If you have poultry of any kind, you know what daily chore it can be to attend to their basic care. Setting up an automatic chicken feeder or duck feeder is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to automate your coop. You can read our post about automating supplemental coop lighting.
There are Plenty of DIY designs that are simple for even the inexperienced tool wielder to make. It is also easy to buy various automatic chicken feeders or duck feeders.
However, there are a number of different styles for making or buying automated feeders. They all have their pros and cons. Regardless of what you pick, it will be better than feeding your birds each day in a bucket.
Some things to think about are: Size of feeder, location, size of poultry, size of flock, type of poultry, feed wastage from spill or birds, access for pests, and the refilling process. Let’s take a look at each of these options. Some of the product links in this post are for affiliate products. A purchase can help GWR make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
What to consider for an automatic Chicken or Duck Feeder
Common styles of automatic poultry feeders include the following:
Automatic Bucket Feeder
Bucket feeders have individual holes for the birds to put their heads in. These are beneficial for allowing multiple birds eating at a time as well as movability. This is the type of automatic poultry feeder we tend to use in our coops on the homestead. You can find at ones to buy on Amazon here.
Automatic Tube Feeder
Tube style feeders that use more vertical space to save on coop floor area. You can find ones to buy on Amazon here.
Automatic Weight-Activated Feeder
Weight-activated feeders use the bird’s weight to engage a mechanism that opens the feed door. This style is especially useful for keeping unwanted pests out of your poultry’s feed. You can shop for them on Amazon here.
Chicken or Duck Feeder Size
The size of your automatic poultry feeder should be practical for your space and relative to how much you want to refill it. Think about how much feed can it hold, how much floor space will it take, and how many birds it can feed at a time.
The average laying hen will consume ¼ lb of feed a day. Conveniently enough, broiler hens or 6-week meat chickens will average slightly under ¼ lbs a day from hatching to butcher weight.
Ducks will eat 1/3lbs -3/8lbs in feed a day. Use these numbers to calculate how long your feeder will last before it runs out of food. I would recommend planning to refill it before it runs out to keep your chooks happy and your ducks in a row.
Here is the easy formula to help calculate how long your feeder will last.
(# birds X daily feed = Food eaten each day)
(Feeder capacity ÷ Food eaten each day = Days your feeder will last)
For example: 10 chickens with a 20 lbs feeder
(10 birds x 0.25lbs = 2.5 lbs of food per day.)
(20lbs feeder ÷ 2.5lbs a day = 8 days)
Refilling Your Automatic Chicken or Duck Feeder
A 55 gal drum converted into a feeder can hold 275lbs of feed when full. This will provide 110 days of maintenance-free feeding for 10 birds. Or 1100 days for 1 lucky chicken.
Do the math to figure out an estimate for your own flock and poultry or duck feeder.
If you are purchasing your chicken feed in large 50lb bags it works out to a volume of approximately 10 gallons. This is important to know for choosing your feeder size.
The best feeders can fit one or more full bags of feed at a time. This will greatly reduce your refilling routine because it eliminates the need to take the feed out of the sac with a scoop and transfer it into a feeder. It also eliminates having to save partial bags of feed where you need to tie the darn things back up and haul them to a safe storage place.
Floor space should be considered when choosing a type of chicken feeder or duck feeder so you don’t overcrowd your birds.
I would recommend tube-style feeders if you are short on space. This style is often even slimmer than having a trough or bucket for a chicken feeder or duck feeder.
Common DIY Feeders use large plastic storage containers or plastic barrels. Common dimensions of the floor space are:
Tube 4-5” diameter. (can be elevated to save more floor space)
Bin: 24” by 16”
Barrel: 23” diameter
You should also have enough automatic feeder openings or holes to accommodate your flock. I would recommend one spot per 7-10 birds if your storage bin is 20lbs or greater.
As long as the feeder always has available feed then competition amongst your birds shouldn’t be a problem.
If there ever is a period of time where they do not have available feed I suggest tossing a handful on the ground before filling up the feeder to prevent all the birds fighting over the one spot.
Locating a Chicken or Duck Feeder
Will your automatic chicken feeder be indoors in your coop, outside in the elements, or somewhere else?
If you put your chicken or duck feeder inside your coop it will take up floor space. It will also hopefully reduce issues with attracting wildlife and the elements wearing away at it over time.
