Homemade Chicken Feeder - automatically feeds your flock

My homemade chicken feeder was created out of a need to feed my flock for an extended period while I'm away on vacation, and to keep the food away from birds and rodents. Traditional chicken feeders work well, but the problem is that mice and birds can usually get access to the feed, and then you wind up feeding other animals as well as your own chickens. In addition, traditional feeders allow chickens to lay eggs inside of them and to crap all over their own food.

Clearly, traditional chicken feeders have drawbacks.

Homemade chicken feeder, complete with a storm shield to protect the feed caster on the underside of the unit.

My solution was to make an automatic feeder using a fish feed caster, a small battery-powered unit that flings out dry feed periodically throughout the day. This homemade feeder doesn't cost much, and it's fun and satisfying to make. There are many automatic feeder designs available today, and I created this one for several reasons:

  • High capacity feed reservoir
  • Adjustable feeding times and duration
  • Minimizes waste
  • Calls the chickens to come eat
  • Weatherproof and storm proof
  • Easy to make
  • Reasonably low cost to make and operate
  • Essentially impenetrable by racoons that are a big fan of grain and chicken feed

One of the main ideas behind my homemade chicken feeder was to create a solution that allows me to go away for at least a month at a time, on my extended vacations, without worrying about whether my chickens are being fed. When I'm home, the combination of this homemade chicken feeder and my homemade automatic watering system allows me to concentrate on collecting eggs instead of regularly tending to food and water. When I'm away, it makes it easy on my sweetheart (or my friends and neighbors) to simply collect eggs, as there isn't anything else that needs to be done to keep my flock happy, healthy and laying plenty of "cackle berries."

Steps to Creating This Automatic Homemade Chicken Feeder

Let's take a look at how you can make your own homemade chicken feeder for your flock of chickens.

Locking ring for the lid of the homemade chicken feeder. This keeps critters and weather out of the drum filled with feed.

1. Get yourself a food grade 55-gallon drum with a lid that seals on with a locking ring similar to that shown in the photo to the right.

If you can get a rubber seal on the lid, that's all the better. A locking ring is what protects this homemade chicken feeder against critters. A rubber seal is what makes the lid weatherproof and capable of withstanding storms.

2. Figure out a way to mount the drum such that the bottom of it remains fully accessible and at least one side faces into your chicken yard. The feeding unit will mount on the bottom and cast feed outward (and a bit to the right as you face it), so your mounting arrangement needs to focus providing support around the outside edges at the bottom of the drum, leaving at least one side open so you don't interrupt feed casting.

3. Make certain the drum mount can support hundreds of pounds and allows easy access to the top for filling. As shown below, the back side of the steel drum is held onto an upright power pole (a supporting member of the protective fencing around the chicken yard) using two pieces of square steel tubing as cleats. Each cleat is attached securely to the power pole using a long lag screw. A scrap piece of iron is used as a shim to level the drum so my homemade chicken feeder is relatively level so the food feeds into the feed caster properly.

The drum of my homemade chicken feeder is held in place at the back by an iron cleat attached to an upright power pole buried about six feet in the ground.

4. Get yourself a feed caster and mount it to the bottom of the drum, according to instructions. There should be a template included that shows you where holes need to be drilled for mounting hardware and to allow dry feed to funnel down into the feed caster.

5. Mount the feed caster, fill the drum with no more than 50 pounds of feed and make a few test cycles. Adjust the orientation of the drum or feed caster as necessary to cast the chicken food in the area desired.

6. When you're satisfied with the orientation of the drum and you're sure it will hold the weight of the chicken food, it's time to fill up your homemade chicken feeder and put it into service.

Here's a very brief look at the homemade chicken feeder in operation. This is an example of a four second casting triggered by the automatic controls of the feed caster.

Just the sound of the feed being cast out into the yard will cause the chickens to come running. Once they get to know that food is associated with the sound of the feed caster, it acts very much like a dinner bell for my flock of layers.

I used a Moultrie Fish Feeder FeedCaster Kit to create this homemade chicken feeder. It's about $50 (2012 pricing) and it works flawlessly. I selected it because it's designed for casting lightweight feed for fish, and it was the most modestly priced unit from a reputable manufacturer. Although it wasn't primarily designed to be as part of a homemade chicken feeder, it's suitable for this purpose as pelleted fish food is similar to scratch grains and pelleted chicken food.

