'the coolest chicken feeder in the world'...
automatic chicken feeder made from recycled materials and glows in the dark!
Nursing a gaggle of lovely ladies and consoling them about the sporadic quality and supply of their tucker, surely is a challenging part of growing your own food =(
The water bowls and food feeders constantly need refilling, collect dirt, poop & sludge and need cleaning often. We found up to 25% of the grain and pellets get scratched around, squished into more poo or lost in the straw and dirt, or stolen...
The mess and waste soon attract families of mice and rats, whom it seems we were paying to fatten up for the snakes to come more often. Like 'Cyril' the 3.4m (11 feet) Carpet Python who lives in our roof cavity, and more of her many 2m (7 feet) children, who keep visiting the chook house 'pantry' for 'mice and chicken dinners'.
Most of the food and water feeders are cheap and flimsy, and we haven't yet been successful in training the ladies to be respectful with their dishes or to do the washing up. The metal feeders rust fast and the plastic ones soon crack. We have churned through many different types that are all stuffed now.
We also now believe keeping food constantly available is important. Some people suggest you only feed the girls at a particular time to encourage a daily pattern or that you should restrict the amount they eat so less is laying wasted. We have tried doing it in the morning and we've tried doing it in the evening, but now we play: any time of day is the right time for doing it =)
Two things we have learned from messing with the food supply:
- When you limit the amount to what you think is enough, it never is. When food was constantly available, egg production went up.
- The girls are much happier when there is always some food available. After just a few hours without food, when it does come there's a mosh pit panic so they don't miss out. Over time this can erode the cooperative flock harmony.
Obviously we have never heard anyone suggesting you should limit the water supply. This highlights the need to ensure it never runs out as a result of your over ambitious and unpredictable lifestyle, that regularly distracts you from checking it daily.
In later articles I will cover the automatic water systems and also the luxury 'chook disco penthouse' I also built.
Time to get serious...
After 5 years of tedious cleaning and refilling while trying to console the disgruntled girls who have plenty to remind us of the adverse conditions they must endure to create the fine breakfast they deliver us daily...
...Jana took the initiative to find a better way.
As usual we spent an excessive amount of time exhausting everything we could find on the interwebs. We found all sorts of commercial feeder and watering systems, and many clever home built jobs.
But we didn't find anything that was automatic, industrial strength, would stop the mess, waste & mice, with room to serve 12-15 girls comfortably (potentially feeding a flock of up to 100), would hold more than 100kg (220lbs) of food, and all for a reasonable price.
So we decided to design and build the ultimate chicken feeder!
But alas... despite our need and enthusiasm, another year passed before I found time to make it =(
...but when it was eventually built, thus we beheld, we had created the coolest chicken feeder in the world!!!
I welcome you to send us details of your "World's 2nd coolest chicken feeder" and we'll feature it here on weekend hippies.
4 with 7 months use (2 dirty, 2 cleaned)
Thinking: the Delivery Mechanism...
While researching all the different designs we could find, we became intrigued by the 'Bump', 'Tap' or 'Trigger' feeder style that is itself, only 1 ridiculously simple moving part. All the food stays in a bucket with a lid, fully protected from the weather and furry thieves.
The girls bump the bottom of the stick that hangs out of a small hole in the bottom of the bucket, and that wobbles the top flat part that sits inside, which knocks some food out. They clean up the few grains or pellets that fall out then tap it again, nothing is left laying around.
The idea is so simple we could make our own bump sticks if we couldn't find any that last, and then the entire project would be made from 100% recycled materials!
With the concept decided, we ordered 5 sticks from www.triggerhappychickens.co.uk in August 2013, and paid £26 including delivery from the UK to Oz! ($46.54 AUD for 5 = $9.31 each (2 years later they are still the same price)). They are simple but well made and worth the money. After 7 months heavy use they are barely worn. I reckon we will get many years use from these sticks.
Thinking: the Container...
The 20L (5 Gal) drums people use didn't feel much bigger than the standard plastic feeders we had been using and having to fill every second day. We found some 60L (16 Gal) drums but they only hold 3x more than the 20L.
Fortunately I am blessed (and sometimes cursed) with a stubborn "if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it proper" mentality. So that quickly took over and I was left with no choice but the obvious: get one of those big 210L (55 Gal) barrels that you can pick up from the back of factories for 5 bucks.
