In this world of smart homes, smart appliances and smart plugs, there’s no reason we can’t have a smart co-op in our backyard! Chickens thrive on routine, and automation makes our lives easier, but technology is always finicky at best. Let’s dive into some concepts, considerations, solutions, and workarounds that I found while trying to automate the lives of my chickens.
The term “smart co-op” is relative. There are “smart” devices and “not-so-smart” devices, just like there are smart chickens and not-so-smart chickens (you know them). Both types of devices can achieve some level of automation, but I’ll focus on the smarter of the two.
not so smart
Not-so-smart devices can be considered more autonomous than smart devices because they can make their own judgment, which is backwards if you think about it. A great example of this category might include bucket defrosters, thermostatically controlled outlets, automated chicken doors, and mechanical timers. These devices work, but they do not provide flexibility, or they are negatively affected by power cuts, such as timers, which could cause great harm to girls.
Smart devices are more dynamic because you can change their logic, usually through a graphical user interface, such as an app on your phone or a website. These devices allow you to specify things like “Turn off at 8 p.m.” or “Turn on if local temperature reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit.” The beauty of these more flexible solutions is the scheduling capability and remote control they offer your smart co-op, but not all smart appliance systems are created equal.
Almost everything has a protocol in the digital world. All USB devices use the same language or protocol to communicate with your computer; your cell phone adheres to a protocol so that it works with your service provider’s network. As such, it should come as no surprise that smart devices have a protocol or two or three.
Wi-Fi and routers
Wi-Fi is probably the easiest protocol to build your smart co-op. Most people already have a wifi network at home, and that network probably reaches their chicken coop. Modern wifi operates on two frequencies; 2.4GHz and 5GHz. I’ll avoid getting into the why (that would be wading through technical weeds), but a 2.4GHz wifi signal does a better job of penetrating walls and traveling a longer distance, which means it’s is the best option for us if we are trying to reach our smart chicken coop in the backyard.
Building smart co-op with Wi-Fi devices is the easiest method, mainly because you probably already have a network. That said, you may need to configure your Wi-Fi router to work on 2.4 GHz or create two networks. Many home network routers can create two Wi-Fi networks at once, so you can use your computer or streaming device on a 5 GHz network to get the best speed and still have a 2 GHz network. .4GHz for your smart co-op devices. This is how my setup is currently built.
Zigbee And Z-wave
Zigbee and Z-wave are two popular but competing protocols that share the same principle but achieve the result a bit differently. Both protocols create a network that communicates and controls smart devices, providing a local control hub. This network operates independently of any Wi-Fi network in the sense that smart devices do not use your Wi-Fi. The Control Hub, however, can interact with your local Wi-Fi network.
Cloud versus local
Smart co-ops that rely on Wi-Fi networks use the cloud to control them, or in other words, someone else’s computer, like Google’s. The main functional drawback of this cloud approach is; If you lose internet service or don’t have it, your devices won’t work. With Zigbee or Z-wave you have a local hub which in most cases can work without an internet connection.
If I had to start all over again, I would build a local Zigbee network to control my smart devices, both in the co-op and at home. Unfortunately, I’ve already invested in some Wi-Fi hardware and I’m not inclined to change it as I’ve circumvented the general issues I’ve found. The biggest issue I’ve found in my smart co-op is light synchronization. If the internet is down when the cloud service sends the message to turn off the light, my chicken coop light never receives the message. I configured it so that every hour the service asks the device to turn on or off. If the light is on when an “on” command is sent, it stays on, and the same goes for off. When configured like this, every time the power or internet comes back, within an hour at most, the cloud service will correct the light for me, so I don’t leave girls in the dark or the light perpetual, which can cause a halt in egg-laying or egg-related deaths, respectively.
Security and automation
Not all smart cooperative devices are created equal. Most wall outlet or outlet control units are rated at 10 amps, more than enough for your 40 watt equivalent LED bulb. However, these 10 amp units are not a smart choice for running everyone’s favorite heating source, the reliable old 250 watt infrared bulb. To avoid a risk of fire or destroying your smart devices, use a 15 watt smart plug when regulating a heat source or other high-drain device in the poultry house, especially anything which has a motor. Also look for UL-listed devices for added peace of mind, as not all devices sold are certified.
Affordable smart devices have made our lives easier, and now they can improve the lives of your chickens too! Do you use smart devices in your co-op? Did this article make you want to try it? Let us know in the comments below!
At the age of 12, JEREMY CHARTIER got involved in his local 4-H group, then joined the local FFA chapter and showed cattle to his
college years. After graduating from the University of Connecticut’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, he joined the University of Maine’s Poultry Service Provider Training Program. Today, Jeremy sells started pullets to local backyard growers, is still involved in 4-H as a poultry show judge, and writes about his passion for farming.