Build Your Homemade Chicken Feeder for Strength

I make a habit of over-building things such that severe weather, years of service and perhaps a little accident every now and then won't interfere with what I'd like to have. My homemade chicken feeder is no exception. Below is an example of just such a practice. As shown in the photo, I installed a belly band of galvanized metal strapping to hold the heavy drum in place. I didn't think the heavy drum would move, but with a serious belly band around it, I'm certain there is no way that my homemade chicken feeder is going to move off of the cleats in the back or the channel iron support on the front side of the barrel.

A belly band attached to the power pole keeps the drum of my homemade chicken feeder from moving away from the power pole.

Also, notice in the photo above that there is a small wooden shim pinched between the power pole and the drum. This ensures that there will always be a little space between the upper lip of the drum and the power pole. This spacing allows for the drum lid and locking ring to be easily installed and removed without binding on the power pole.

In the very first photo on this page, you'll notice that I'm using two fence posts and a piece of channel iron to hold up the front of the drum that faces into the chicken yard. Because of this, I couldn't mount the feed caster flush with the bottom of the barrel. I had to use PVC extension pieces to mount it about six inches lower. The photo below shows that mounting. It also shows the rusted interior of the channel iron that I'm trying to avoid as feed is flung out of the bottom of my homemade chicken feeder.

The only moving part of the homemade chicken feeder is the feed caster mounted to the bottom of the drum that serves as a feed reservoir.

You'll also notice in the photo above and the very first photo on this page that I have a storm shield installed to help prevent blowing snow and driving rain from getting at the feed caster. The shield is made from a scrap piece of metal that originally served as the backing for a steel shelf unit. That's why it has small holes running down the middle of it. So far it appears as though this storm shield is doing a good job of keeping the feed caster out of the most severe weather we have here in southeast Wyoming.

How the Homemade Chicken Feeder Works

As this homemade chicken feeder operates, it takes loose feed from the center (assuming that's where you mounted the feed caster) and draws it straight down, via gravity, inside the drum filled with feed. This will create a funnel shaped depression inside the loose feed, much like one would see in a hour glass style timer as the sand runs out. As food is pulled down into the narrow point of the funnel, other food falls down the slanted walls of the funnel and makes its way to the feed caster centered at the bottom of the drum.

With this in mind, remember that you'll never use up all of the food inside the barrel, there will probably be about 25 pounds left over on the bottom when the caster stops flinging feed. These left overs will be in the shape of a funnel, with the very bottom of the funnel showing the empty hole in the bottom of the drum where the feed caster takes in food for distribution to your flock.

As shown in the photo below, as long as there is feed on the rotary wheel (impeller) of the feed caster, that means you still have feed inside your homemade chicken feeder, ready to cast out to your flock.

Funnel and clear plastic impeller of the feed caster mounted to the bottom of this homemade chicken feeder.

Whatever kind of feed you place in the drum last, will be the first that the feed caster draws from. So, if you're looking to mix scratch grains with high protein pellet food, then be sure to mix it inside the drum as you add a little of both kinds to your homemade chicken feeder drum reservoir.

Be sure to secure the lid on the homemade chicken feeder after you've filled it up and the feed should last a long time. Simply knock on the side of the drum to give you a rough idea of the level of the food left inside.

Drawbacks of this Type of Homemade Chicken Feeder

As one might imagine, this type of homemade chicken feeder has the potential to give you trouble because it relies on an electro-mechanical device to provide food for your flock. I have only run into one problem so far, and it really isn't that much of a concern, but I want to share it with you so all the cards are on the table.

The only setback I ran into was failure of the feed caster to operate in cold weather. It wasn't a problem with the feed caster, it was a problem with battery power as the capacity of any battery is reduced by cold temperatures. In our case it was single digit temperatures that caused my homemade chicken feeder to stop feeding the chickens. The capacity of the battery dropped too low during our cold snap and that stopped the automatic feeding. The controls still displayed just fine, but there wasn't enough power to operate the feed caster.