By my calculations we could stuff at least 7x 20kg (44 lbs) bags of feed in there for a total of 140kg (310 lbs). That's more than 10x what the 20L drum can hold and around 21x what the dodgy plastic feeder holds. So it should be able to hold many weeks to months of food... Sweet! The drum type we chose has a fully removable lid to make it easy to add food and clean.
You do need to be careful about what was in plastic containers before you get them. Unlike glass and stainless steel, plastics can absorb some of what they were holding, and no amount of scrubbing can stop it slowly releasing some of the substance back into whatever you are about to put in there next.
The drum we chose previously had a non-toxic surfactant (foaming agent) in it, similar to what goes in dish washing detergent or shampoo and it completely dissolves in water. Probably 2-3 simple rinses would have been plenty for this soluble detergent bubble stuff. But I like to be sure, so I rinsed and scrubbed the drum and lid many times. Then I poured in some hydrochloric (pool) acid, sealed up the lid and rolled the drum all around, poured it out and rinsed it all again. Then I poured pool chlorine in it and scrubbed it in, then rinsed once more. Then I filled the drum up full with water and left it soak for a week, then poured the water on the garden and rinsed the drum one final time. To be sure, to be sure.
Thinking: the Tray...
We found most of the designs using the bump sticks just let the seed drop to the ground or onto a shallow dish. But the girls can still get under there and poop where the food falls and scratch the seed away. So we decided our design would have a spill tray with reasonably high sides to capture all the falling seed from bouncing or rolling away, and to stop the girls getting their feet in there and kicking it all around.
For this tray, we again wanted something that would last and be easy to clean. I looked at many stainless steel sinks and bowls but ended up deciding, the simplest solution was to just cut the bottom off another $5 recycled barrel.
I chose a different style drum which has a lip and recess at the outer bottom edge instead of the rounded bottom like the feed drum has. I plan to bend a steel tube into a circle just the right size to fit snug under this recessed bottom edge, so the tray will click in place and can't be kicked and slide around.
Thinking: the Stand...
We wanted the tray to be removable for easy cleaning. This meant we couldn't use 4 legs to hold up the barrel or the tray would be trapped in the stand. 2 legs would make tray removal simple from either side but the stand less likely to hold 150kg (330 lbs) of weight.
So I imagined using 3 legs in a triangle formation, but I would make one side gap larger than the other 2 gaps to make just enough width to get the tray out of that one side.
I then worked out by curving the legs outward, and flattening (crimping) the lower part of the legs, and tilting the tray on an angle when you pull it out, that I could close this bigger gap more and get the 3 legs almost back to an even triangle for maximum strength.
To hold the barrel and complete the stand, I planned to use the outer rim from a thick & heavy steel truck wheel I had. This was a slightly bigger diameter than the barrel bottom, but it has a nice lip of 15mm (19/32") high to keep the barrel from sliding off. So the 11mm (7/16") gap it leaves around the barrel sides is not a tight fit but is fine for the job.
Time for some Doing: the Holes...
We hadn't fully designed the stand yet, but it was time to get the girls doing some real testing to work out the ideal drum height, tray height, and gap between both so their heads can get in but nothing else. More importantly we wanted to know if this bump feeder idea even works? Were the chickens in the videos just trained professionals performing to get a cut from the sales?
So now we needed to take the plunge and risk wasting a barrel by drilling some holes in the bottom, hopefully in the right place. Most of the other people we saw using these sticks just put one hole and stick in a bucket, sometimes maybe two. But this is a big drum and we want to support as many girls feeding as there is room for them to fit. And we want backups in case one gets clogged up.
We originally bought 5 sticks so we decided to keep one as a spare and set this up for 4 evenly spaced holes/sticks (which works well, but the sticks proved to be very strong and never clog up, so we could have just set it up to use all 5).
I didn't want to put the holes too far out to the outside edge or some grains falling might jump out of the tray. Likewise, too close to the center and the girls might have a hard time reaching the sticks and the fallen food. Also if we had the holes in the center of the drum or toward the very outside, then the food couldn't all drain out of the drum properly and we'd be left with a bags worth of seed in peaks piled up away from the holes.
After much deliberation, I arrived at my compromise guesstimate of marking the 4 hole centers on a 390mm (15 & 1/3") diameter circle, so each hole was 80mm (3 & 5/32") from the edge of the barrel (and fortunately this turned out close to ideal).