However, if your automatic feeder is in your coop you may be more prone to forget about checking it if it is not a routine or somewhere you can see easily. I would recommend putting a reminder in your calendar to check your food before it gets too close to empty to prevent your birds from going hungry.
If you put the feeder outdoors you may be more likely to be aware of your feeder.
Size/Type of Poultry Using the Automatic Feeder
Knowing the size of your birds is important when fitting an automatic feeder. If the feeding points are too small the birds won’t be able to get the food. Alternatively, if they are too big then you will get more waste spillage.
3” inches should be sufficient for most poultry on the farm. 2” inch should be sufficient for guinea hens, quail, and other small or young birds. Chicken, turkey, or duck feeders can all be the same size and type.
How can you minimize the spillage from your birds as they use an automatic feeder?
Chickens are notorious for spreading their food everywhere because they use their head to push their food around. A duck feeder can also become a mess because they root their bills back and forth. These are instinctual habits to search the ground or water for bugs, seeds, and other high protein grubs.
If you have an automatic feeder that requires the bird to stick their entire head in, it reduces the amount that can spill out. Any DIY automatic feeder that uses PVC elbows, such as a bucket feeder, for the feed spot are excellent for combatting this problem.
What wildlife pests are prevalent in your area? Best practice is to eliminate or reduce opportunities for wildlife to consume any feed. This is not always completely possible, but there are ways to prevent unintended visitors.
Consider placing your feeder in your coop, and doing your best to mouse-proof it. Provide an appropriate lid or seal to the feeder if feasible.
If you have a completely unmanageable coop environment I would recommend splurging on a weight-activated feeder (treadle feeder). Most of these feeders are designed to require the weight of a medium sized bird and won’t open with mice or rats running on it.
You typically have 3 different options of material for a piece of equipment such as an automatic poultry feeder—plastic, metal, or wood.
If your feeder is outdoors in the elements I would avoid wood so it doesn’t fall apart in a season or two. Plastic becomes brittle and breaks down when exposed to UV light over time, especially the low-grade stuff.
Metal is your best bet for a feeder that will remain outdoors. If your feeder is in your coop a plastic feeder will be your most economical and will last a long time.
DIY or Buy?
Are you into building your own automatic poultry feeder, or would you like to just purchase one and have it show up on your doorstep?
If you are purchasing a feeder online I would suggest looking for a farm equipment supplier to support local business. It also might be worthwhile to look for a secondhand one on local buy-and-sell sites.
DIY Chicken or Duck Feeders
If you are not satisfied by the selection online, or like to tackle projects more cheaply yourself, then try your hand at some DIY designs.
Tube and bucket type feeders are the most common to DIY because they are simple, inexpensive, and easy to make. My favorite is to use a full 55gal bucket, if you have the room.
Some Issues to Watch Out for
Even if you have a perfect automatic feeder for your birds you will still need to check a few things periodically. Are rodents getting into it? Is the lid staying on? Are the seals around the joins holding? Also, if it is outside, is your food staying dry?
Sometimes there are a few dead spots at the bottom of the feeder where food won’t flow into the feeding chambers. It’s good to shake the old feed around as it runs low.
One problem we had was mice getting into the feed, so we put our 55gal feeder on cinder blocks about 5 inches high. This was enough to dissuade mice from going right into the feeder.
Sourcing Materials and Tools
If you’re hoping to build a DIY automatic bucket feeder, you can often find 55gal food-safe drums from farms or food-grade manufacturers. They’re not always available at local hardware stores—and if they are they can be pricey.
I picked up a few drums for 20 dollars from a dairy farm that used them for food-grade chemicals to wash down the milk tanks. If I purchased them online I would’ve paid up to 10 times that price.
Tools can be tricky if you don’t have your own. Try borrowing from a friend or family member that doesn’t mind sharing.
Many hardware stores have rent-out tools for very reasonable rates. There also may be a tool share cooperative in your community that you could tap into.
If those run dry all you have to do is find your local poultry enthusiasts. There is nothing these people won’t do for chickens, chicken lovers, and to welcome another member’. And, believe me, these people are everywhere.
If you read this whole post you may already be one, or at risk of becoming one!
Store your poultry feed close to the chicken feeder or duck feeder. This will reduce the amount of time and space it takes to move feed by hand. Keep it in in a wildlife/rodent safe container. An old chest freezer works well and can often be picked up at your local dump or recycler.
Now you’re on your way to a stress-free chicken coop. Check out our sister post on setting up automatic supplemental lighting for your chicken or duck coop if you want to take things one step further!