Coop auto-openers have lots of advantages for chicken keepers. In this article extract taken from the September issue of The Country Smallholder magazine, Fiona and Hugh Osborne guide you through the options.

Coop auto-openers are a little misleading in their name as they can not only automatically open a coop in the morning, but they can also automatically close the coop at night. Why is this useful? It depends on your situation but as smallholders, I’d love to say in summer that I’m up at dawn to let the chickens out, but when dawn is 4am, that’s unlikely to happen.

I’m far too old to be so enthusiastic about 4am. Auto-openers are useful in the evenings when the nights draw in. Our small holding is self-supporting but that involves some “top-up” paid employment which means we can get home after dusk in winter. Foxes can be their most active at dusk so knowing the chickens are safely locked away is very comforting.The caveat that we would say is that auto-openers are not infallible. Chickens still need to be checked on every day as they are our responsibility. It might sound obvious but I have been asked on social media which auto-opener to buy as the person was planning to go on holiday leaving their chickens unsupervised. In our opinion this is irresponsible as chickens may knock over their water, fill the drinker reservoir with bedding or even faeces, their feeder might jam, or the chickens may become ill or even injure themselves.

The choice of auto-openers on the market is vast from extremely cheap (or cheep if you’ll excuse the poor pun), to £200. We have many coops with auto-openers as we mainly use broody hens to incubate, hatch and raise our chicks and every broody hen gets her own coop. We have installed and extensively used many makes over time including:

  • Titan Cube
  • Omlet Auto-door
  • Chickenguard Premium
  • Chickenguard Extreme
  • Nestera
  • Brinsea ChickSafe Eco
  • Brinsea ChickSafe Advance (Our recommended Star Buy and the competition prize this month – click here to enter!)

How can you choose which is right for you? There are some very simple thingsto think about and we’d like to guide you through each.

The first thing to address is the space available for an auto-opener. Most auto-openers are designed to open vertically so let’s look at these first. In this case the minimum amount of space that you need vertically is the height of the pop hole, the same height again to raise the door clear of the pop hole, plus the height of the auto-opener itself (see image above, left). If your coop is too shallow to allow a vertical auto-opener, Brinsea have an innovative two stage door (pictured above, centre and right) which means that you don’t need as much height. It’s a very clever idea but yet so simple. As the door rises, one panel hides behind the other. Genius! It does make many more coops accessible to vertical auto-openers.If a vertical opener is simply not possible, your only real option is the Omlet side to side door. It can be fitted to wooden coops as well as Omlet’s own coops. We’ve found that the Omlet auto-door has a long battery life, but it does have one issue that means it should be checked each night to ensure it has closed properly.

The Omlet door closes on a geared track. To prevent a hen being caught or hurt by being trapped between the door and the frame as the door closes, there is a safety feature where any pressure on the frame while the door is closing causes the door to re-open. This sounds very sensible, and it is, but in our experience if bedding gets caught on the track, we found that the door does not fully shut leaving the safety feature still active even if it’s only open by 1mm. If a fox or predator had come along and pressed its nose on the frame, the door would re-open.

The third type of door is the pie slice door shape on the Nestera coops. Due to the weight distribution of the door, vertical auto-openers do work but not well and the Omlet side to side door is not an option due to the shape. If you have a Nestera Coop, our recommendation is to simply buy the Nestera auto-opener. It’s specifically designed to work with the pie-slice door.

When we first looked for an auto-openers we were surprised at the array of different weights that auto-openers will lift. Some will only lift 0.5kg and some will lift up to4kg. There’s no point in buying an opener that can only lift 1kg if your door weighs 2kg. Best case scenario is that the opener will open the door, but the motor will fail sooner rather than later and any warranty will be invalid due to improper use. Worst case scenario is that the auto-opener won’t open the door at all.

To be fair, it’s not the end of the world as most companies that sell auto-openers also sell doors that are compatible and the appropriate weights for their units. It’s also an option to make a door from aluminium sheets which is what we have done for two of our coops. It’s cheap to buy and incredibly lightweight.

This article extract was taken from Practical Poultry, featured in the September 2023 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read the article in full you can buy the issue here.

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