Next was the decision on the hole size. The manufacturer recommended 12mm diameter holes if you intend to feed them 'crumbs', 15mm for mixed grain, and 20mm for pellets.
The smart thing to do is start with small holes and test with the food you plan to use, then keep drilling them bigger and test again until it works well, but not so well it just keeps pouring out. Later (during the 'Research, Development, Prototyping...' below) we did exactly this and worked out a 19mm (3/4") diameter hole was ideal for both the mixed grain and the pellets that we planned to use.
The stick manufacturer also suggested you could just cut the hole with a small knife or hacksaw blade and not to worry too much if the hole wasn't exactly round. This is probably adequate for a quick 'n' dirty hanging bucket type setup, but I am incapable of doing a 'rough job', and I always build things to outlast my grandkid's, grandkids.
I don't want to risk muck building up around the scraggly edges of the hole over the years to come. So I used a flat blade type hole saw for a smooth drilled hole into plastic. Then I used a box / blade cutter knife to carefully bevel trim the hole edges on the outside, and I climbed inside the drum to bevel the hole inside edges. Then I gave all the holes and their edges (inside & out) a light sand with very fine grit sand paper to get them smooth as a baby's bum.
Learning to Bump...
To calculate the ideal dimensions of the stand, I plopped the drum onto some concrete blocks and poured in a bag of pellets. Then we asked the ladies for some volunteers, which was easier than organising a p1ssup in a brewery. They are naturally inquisitive, like hanging around humans, and a hand bumping the sticks to make some food fall into the tray was all that was needed to show them "food appears here". Quickly a crowd gathered, but none of them yet understood how the food was getting into the tray.
We kept hand bumping the sticks occasionally for 10-15 mins, and as the manufacturers suggested would happen, the younger girls began to figure it out first. We kept bumping some more and eventually some of the older girls started to peck at the sticks.
The boys were the last to learn how to make the food appear (and some of them still don't know). This is mostly because, as they have their heads down pecking from the tray, their large red rooster combs wobbling around knock the sticks without them realising. The more they keep eating, the more food just magically falls from above and pours over their heads.
During this testing, we kept interrupting the ladies and adjusting the drum height with spacers and bits of wood. I took the spill tray away several times to trim the sides down, until we found the ideal height. But most frustrating for the girls and boys, I kept emptying the barrel so I could enlarged the holes until just a little food fell out nicely when bumped, but not too much.
Some interesting behaviours emerged during this learning phase. There were a few bossy girls who hadn't yet figured out how to make the food appear. They would rudely boot another girl out and eat the food she just bumped. So the smart girl moved around to the other side and bumped out some more. But she was soon kicked out again after the bully had finished all she had previously snaffled. This behaviour produced an ongoing flow of chickens circling around and round the feeder to our amusement.
Research, Development, Prototyping, Testing, Tuning, Debugging...
Early in this testing phase we realised our goal to keep the ladies out of the tray was a success, but found the teenagers (half grown chooks) were going to be a challenge. Unless we made the gap between the tray and the barrel ridiculously small, they manage to climb inside the tray, and then we are back to having some poop mixed in the food (at least while we have half grown chooks growing up). Also we found that some of the fallen food that had rolled to the middle of the tray was hard for many girls to reach, making it more attractive for the smaller ones to get in there.
The solution I came up with was to fix a dome like structure (pudding bowl or plastic food cover) in the middle of the tray so all the fallen food would roll to the outer edge. Also the dome in the middle would make it much more difficult for small sized chooks to get in and move around.
Working out the ideal tray height, the height to make the stand to hold the barrel, and the gap between both to let their heads in, was about finding a best compromise.
We want the sticks to be high enough that grown chooks can comfortably peck without having to squat down or crick their necks all the time. We want the big boys heads with their big combs to fit in the gap without freaking them out. We also want the smaller chooks to be able to reach the sticks and still be able to get their heads over the tray sides to get to the fallen food. But we don't want to make the gap so large that feet can get in and scratch or temp the smaller ones to climb inside.
I initially cut the tray to an exaggerated height of 200mm (8"). As we were testing, I kept trimming it down further and settled at 130mm (5 & 1/9") height (=160mm (6 & 3/10") from the ground when sat on the bottom tubular ring). This allowed the teenage chooks to get their head over the edge and peck at the bottom, but was still high enough to keep them all from scratching inside.
