Let the Feeder Feed the Chickens
Update Jan 2018: I wrote a follow-up with dimensions here.
I guess I can say I’m a veteran chicken feeder builder. I’ve learned that there are innumerable ways to build a container from which chickens eat, but very few of the feeders I’ve built (or the ones I’ve seen elsewhere, or the store bought ones for that matter) are efficient. And of all the livestock classes, pastured chickens have the most challenging economics, so inefficient feeding is the quickest way to financial ruin. Right now we are in the peak of chicken season with 450 laying hens and 700 meat chickens on the farm. Getting that $2,100 feed bill every few weeks does a good job of focusing my attention. I need better feeders.
But more insidious than losses of wasted feed and wasted expenses are the losses of wasted time. Trying to raise pigs, cattle, and chickens, trying to build fences, fix the brakes, gather the hay, trying to build the new walk-in freezer, update the website, post on the blog, trying to pack the orders, make the delivery rounds, truck pigs to the butcher, trying to keep the other full-time job going so that we can continue to pay for the farm, trying to be a dad to the kids and a friend to Rachel, somehow I’ve got to get a lot more efficient at grunt work tasks like hauling feed to the chickens. I am all for spending time observing the chickens every day and I don’t propose to stop doing that. But there is no reason to be filling feeders daily if it can be done weekly or every few weeks. Let the feeder feed the chickens!
My main gripe with almost all chicken feeders is that they are too small. This applies to everything from the simple v-shaped wooden troughs to the 300 pound range feeders, from the crude to the elaborate to the cute. Not all my feeders are this big yet, but my goal is to get all my feeders up to at least a one-ton capacity. This size is appropriate for my flocks, but it may be too big or too small for someone else’s’ situation. Five hundred or one thousand pound feeders need to be filled up too often. A two or three ton feeder could be convenient, but portability becomes more challenging, especially if the fields are wet. So I’ve settled on a one-ton target.
My latest design uses three sheets of 1/2 plywood, one sheet of 3/4 for the ends, and a few 2×4 and 2×6 braces, along with roofing tin. The feeder is eight feet long and is mounted on a trailer frame. Fully loaded, it holds 2500 lbs of grain and is easily towed between pastures. It is built in the belt and suspenders carpentry mode, with threaded rod to keep the center from spreading and construction adhesive on the high stress connections. Most of the plywood, tin, and hardware is recycled from other projects, and the trailer came with the walk-in cooler we use for eggs, so the out of pocket cost was minimal.
The feeder has only been in service for two weeks, so hanging a “Mission Accomplished” banner is premature. I’ve learned that the pasture environment is tough on equipment; rain, wind, snow, and roaming cattle can destroy things in unexpected ways. I’ll need a year of field experience before I can definitively say whether I’ve met my goals. But I’m hopeful. The pullets are doing well and it looks like I’ll be able to go three weeks between refills.
Note, I haven’t figured out how to get the broiler feeders up to that size yet. The broiler feeders are inside the portable hoophouse and they are suspended from the purlins. My current system has two feeders, each of which hold about 400 pounds. I need to be careful not to overload the hoops, so that constrains my designs. Still thinking about a better system there…
In another post I’ll detail a few technical lessons I’ve learned on reducing feed wastage. Here’s a hint: grille the chickens.