it’s helpful to see it in pictures before going out and digging through our scrap wood pile. Thank you!

    I can’t wait to be able to just dump a whole bag in there and walk away for a few days. Last weeks snow makes the short 50 ft journey to the coop quite an adventure when you’ve got a bucket of water and a bag of feed with you!

    • lee says:

      Hey, glad to be of help. The feeder has worked out really well for us. It’s definitely convenient to only have to check on the feed level once a week or so. You can find a side-view of our version of the feeder over on this post, but the design really lends itself to adjustment to match the available scrap wood.

  10. Spokane Dude says:

    Would it be possible for you to publish the measurements of the feeder, specifically the angle of the panel to regulate the feed?

    • lee says:

      Sorry that I’m so late in replying. I kept planning to bring a speed square and a tape measure out to the chicken yard, but I’d only think of it when I was already out there.

      Basic plans for the chicken feeder can be found on this post. There aren’t a lot of dimensions, but it’s really easier to match your design to the scrap wood you have available. The bottom of the feeder is at a 15° angle to encourage the feed to flow into the trough. A little steeper might be a good thing, but the more important factor is the distance between front panel (which retains the feed) and the bottom of the feeder. If it’s too tight right there, the feed won’t flow into the trough. If it’s too open, it will overflow the front lip. I’ve had to adjust both of the feeders I’ve built so far for one of these problems, so my recommendation is to put it together with screws so you can shift the height of the trough or the gap for the feed as needed.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Do you have any problem with mold buildup in the feeder? We live in a humid area and I’m worried about not being able to access the inside of the feeder to clean it out periodically! Thanks!

    • lee says:

      We checked both of the feeders today and couldn’t find any mold. The unpainted one is inside the chicken coop, and the whole coop stays really dry. Even in the middle of a wet Oregon winter, I always think the floor litter is a little drier than it should be to compost correctly. The painted feeder is in a range hut with an earth floor. We painted it because we were concerned about mold, but it’s never grown any. I suppose it really depends on your climate though. Oregon almost never has hot & humid at the same time. You could always make the front panel easily removal, by using long pan-head screws perhaps, so if it became an issue you could unscrew it and clean. My guess is that since the feed is dry when it comes out the bag, it acts like a big desiccant packet and keeps the interior of the feeder pretty dry too.

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