The testing and learning continued casually over a few days until we were satisfied we had reached the best compromise for all the dimensions (and 19mm for the size of the holes). At the conclusion of testing we had settled on 125mm (5") for the gap height between the top edge of the tray and the underside of the thick steel rim supporting the drum, which is how much height the chooks have to get their head into. The thick steel rim adds 8mm (1/3"), so this made the final drum height: 160+125+8 = 293mm (11 & 1/2") off the ground.
These dimensions work great for our girls, but if we had smaller chooks like bantams or regularly had teenagers growing up, I probably would have made the tray height and the head gap a little smaller.
Making a Stand: the Base Ring Tube...
Dimensions decided it was time to fabricate the sturdy steel stand. To make the tubular base ring that sits on the ground and holds the food spill tray, I used a length of 43mm (1 & 2/3") tubing with a 3mm (1/8") wall thickness. I progressively fed it through a second-hand 16 ton hydraulic pipe bender that I snagged at auction for 100 bucks a few years ago!
For the outer recess of the tray to sit snug on to this ring, I needed to make a 575mm (22 & 2/3") circumference circle. This means I would need a straight length around 1,800mm (about 6 feet).
With these pipe benders, you need around 200mm (8") of extra tube after the last bend (at each end), so the bender jig can hold onto the pipe. So I recycled an old length of 2,300mm (7', 6 & 1/2"), which was 100mm (4") longer again than what I needed.
I drew a line along the full length of the pipe so I could visually control the pipe from rolling (twisting) when I feed it through the bender in stages. I then marked 50mm (2") intervals on this line, all along the length of the pipe.
I put one end in the bender, just far enough in so it would be held in the jig, then slid it some more until the next marker was lined up to the center, then gave it a very subtle bend. I kept sliding it along to the next 50mm marker and added another subtle bend.
Once I reached the other end of the tube, I had only made a smiley mouth (semi circle). I then started back at the beginning again and went over each bend making it just a little more curved. I repeated this process until eventually the pipe had almost overlapped back on itself. As I added each bend, I deliberately allowed a small twist in the circle so it wouldn't be completely flat. This way the 2 ends wouldn't hit, but instead would overlap so I could keep bending all the way around the circle.
The tube was now almost a perfect circle and close to the size of the outer edge recess under the spill tray. I needed to occasionally remove it from the pipe bender to check how it fit in the tray recess. But getting the curved pipe into and out of the bending jig was now quite awkward, so I cut off one end where it overlapped which made it a little easier.
I kept tuning the curve, making some bends stronger where needed to get the circle very close to an exact fit for the tray recess. Then I cut the other excess end off leaving a complete circle (although still skewed so the ends are aligned but not yet physically touching).
So with a complete (but slightly skewed) tubular circle, I now clamped one end in a bench vice and tugged sideways on the other end until the skew bent into a flat ring. I checked the size with the spill tray recess again, then MIG welded the pipe ends together. I then ground, filed and sanded the welds smooth, so you couldn't tell where the join was...
Voila! A base ring tube that the removable spill tray can sit snug on.
Once the ring was welded and cleaned up, the spill tray fit on ok but was just a little sloppy. There is a fair amount of meat (thickness) around the base of the tray where they make the barrels strong to take the weight of the full drum bashing around. I got the angle grinder onto it and took some plastic off where it needed it, to help the tubular ring fit better.
I rubbed chalk all over the steel tube then put the tray on it and slid it around so I could see where the chalk rubbed onto the plastic tray. This shows where the plastic was touching the metal so I kept grinding down those places. I repeated this process until the tray fit very snug on the ring no matter where it was placed, then sanded the grinding marks smooth.
Making a Stand: the Top Drum Support Ring...
To support the weight of the filled drum evenly and keep it on the stand, I needed a thick steel ring just bigger than the drum and with a lip to keep the drum in place. I was using a heavy duty steel truck rim to hold up another drum we were using for water. The top part of the rim was connected to the sides and was busy convincing that drum to 'stay'. But the bottom ring was removable and wasn't doing anything useful so I snatched it.
