I have a chicken coop I plan on modifying to automatically open and close the door at dawn and dusk.

What sort of actuator or mechanism would be appropriate for operating the small, side-hinged door?

Constant power is not available (solar) plus it needs enough holding force to keep foxes out.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by small? What's the actual size and (more importantly) weight? $\endgroup$
    – gromain
    Feb 16, 2015 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ Please add a few more notes on the limitations $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2015 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ For holding foxes out, instead of force consider a flanged door-frame; door opens towards the outside so it needs to be pulled to open, and there's simply no good place to grip to pull it open. A very weak spring will keep it closed (and a motor hooked up to a solar battery will duke it out with the spring to open it during the day). $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Feb 17, 2015 at 13:10

3 Answers 3


Rod & Nut drive

A threaded rod and captive nut, with either rod or nut driven rotationally by a motor is liable to offer a good solution. Because:

  • Power level is set by thread pitch and attachment point to the door. While "the bigger the better" always helps, almost any "sensible" size of motor should be able to be used. I say "sensible" to eliminate utterly tiny motors such as pager vibrator motors. But usually anything in the 100 milliWatt to 100 Watt range COULD be used. Lower wattage requires longer time.

    • The threaded rod provides positive locking at zero power with no prospect of "overhauling". As long as the door will not flex under Foxy assault when pulled solidly into its frame then dinner is off.
  • Level of travel can be set to suit by length of rod and mounting. Any door size up to a full dometic house door could be handled in this manner - so a small coop door is well within capability.

A cordless drill motor + gearbox is liable to be an excellent drive unit. These can usually be operated from 12V (9V to 18V units) and usually have a two stage reduction gearbox. They usually have a reversing switch which is not useful in this context if remote operation is required. To use, dismantle the drill, bypass or remove the switch and feed voltage to the two motor wires directly. Reversing the polarity reverses direction.

Here is a Barn-door star tracker which illustrates the principle well.

enter image description here

Their calculations page is here - overkill in this case but potentially useful.

A zillion versions of how you might do this - each image links to a webpage

RF Link: As a bonus, a radio link using 2 x Arduinos and 2 RF modules, with a range of 10's of metres to a few kilometres can be constructed for about $10 in components all up. Ask if interested. This also applies to the wiper based system below.

Wiper motor & mechanism

A possible solution depending on power availability is a wind screen wiper motor and mechanism. These are made to sweep a wiper arm across a sometimes dirty windscreen with considerable drag force. Units made for truck use are substantially more powerful.

A typical automotive unit is rated at 50-100 Watts at 12V but will operate at lower voltage with reduced power. I have some Indian made truck wiper units rated at about 300 Watts!

A 12V motor can be operated from a very small lead acid battery - say 12 V x 1.2 Ah. These can be charged by solar power. The battery should be maintained at a constant 13.7 Volts. You can obtain dedicated regulators for this purpose - PB137 is similar to the standard LM317 but rated at 13.7 Volts out.
PB137 in stock Digikey $1.27 in 1's
PB137 Data Sheet

Note that a wiper mechanism is liable to have substantial backlash and depending on which way the door swings, may allow entry by pressing on the door. If the door is external and swings closed into a frame then it is likely to be Fox proof (for many values of Fox).
An electrically latching mechanism could be added.

Wiper mechanisms often have auto-stop points using internal switches. These usually allow stopping only at one end of travel. A similar arrangement can be implemented with microswitches and diodes. A switch is arranged to break current when it is operated during motor operation but the switch has an is opposed diode connected across it. Initially the diode has no effect and the motor stops. When polarity is reversed the diode conducts and moves the mechanism out of the 'dead spot'. Be sure that switches used are rated for the desired current in DC motor operation - this is more demanding than AC operation at the same current.

I have implemented systems using rod & nut & cordless drills, and also wiper motor & mechanisms. Wiper based is easiest if it meets the needs.


Following are few Suggestions base on the problem description:

  • Use a bi-stable Solenoid. The magnates in the solenoid will do most of opening and closing of the door. The force required will determine the size to the bi-stable solenoid. The challenge will be powering the system.
  • A hybrid power system might work best. A rechargeable Lithium Ion or Lithium Polymer battery coupled with some type of energy harvester is a good candidate. A super capacitor most likely will needed to provide a burst of power.
  • Solar power energy harvester could trickle charge the recharge the power source during the daytime.
  • Also some type of generator that can capture the energy generate by a chicken moving inside to coop is also a good option to power the system. This will need some creativity imagination and research.
  • A Photocell can be used to determine the dawn and dusk
  • Harvesting the vibration energy created by closing and open of the door event could be used to power a radio (6lowpan, Zibgee, BLE etc) to communicate door open and close events to a sensor hub or a locale server.
  • The presence of a fox most likely will create movement in the chicken coop. Using a little bit of creativity this movement could be converted in to usable energy, to charge a super capacitor that will flash a LED, generate sound and communicate to base. Also consider using a radio as mentioned above to communicate the base which could active alarm to deter the fox.
  • The vibration energy create by movement of chicken moving in and out of the chicken coop can be harvested. This can not only be a good energy source but also could with some statistical analysis be used to determine in all the chicken are in or out the coop.


Current Market


You could build something out yourself and connect to a lead-acid battery which charged during the day like this one http://makeitbreakitfixit.com/2016/08/30/diy-home-automation-chicken-enclosure/


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