We bought two chooks (chickens) a couple months ago. I was surprised that less than a week after bringing them home, our two Brown Shavers (very similar to Rhode Island Reds) began laying eggs, and they’ve been amazingly regular, giving us one egg each every single day since they began, missing not even one day.
All was fine until a couple weeks ago when the wild birds (which we already feed everyday at two different feeders up at the house) began eating the food that we keep out for our chooks. I could see from my office that the birds were congregating around the chook house, and the food was disappearing at an alarming rate. What to do?
First, I moved the feeder to the upper level of the chook house. That slowed down the birds for awhile, as they had to discover where the food went and then begin going up the hatchway and walkway to get at the food in its new location. But after just a couple days, the rate of food disappearance renewed. This stuff is expensive, and I’d rather feed the wild birds their much cheaper bird feed.
Next, I constructed a tunnel from chicken wire, hoping to make it even more difficult for the wild birds to enter. They seemed not the least bit deterred by this, and the food kept disappearing.
So, I checked online (Isn’t Google great?) to see what others have found to be helpful and found several different methods of keeping wild birds from eating chook food, including the things I’d already tried. The most popular and seemingly sure-fire method of conserving chook food is to use some sort of feeder that chooks can activate but smaller birds cannot.
I then searched for prices for a treadle feeder, a feeder that has a plate the chooks have to stand on to lift the lid to the feeder. Yikes! Those things are EXPENSIVE!! Usually more than a hundred dollars each.
So, I looked for plans to build my own. Most of the plans are rather complicated, but nothing I couldn’t do myself, probably. However, I found a very simple treadle feeder which consists of just a box with a lid activated by a treadle plate.
When we first moved here, we acquired from our local reuse centre a bunch of wood (lumber), most of which was in bad shape, being split and rotted. But there was still quite a bit from our three trailer loads of wood that we’ve been able to use as wood for building things (including a couple of our garden boxes).
I bought some tin ($7.00) from a local panel beaters (auto body repair) after checking several other places. I bought one metre (about three feet) of wood to use as the lever for less than $2 and two hinges for the lid for $2 each. I also bought from the reuse centre a length of moulding for $1 and used half of it for the treadle plate. I already have nails and screws. So, the total cost of the materials was $13.50 (about $10.75 US).
I cut our wood down the middle to make four sides 15 cm (about six inches) tall and 30 cm (about a foot or 12 inches) square, with another piece of our free wood to make the bottom. I originally thought to make the lid from wood, as well, but I feared it would be too heavy for the chooks to raise with their own weight.
I simply hammered the four walls together and then to the floor, hinged the lid in place and then worked on the treadle mechanism. I thought this would be difficult, but it turned out to be remarkably simple. I drilled a hole on each side of the box so that a nail pounded into the lever wood could move easily. Then I added a bit of angle metal between the lever wood and the lid.
The entire project, other than the shopping time which took about an hour, took me less than two hours, and I am not a fast carpenter. The box is not beautiful by any means, but it works very well.
I placed the new treadle chook feeder into their house and blocked the lid all the way open the first day. The treadle plate is fully lowered this way, so there is no movement when the chooks step up to eat. The next day, I blocked the lid open only enough so that they could see the food inside. When they stepped on the treadle plate, the lid would open further. At first this startled the chooks, but they soon got used to the movement and noise. The following day, I removed the block entirely, and the chooks now know how to get food when they want it.
Since our chook house is open all the time, day and night, the chooks will exit their house when the weather is good after laying their morning egg (always before 8 am) , and scrounge for their own food most of the day. There is plenty of food available for them in the feeder when they want it, but they mostly eat what they find around the orchard. This is called free range feeding, and it is the most popular type of eggs people want to buy.
So, Andrew takes half a dozen eggs (three days’ worth) to work when we have more than we’ll eat and sells them to various people there. Now that the wild birds are no longer eating the chooks’ food, these sales help to offset the cost of the feed, making the cost of the eggs we eat practically nothing.
We sure do like our chooks. They like us, too, and will come running to us whenever we head down to the orchard. Tazmin likes them, too, and we’ve taught her that they are not her toys. So, she wags her tail whenever they come near her (which is often, since they’re not overly afraid of her), but she knows to let them be.
Our chooks make a nice addition to our life here.
Things I’d do differently in constructing our next chook treadle feeder, if we ever need one:
Make the box less deep, front to back
Move the lever wood hinge-point (the nail in the photos) higher on the box (I still might change this by drilling a hole higher.)
Have less overlap of the lid at the front of the box
Make the lid slightly looser, so that it slid down over the box more easily
I should comment that our chook house (pictured at top) was a DIY (Do It Yourself) kit with no instructions and just one page of very bad diagrams that we bought on Trade Me. The four roof pieces were supposed to be screwed in, but I figured it would be easier to get into the chook house to clean or whatever if the roofs were hinged. Thus, the side roofs are hinged to the house, and the top piece is actually loose, hinged in the middle. Before we got our chooks, we discovered that high winds here (very rare at our place) would sometimes blow the roof off the top. So, we keep a rock on top of the chook house now. I also installed two nest boxes in the upper section, so that the chooks could lay more comfortably. I later installed a roost, as well, but by that time the chooks were used to roosting on the divider between the two nest boxes and so have completely ignored the roost bar.