The ring had old paint peeling off and was considerably rusted. But worse, there was a second inner ring lip on top that would have prevented the drum from sitting flat on the surface, so this had to be ground out with an angle grinder. This took many hours, smashed 3 cutting disks (the flying pieces I managed to dodge), and wore out 3 more. But eventually I had the ring all cleaned up nice.
Making a Stand: the Legs...
For the 3 legs that connect the base ring tube to the top drum support ring, I used some short offcut lengths of 34mm (1 & 3/8") tube with a 3mm (1/8") wall thickness. I also bent these in the pipe bender but made the curve more eccentric than round so they bulge more at the bottom, again to help make enough room for the tray to get in and out. At the top of each leg I ground out a curved shape so they would hug the edge of the top ring nicely, ready for welding.
I realised that if I welded them to the bottom like I did at the top, then the plastic spill tray that hangs over the bottom ring would hit the legs. I decided to crimp (flatten) the ends where they attach to the bottom tube so I could weld them lower, to sit below where the tray lip would hang over.
But the problem with crimping these pipes is that their wall thickness is quite large by comparison to the small diameter of the pipe. So my bench vice wasn't convincing them to go flat. Neither were any 'F' clamps, 'G' clamps, vice grip pliers or Mr. Sledge Hammer. I don't have a workshop press so I even tried to setup a custom holding jig to use the hydraulic jack in the pipe bender, but it was very fiddly.
After much fluffing around and disgusting 'Poo, Bum, Wee' (foul) language... I swallowed my pride and got some real help... I called Jana. She fired up 'Doug', the 12 tonne excavator (she always gets to drive him while I have to do all the monkey work outside =(
I laid the leg pipe on a hardwood board and put some smaller bits at the sides to stop it rolling away. Then Jana would position the hard edge of the mud bucket just above the steel tube and do a practice run or two.
I would then run away like a big wuss in case the pipe flicked out like a bullet while she slams the bucket edge down right where I needed the pipe flattened.
It took several goes with each leg to get it evenly flat but it worked well. I love crazy solutions that are more fun and effective than the conventional ones =)
We are professional idiots. Don't try this at home!
teenagers are small enough to get in the gap, but we solved this later
Making a Stand: welding the bits together...
With all the metal bits sourced from leftovers and throw aways, then cleaned up and fabricated into different shapes... the time came to 'summon the voltage' and fuse these metals as 'one ring to feed them all'.
I first worked out where I had to put the 2 legs that would be apart just enough to allow the spill tray to escape. I then tipped the top ring upside down and tack welded the two legs in place, then positioned and tacked the third leg in between the two on the other side, to form the triangle.
I put the plastic spill tray onto the base ring tube. Then I tipped the top ring (with the three legs attached) back over again and placed it over the tray and base ring tube. I put some small packing under the three crimped legs to get them a little up off the ground, but not so high up that the legs touched the spill tray. I also made sure there was still some extra room to allow for the welds to build up around each crimped leg.
I checked that the legs were 90° (pointing straight up), and that the top ring was level etc... Once I was happy with the position, I tack welded the bottom of the three legs to the base ring. I did some more double and triple checking that the spill tray could squeeze in and out with just enough room, and that the top ring was level with the ground etc. This all may sound like it went quick, but in reality there was a lot of fiddling to get things in their correct position ready to be joined.
I then setup the new stand with the tray and the drum again, put a bag of pellets in, and left it for another full day for the girls to give it a final round of UAT (User Acceptance Testing). They were very pleased to see the temporary return of 'the magical food contraption'. The next day everyone was still pleased and I was allowed to fully weld all the joins into an extremely solid base frame! Woo Hoo!
A once over with the angle grinder wire brush wheel and it was ready for paint.
After it was all packed up again for final welding and painting etc, the girls seemed lost. They kept pacing around where it had been with a bewildered look of "where has the contraption gone?", and hoping for more food to fall from above.
A Firm Foundation...
The feeder is very stable but the ground where we wanted it to live in the chook house has a reasonable slope. So I made a strong and level concrete and mortar base that the stand will sit on firmly.
I started by sweeping the area, then washing away any old poop. Keeping the old concrete wet also improves the chance of a good bond with the new stuff going on top. I positioned the stand where it was far enough away from all perches and falling poo, but still easy to walk around. I put various stones under the base ring tube to get it perfectly level, then positioned bricks and wood around the outside gaps as a rough formwork to keep the wet concrete in.