My solution was to place the battery in a warm spot nearby (the heated chicken waterer tower) and run heavy gauge electric wires to my homemade chicken feeder to carry the power from the nearby battery. This required that I drill a hole in the bottom of the feed caster to run wires up to the alligator clips inside that are normally directly connected to the conical springs of the 6 volt dry cell.

Photo below was taken after the housing was removed from the feed caster to show the 6 volt dry cell battery, and the control panel and status display to the right. Note the alligator clips that easily attach to the conical spring battery terminals or other wires as was the case with my "fix" for the homemade chicken feeder that wouldn't operate in cold weather.

This shows the control panel and battery for the feed caster that is the heart of this homemade chicken feeder.

There were other solutions to this problem, but I found none that were as cost-effective. Here are solutions I considered. (I present these possible solutions so you can be better prepared to address the condition of loss of battery capacity in cold weather, as an upfront issue, rather than responding to the problem as I had to.)

  • Using a large 6 volt tractor battery would have been too expensive, especially when you consider I would have to place a battery tender with it. That would have cost at least $100 in addition to the $50 for the feed caster.
  • Heating the interior of the feed caster (with a battery heater or small wattage lamp) would require running a 110 volt line to the unit. This isn't expensive, but the added heat could be sufficient to damage the control circuit, and that would cost another $50 to replace the unit. When in doubt, don't.
  • Another alternative was to purchase a plug-in solar panel to keep the battery charged, and replace the 6 volt dry cell with a flooded lead acid 6 volt battery designed to be recharged by the solar panel. This is a nice option for the homemade chicken feeder that makes use of the on board solar panel plug, but again, it was a bit pricey at roughly $50 for the gear ($12 for the battery, $27 for the solar panel, and then perhaps another $12 for shipping). In addition, I wasn't certain that the solar panel could keep the rechargeable battery topped up enough to overcome the natural loss of capacity that cold weather would have on any battery. I would have likely had the same problem with my homemade chicken feeder as I did when using the dry cell battery in cold weather.
  • One last alternative was considered. I could have built a small insulated box out of plywood and rigid foam insulation, mounted a 15 watt light bulb inside to keep the battery warm, and then run wires a short distance up to the alligator clips inside the feed caster. This would have required drilling a hole in the bottom of the caster to feed the wires up inside, as I have already done, so no problem there. The insulated box could have sat directly beneath or adjacent to the homemade chicken feeder and I could have used smaller wire for the short run, so no problem there. But, it would also require that I run a 110 volt line in proximity to the feed caster to power the whole setup. The cost would have been minimal, perhaps $20 for the wire and a tiny socket for the light bulb, but it would have been a bit of a hassle to install this.

Based on my situation, it was safer and easier and cheaper to simply put the battery inside my heated chicken waterer tower and run a regular household electric line to the homemade chicken feeder to reduce the possibility of "line loss" due to the length of the line (about 30 feet). It was also the more reliable solution because I have small wattage light bulbs and heat tape operating inside the chicken waterer tower. So, the only way all heat sources would fail and thus fail operation of the feed caster would be if my household power were to fail. I used household electric wiring (14 gauge) to carry the power from the dry cell battery and scrap 3/4 inch sprinkler line as a type of conduit for underground burial. Cost to me was essentially $15 in electric wire.

I'm hoping that this discussion of a homemade feeder for your chickens gives you some ideas about what you might do. I like the idea that an automatic feeder eliminate the regular chore of feeding my flock. I also like the idea that it minimizes exposure of the feed to other wildlife that would love to consume it.

Good fortune to you, however you decide to feed your flock.

Done with Homemade Chicken Feeder, take me back to Backyard Chickens

When you're feeding your flock, remember that what you feed them comes out the other end in eggs. The better the feed, the higher quality eggs you'll receive in return.

I still use traditional chicken feeders, but it's only for occasional need. They're good to fill up with oyster shell for chickens have that available to them as a good source of calcium for strong egg shells.

And, if you're raising chicks, you'll need special feeders that help prevent them from simply standing in their food. You can use a long rail feeder or a Mason jar feeder.


Here is the fish feed caster that I used for this project.

This is the solar panel and rechargeable battery that I considered when addressing the problem of battery capacity in cold weather. If I lived in a warmer climate, I'd seriously consider this option to avoid changing out batteries every year.