Please help Chicken Coop ideas!

Discussion in 'The Projects Forum' started by 1ofakindwork, Jul 28, 2011.

  1. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Hello, I am new to electronics in general. I am trying to do my research and figure out what I need to know. Not having any back ground in the area has made it very difficult for me to find a good starting point. Fortunately I've found this site and have learned a lot from my own research on the site. I know I am far away from where I want to be and what I want to know. I love to tinker with project and my lack of knowledge is holding me back from making my ideas reality. I'm hoping this site and the help from everyone here I can over come my weakness.
    Currently I am working on a chicken coop. First and most importantly I would like make a dc timer to run a trap door. I would like this timer to be able to switch the polarity of a motor. So the motor would open the door at a set time and close the same door at another time. I have drawn up a circuit from my reading. Unfortunately it doesn't make sense to me to go from DC to AC to DC. My current design starts with solar (DC) has to go to a converter(AC), to control timers(then transformers to DC) for my H-bridge controls on my relays. It seems to me this set up will work. I'm just hoping for a simpler idea.
    I've considered using an arduino uno microcontroler. But my knowledge is zero when it comes to this. I have been researching this, but I think it maybe way above my head to what I want. The other reasons I'm leaning towards the arduino. Things I would like to add later to the coop. 1. 2 timer controlled servos 2. audio notifications for different actions made 3. temperature and humidity sensor. 4. AC heat lamp controlled by temp sensor 5. maybe some other stuff also...
    If some one could point me in the right direction I would be greatly appreciative. Thanks
     
  2. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I just wanted to note: I have read over the other chicken coop post. They haven't been of much help. In advance I'd like to thank everyone for their time and help!
     
  3. praondevou

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jul 9, 2011
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    I don't think it's necessary to make a double conversion DC-AC-DC. Doesn't makes sense.

    First question is: would you like to build your own system working on electronic component level? Like building your own circuits/PCB? That's a long way, but the cheaper one. Or would you like to stay on the automation level, buying off the shelf relays/timers etc?
    That would be more expensive but much easier.

    You will need to start with the energy consumption of your circuit to dimension the solar panel size and DC/DC converter size.

    The biggest consumer in your project I guess will be the DC-motor that opens/closes the door. So there is where you need to know how powerful it has to be, how fast you want to open / close it etc.
     
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  4. GetDeviceInfo

    Senior Member

    Jun 7, 2009
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    You should probably start by summarizing your power requirements, then spec'ing the supply. If you intend to run heat lamps down the road, and maybe something further to control your environment, then you'll likely want an AC line pulled to the area. That then gives you room to grow. You can certainly develop your controls from a battery/solar source in the meantime. In addition, you may want a comm line from the area to your PC.

    Generate an overview of what it is you want the system to do as a development guideline. Most any micro is capable, so choose one that will offer enough resources (programming tools) to get the job done.

    Don't worry too much about the details of your I/O. Consider the programming structure of your overall system. Good programming practice will have your I/O functions as drop in drivers, which allows for flexibility.
     
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  5. someonesdad

    Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    One of the first tasks in designing something like this is to make sure you've defined the problem with its constraints well enough. You're too deep in electronics thinking yet for my taste -- you should first be defining how the thing should behave.

    So, first step: draw a timing diagram of the behavior. Think it through. Oh, wait a minute -- the days in summer are longer than the days in winter. How are you going to handle this? Do you manually change the timing or does the thing have a real time clock? Some people about this time come up with the idea to close the door based on the amount of light, so they consider a photoelectric control. That's fine -- but there are some nuances. For example, on a winter night with snow on the ground and an overcast sky, it can be as bright as dusk where I live. So that might lead to false triggers of the door opening or closing. How do you handle that?

    Oh, now you think of something else. Where I live, this thing has to work reliably in temperatures from -20 deg F to 110 deg F (those are the typical extremes I've seen in living here 30+ years). How do you test a motor and circuitry at -20 degrees F when your freezer doesn't go that low?

    This stuff deserves careful thought and engineering. Unfortunately, a failure means that predators can get into your coop and kill all the birds. Or, a failure to open on two hot days in a row while you're gone for the weekend might mean the birds succumb to the heat if there's no water in the coop.