I made up half a bucket of concrete and filled the center of the base ring tube to half the height of the steel tube. I tapped it smooth and let this set for an hour until it was still wet but holding its shape.
Then I carefully twisted the stand clockwise in a full circle or more, then back again. This stops the concrete bonding to the steel, but more importantly, pushes it back from the tube enough so the stand will fit nice however it is placed.
Every hour or so I repeated this twisting, then checking for level, until the concrete fully set. I also used a squirty bottle to spray a fine mist of water to keep the concrete lightly damp. I kept the area covered so the curious girls didn't scratch their names in the concrete.
The next day it was set. I cleared everything away then made a blend of mortar with cement powder. I covered all the concrete with a thin layer including the trench the base tube sits in. I put the stand on it and again twisted it around a few times to help it settle and smooth.
The rest of the cement mix I packed all around the outside up to about 1/3 the way up the base tube height. I smoothed it all off by hand and let it set for a couple of hours, occasionally twisting the stand again and spraying the surface lightly damp.
Once it was very firm but not completely set, I removed the stand and smoothed off any rough edges around the trench where the base tube sits. I continued keeping it damp and covered for the next day.
The Spill Tray Plug...
During the testing we observed some food landing in the middle of the tray where many girls couldn't reach, and the half grown teenagers were climbing in there uncontested from their parents.
I figured the best solution was to fill the middle space up with something and after much deliberation on shapes, sizes & materials, I settled on a plastic cake cover with bonus knob. This would deflect any food diving for the middle, back out to the sides, and would make it harder for the teenagers to party in there.
Unfortunately there was more to making this work as the spill tray bottom is not flat but has a substantial buckled seam running through from the drum injection moulding process. So I again used the chalk method, rubbing it on the 2 ends of the tray seam. Where the chalk rubbed onto the cake cover sides, I kept filing away the clear plastic until the cake cover sat flat on the bottom of the tray.
This cover will need to be glued to the tray to stop it sliding around. But before that I want to paint the inside of the clear plastic cover so it will glow in the dark!
Put a Lid on it...
From many years of raising chickens we knew the girls were gonna love sitting on top of this drum and pooping down the sides, with some making its dribbly way into the spill tray and the food. We tried to shy away from solutions that involved noisy alarms, very sharp things, and high voltages, and kept focusing on the simple and elegant ideas.
Then it came... inspiration from the bike riders, riding around with cable ties coming out of their helmets to scare the swooping birds from smacking into their heads (what are they worried about when they are wearing helmets anyway? Sky divers, do your worst!)
This idea confirmed my sneaking suspicion that I had to make this chicken feeder glow in the dark. The cable ties would also glow, to look like steam coming out from the barrel lid and rising up!
I chose 370mm (14 & 1/2") long cable ties as they are fairly thick and strong (but maybe didn't need to be so long?). Getting them to attach to the drum lid was the next challenge. First I tried using a heat gun to lightly soften/melt the plastic on both the lid and the cable tie, then quickly hold them together as they re-set. After making a mess with 2 attempts, I decided this wasn't going well.
My next approach was to glue them to the sides of the lid. I tried this using super glue with one and it looked like it might actually work, but as soon as there was any tugging at the cable tie, it quickly failed.
Time to get heavy duty. I mixed up some 2 part "JB Weld" which I have had some success with in the past. I felt this was going to do a much better job, but I remained sceptical, if anything pulled on the cable ties it still might pull the glued surfaces apart. Then I had a brainwave... use more cable ties, connected together in a full loop, going around the outside of the lid and over all of the glued vertical ties. When pulled very tight over the glued ties, it should hold them down even when pulled on.
I decided to go for it and marked out 12 evenly spaced spots around the lid. As I glued each one, I used a bulldog clip to hold the cable tie in place with some decent pressure for 24 hours. Then the next day I removed the clips and the ties were stuck on there good and proper. I still ran my cable tie loop very tight around the top of the lid, making sure the vertical ties were locked down.
Time to apply the Cool...
We have now built the world's ultimate chicken feeder, so...
"Are we there yet?" Nope.
Time to get arty and make it the World's Coolest Chicken Feeder!
Previously at one of the many bargain hunting auctions I scour, I found a completely unopened, 3.78L (1 US Gallon) can of rust-oleum 'Glow-Max' industrial strength, glow in the dark paint. I won the bid at $30 and later found this stuff costs well over $400 per tin and is hard to get. Woo Hoo!!!
It also came with a bag of very fine anti-slip sand particles that you mix in to give the finished paint a rough texture for grip. I didn't need to add grip for anything with this feeder, but I did use some on the perches I made for the girls that also glow in the dark. They don't supply it in a resealable bag, and I don't want to mix it all in the tin. So I keep it in a jar and mix it in a separate bowl as needed, then it goes further on the jobs where I do want grip.
This paint is NOT the type of 'glow in the dark' substance that was used on watch faces etc. 100 years ago that gave the watch factory workers radiation posioning. That stuff had Radium in it which emits radiation, so it just keeps on glowing. This paint is the type you have to charge up with light (better with UV purple light, worse with red), then it slowly releases the light back. If you are interested, here are 2 good resources for all things 'glow in the dark': glowinc.com and www.glowinthedark.com.au
So what exactly should we paint? When random things glow green, it reminds me of Homer Simpson working at the nuclear power plant. Cool idea!...this hi-tech chicken feeder will be cleverly disguised as an inconspicuous drum of spent nuclear fuel innocently sitting on a burner with flames coming out from the bottom. The ladies are gonna have some stories to tell sitting around their nuclear camp stove!
Preparation for paint...
The first step was the flames on the drum. I started by completely covering the bottom half of the drum sides with masking tape.
I searched google images for 'flames' and found a nice pic that I enlarged, and printed the outline several times on A3 paper. I then cut out the shape of the flames and taped the remaining straight edge of the cutout sheet to the side of the drum. I repeated this all the way around the drum, evenly spacing, and carefully positioning, the overlap of each sheet so the flames would blend seamlessly in a continuous loop around the barrel without a join.
Once I was happy with the flames position, I traced the flame outline onto the masking tape with a texta pen, then removed all the paper cutouts. I used a box cutter / blade knife and cut the masking tape along the texta line I had drawn, all the way around the drum. Then I very carefully peeled off all the masking tape below the texta line I had just cut. Looking good!
Seems nothing much sticks to most plastics be it glue or paint. So I figured if I rough up the smooth surface of the plastic, I would give the paint a chance to bite and hold into the scratches etc.
Using coarse sand paper, I carefully scratched all the exposed blue plastic on the bottom of the drum, being very careful along the edges of the flame cutout, not to scratch and rip the masking tape. I started with 80 grit paper, making sure all the exposed surface to be painted were well scratched. Then I briefly went over it again with some super coarse 40 grit just to add a few deeper scratches.
I fully masked up the top center part of the lid. Then I found a simple piccie of the common radiation symbol on the net, also printed it on paper and cut out the shape. Like the flames, I used the paper template to draw the outline onto the masking tape, then ran the blade knife along the texta line, then carefully peeled up the tape I wanted removed. I also used both coarse sand papers to scratch the exposed plastic to help the paint stick. I even scratched the smooth back side of the cable ties to help the paint stay on them too.
I wanted the spacer plug that I was fixing into the center of the spill tray, to also glow so it would look like it was the source of the fire flames coming out from under the barrel.
I almost painted the outside of this cake cover before I realised that being clear I could just paint the inside and keep the outside clear and smooth. This will protect the paint from wear and potentially peeling or flaking into the food over time. I'm glad I thought of this before I started. Again I scratched up the inside plastic so the paint would have a chance to stick.
Last thing to prep ready before we get funky with funky paint, was the stand. I had already run over it with the wire brush wheel on the angle grinder removing any dirt, chook poop from testing, welding slag, surface rust etc.
As most of the steel in this stand is galvanised, before any normal paint could go on, I applied a coat of spray can 'Etch Primer' designed for etching and bonding to aluminium and galvanised iron. 2 hours later the stand was ready to be painted over.
Let's get Painting...
Ok, everything has been masked up and prepped ready, time to lay down a base coat of white to "optimise the photoluminescent properties". Basically this means any light that travels through the glow paint will reflect back through it again, rather than being absorbed by some other non-white colour underneath.
The manufacturers of this glow paint say: "must be applied over Industrial Choice® Flat White finish", to get you to buy more of their own paint. I thought (maybe I am wrong here?) that it would be better to use a more reflective gloss paint than a flat matt finish?