    Also, you want to have the whole thing operated by solar energy.

    While such a thing is doable and others have done it before, it's getting to be a rather significant engineering challenge. It's not something that's going to be easy for a person with no experience in designing or building electrical stuff.

    Thus, you might want to start off more simply. First, get a motorized door design working along with the proper limit switches. Then power this from e.g. a 12 volt line from the house. A switch in the house opens and closes the door. Once you see that works well throughout the year, then you can work on the automatic timing stuff. Then, when that's finished, start on the solar power part of the job.

    At least, that's my take on it... :p
     
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  6. wayneh

    Expert

    Sep 9, 2010
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    Excellent advice. A complex machine is built one piece at a time, with a lot of design effort devoted to each separate function, and then to getting the parts all working together. Having a vision is one thing, but executing that vision can require a lot of testing, modifying, redesigning and so on before an elegant design is achieved.

    Sometimes it takes a lot of soul-searching to figure out, and separate out, the design goals that are really important from what intrudes into our minds as our first ideas of a solution. That first notion anchors us to that idea and makes it harder to come up with more and better solutions.

    I think the point is that the circuitry part of this project is going to be relatively trivial. It's defining what it does in combination with the mechanical parts that's almost a mystery so far.
     
  7. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Thank you for your quick responses. My idea of this project is to use some of the things I have.

    This is what I'd like to accomplish is:
    1. control everything with an analog or digital clock of some sort. I would like to preset times for certain actions...for example: 7 am send power to open coop door/9 pm reverse polarity to same motor for closing door; every three hours a servo opens a cover to the feed tray for 30 min then closes it.
    2. have the option to use a temperature/humidity sensor turn on different actions like heat lamp, fan. I know this is more difficult seeing the controller would have to control AC power.
    3.Use an audio board to notify the chickens of different actions taking place or about to take place. For example: when it's time to open the coop door a rooster crows; when its time for bed time bell rings; when the food tray is opening another sound is made. I would really like to identify the different sounds a rooster makes to signal the hens to do different actions, but I'm not sure if that is even possible with my knowledge. At the very least I would like the chickens to be able to identify and expect different actions with different sounds. This way if they hear the sound to notify them of feeding they will return to the coop for feeding. I have free range chickens and I try to leave out food during the day for them. My problem is black birds eat all the food.
    4. I would like the option to upgrade the system as I think of other needs.

    I'm sure this is way over my head and I am thankful to have people who enjoy problem solving just as much as I do. I just unfortunately don't have the know how in this area. I would be happy with a simple solution but ultimately I want to be automated. I was hoping this could be accomplished with a micro-controller, some sensor, clock, and shields. I just don't know where to start. I will try to make a clearer explanation of what I want. My mind doesn't work to well on laying out the unknown..Even if this is do able with my minimal knowledge I wouldn't know what to buy.
    I could control the lights separately with an inline thermostat switch, if that is a big problem. I could also run the trap door off of an H-bridge connected to to timers, that way I don't have constant power to my motor and burn them up.

    This is what I have to work with so far.
    1. Car window motor and regulator (I plant to hook this to my sliding coop door, which is mounted to the floor of the coupe so the door can slide out of the way.)
    2. Harbor freight 45 Watt solar panel kit. (maximum current 3000ma SKU#090599; P.O.#36100-5133300
    3. 300 Watt power inverter
    4. Heat lamp
    I understand the mechanics of the doors and hinges...I is just powering ever thing with sensors and timers that I don't understand.

    Things I know I need.
    1.12v deep cycle battery(maybe more than one if I run the heat lamps)
    2. servo (I made a feeder box that can be filled with 50lbs of food. It has two opening for feeding. One is in the coop, and one is under the coop. I plan to mound a lid over the openings with hinges. I would like the servos to open and close the lid, either connected at the hinge or by a string to the lid.)
    3. some way to control everything by a clock (would be nice to have it connected wifi to my computer and have the computer tell it what to do and when to do it.)

    I hope this helps. My brain is hurting! Thanks!
     
  8. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Here is a list of the problems I'd like to resolve.
    1.Automatically open/close coop at set time
    2.open close feeder trays at set time for set intervals of time
    3.control temperature by heat lamp/fan with out wasting power or over heating coop
    4.have sounds to notify birds of different actions

    I think this is the just of it simplified. I'm probably over thinking this with out any knowledge of what I should be thinking about. I really appreciate all the great words of knowledge and insight you guys are giving me. Thanks for not being so critical of my electronic ignorance and being patient with me. I will be happy just to have the coop door open and close by it self. It would give me some freedom to come and go as I please. Everything else is just novelty and a dream at this point. I would like to go in the direction of possibly upgrading as I learn more. I don't mind doing the research, just with zero knowledge it makes finding the direction to head just as hard as understanding the material written. Thanks again!
     
  9. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I am second guessing the heat lamp due to power consumption! The motor will only run for a minute or so two times a day. Thank you for your help, I posted a break down of what I hope to accomplish. I want to make whatever is with in my zero ability level. The easy way sounds great but if the best way is the long way then I'm willing to invest time into the need to learn. This is just my first stepping stone to hopefully more projects as I learn more about electronics. Thank you for your time!
     
  10. iONic

    AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 16, 2007
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    +2 to "someonesaid".

    I hope your not raising -non-organic chickens that never see the light of day. I'd be far less interested in the project otherwise!

    I guess one question that has been left unanswered is this. Although it may seem silly, the question that need a thoughtful answer is WHY? And if you can somehow come to terms with this answer, can you come to terms with a half dozen chickens dead a year because they were caught in the door because there wasn't a proper sensor to hold the door open for it. Or what about the five chickens that were either left in or out when they should have been out or in? And, yes of course, what about the fox that followed the chickens in because you were not there to scare it off? The manual method by "someonesaid" is a great start. work with it manually from within your house without any bells and whistles and watch what happens. Use a timer and be ready to close the door when that timer runs out. Observe where the chickens are, in or out or in between. If the chickens are in between, then additional sensing electronics are needed to hold the door open till it passes. Once this is remedied you can move on to how to deal with chickens that did not pass from one side to the other side. ...and if anything bad happens, lets hope they end up on the "Other Side", the one Jim Morrison and The Doors spoke of!!

    and yada, yada, yada...


    How do you normally let them in or out...at a specific time or based on the light of day?
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2011
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  11. wayneh

    Expert

    Sep 9, 2010
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    That's a much better list of objectives, thanks for that.
    One approach to this would be divide and conquer, to treat each objective separately. They're not bad on their own.

    If you know that, in the long run, you want this all tied together, you might want to look into something like a LabJack data acquisition and controller device. It would allow you to monitor temp, humidity, etc., feed all that data into a computer, and then take directions from software (I use Excel) to control outputs. Those outputs then could control relays to give you control over AC devices. This may all be overkill for a chicken coop, but that's your call.

    One thing concerns me; if your PV panel is your only power source, I'm not sure it's enough. Really depends on the total power draw, your plans for battery storage and so on. Also, I'd ditch the inverter and try to use 12v for everything if you can. Power conversion is always a loss, and I really think you can avoid it without much trouble.

    Since your top priority is the door, I humbly recommend diverting this thread to just that task. Future expansion is there in our minds now and may influence the solutions, but let's focus on the door, if the OP agrees.
     
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  12. wayneh

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    Sep 9, 2010
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    Using solar electricity just to generate heat is a huge waste. A PV panel might capture only 10% of the solar energy available to it. So a solar heat collector that's, say, twice as large as a PV panel, might capture 20X as much heat. Of course you lose the simplicity of having electrical heat, but you get a lot more of it for less expense.
     
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  13. praondevou

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jul 9, 2011
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    The list of objectives looks like a job for a small PLC with ethernet to me.

    I know this forum is about electronic circuits, but with not much experience in the electronics field to develop a system like this on electronic component level is for me like if I'd try to build a house on my own.

    Seriously, I'd prefer a small PLC like THIS that can directly drive a DC motor, has several in and output, ethernet connection to your computer, so you could even control something over the internet if you wanted to.
    The only thing is the programmable sound module, but even those can be bought off the shelf.

    In my opinion this is an automation project. If you start it as an electronics project you may never finish it. However doing a true electronics project, you will learn a LOT.

    What do you guys think?
     
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  14. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Thanks IOnic,
    Well I'm glad we can make some humor of this, at the very least we can keep this from being totally boring and one of us falling asleep. Don't get me wrong in no way are electronics boring. The boring part is me trying to explain what I'm going for and trying to comprehend what is way above my head. But I will keep trying that is for sure.

    So to answer your questions. Yes they are free range organic chickens. This is my first year raising chickens for their eggs and maybe food if my wife will let me. When I made the initial investment, I didn't realize the responsibility of having chickens. I want be a good chicken owner and want to do right by the chickens of course...In my mind the ideals are very simple. Completing the task is where I come short. I don't see a problem with the chickens not getting out due to the door will stay open all day so they can come and go as they please. My chicken coop isn't an old shack. It is very nice I spent a lot of time designing it and I take pride in it as I do the chickens happiness. I don't think that closing the coop will be a problem for crushing chickens due to the fact they go to bed around the same time every day (around dusk). I don't think predators will be a problem due to the fact that predators come out later than dusk usually. I don't plan on this being my only line of security it will just ease my responsibility. Currently I manually open and close a large clean out door on the coop. I have to get up around 6 to let the chickens out and in the evening around 8:30 I have to close the coop. The only problems here are at 6 I would like to still be in bed, sometimes. And around 8:30 I don't always want to be home to put the chickens to bed. Now I guess I could even go deeper and wish I had a video camera in the coop that could let me see when all the chickens are in so I could manually close it via my smart phone. Or even better have the camera count them for me and close the door then. Or even us RIFID tags to let the coop know where the birds are and if they are in the coop. I know I've already asked for a lot...I'm not trying to be written off as a crazy man. I will post some pictures of my coop so you can see what I'm working with so far. And hopefully it will show how serious I am to learn and accomplish my task at hand. Thank you for all you inspiring words!
     
  15. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Everyone is doing a great job helping me just come to terms with the project I am proposing for myself. I am open to all suggestion, I don't know enough about any of it to be stuck on one idea. I will research the suggestions and get back to you guys please keep them coming I will keep reading them also. How do you guys feel about the arduino uno is it capable of controlling something like this.

    In my mind, if i could set up a device that had a real time clock. then in a program specified the times I wanted certain actions to take place then I could keep it all dc. I know know nothing about programming or even what parts to get. Unfortunately I can't find anyone local to help me with this. So I can't say enough how thankful I am to have a support group like this. Also the vast array of knowledge and backgrounds would be hard to find in one setting anywhere beside the internet.

    I'd be happy with just focusing on the door first if that suits everyone. I just feel it all works together. I'm sure it will be easier to spoon feed me this one bite at a time. THANKS
     
  16. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I really like the PLC idea how much do these guys cost and where is the best place to get one. Still open to suggestions.
     
  17. 1ofakindwork

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
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    Labjack looks promising also.
     
  18. praondevou

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  19. someonesdad

    Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    If you open and close the door slowly, you'll never have to worry about catching a chicken in it. They're not going to stick around if it's moving.

    I don't think the solar power is a good idea. What's the problem in getting power to the coop? You can run e.g. some 6 or 8 conductor sprinkler wire underground to the coop and use 12 VDC or 24 VAC. I'd say don't go higher in voltages unless you really know what you're doing -- and if you want to use line power, you should probably have an electrician do the wiring because they'll also know the codes.

    Ask around and find out how telephone folks run telephone wire through your yard manually without any powered equipment. It's pretty simple and quick, but I doubt it's something you'd think of yourself (I know I probably wouldn't have). I watched a guy run a couple hundred feet of line through our lawn using this method and he did it in a couple of hours -- and that included fixing the things he broke. Of course, you can also go the testosterone route of renting a trencher or a sprinkler pipe puller, but those are a bit overkill for what you're trying to do.

    Then find a suitable motor to operate the door and figure out a way to open and close it slowly. You'll also want some limit switches on the door unless you use a motor/mechanism that has stops built into it (e.g., you mentioned a windshield wiper motor). Get that setup working first. Then you can fiddle with the gold-plated stuff later, but always fall back on something that works when the gold falls off and shows the ugly pot metal underneath... :p
     
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  20. praondevou

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    do you mind telling us what's that method? or do you have link explaining it? :)
     
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