But anyway, I didn't have any of their stuff handy and I'm trying to keep this project cheap and recycled, so I used up an old tin of Taubmans 3 in 1 Acrylic Sealer, Primer, Undercoat, that I also snagged at auction a long time ago. After the first coat of white, I could still see some faint colour showing through, so I gave everything a second coat.
With the cake cover spill tray plug however, I was painting the inside instead of the outside. So I didn't start with white, but finished with white, so the glow paint is seen from outside.
With all the white base coat now done (except for the spill tray plug as mentioned), it was time for the cool paint =)
All paint needs a stir before using, to be sure all the bits are blended in together evenly, but especially with this glow stuff. Using a stir stick, you can feel a very thick gluggy layer at the bottom (which has settled in a fairly short time since I used the tin last). I suspect this is the active 'glow in the dark' substance, so it's really important to get it all mixed in evenly again, but it seems to take much longer to un-glugg than normal paint.
I whacked a kitchen 'egg beater' / cake mixer stick into the drill to get things moving faster, but it still takes a while. This paint even needs to be remixed again before each coat, so the egg beater stick kept building up layers on it. It's now so thick I have retired this beater from active paint mixing duty, and it hangs out near a light bulb just for sh1ts and giggles.
Once the paint in the tin was fully mixed, I used a plastic spoon to scoop enough into a pot for a full coat on everything. The spoon and the pot also look cool now, so I can't reuse them with regular paint. They have joined the Egg beater in retirement for amusement.
The glow paint instructions don't say how many coats, but do more accurately suggest: "achieve a dry film thickness of 1.5-2.5 mils (37-62um)", so 2 mil = about 0.05mm (0.002"), that's not very thick. But I couldn't help myself and coveted more of this magical light holding power, so I applied 8 thick coats on everything I painted. With the 2 coats of white base, I reckon I got the thickness to around 0.50mm (0.020") = 10x as thick!!!
As I was doing the coats, I wondered if I was just wasting paint on more layers that the light couldn't penetrate to anyway. But I could still see some light coming through the clear acrylic spill tray plug, until the 8th coat when I decided it was close.
Trim and peel to reveal the cool...
So the drum, the lid, the stand and the inside of the spill tray plug all received 2 coats of white base and 8 coats of glow in the dark paint. Soon it was time to peel off the masking tape and see how it went!
But unfortunately when you put down 10 coats of paint, it builds up thick and you can't peel the tape off cleanly, so you need to sever the paint edge. With the lid, the outer edge of the top was fairly easy as it was an even line all the way around.
But the radiation symbol was harder to work out where to cut. I started further away where I knew there was no paint and worked my way in, slowing cutting closer and closer to where the tape finished and the paint was on the lid surface.
To my disappointment I found, despite my best efforts to scratch up the plastic where the paint would go, it still peeled up easily. But the 10 coats thick layer seemed flexible, almost like rubber. So I lifted up the paint, just a little beyond the edge of the tape, very slowly and carefully, and could then see clearly where to cut along the tape edge.
After I cut all the tape outline and peeled all the mask off, I pressed the edges of the remaining paint back down flat. My hope that this paint would not peel up again later, now relies on my plan to put many layers of clear epoxy coating over the whole lid to give it a protective skin, like wrapping it in plastic wrap.
With the drum, the up and down nature of the flames made for a lot of edges to trim. But the paint seemed to stick just a little better to this plastic, and it was easier to see the bulge in the surface where the tape edge was. So although it did take some time to trim off, I was much more confident and relaxed than with the lid.
Not without Protection!
Cool, so the paint looks fantastic, but it concerns me that it peels off the plastic so easily. The girls can be punishing on their toys, so I had already decided to use some form of clear layer protection. But now it was essential to hold the paintwork down.
I looked online and asked around at various paint places and decided to use a clear, non-yellowing, 2-part (A&B) epoxy resin. Although resins are very expensive, it seemed the best choice for durability. I chose a fade resistant, 2-pack polyurethane called northane-gloss that is made in Australia by Norglass Paints.
The drum, the lid, and the stand all got 6 coats to build up a nice layer, but I think I would have liked to do a few more. I had enough left to put another 3 or more coats on, but I decided to cover over one of the the 'glow in the dark' steel perches and the swing I had made for the girls a few months earlier. Perhaps I should have scraped together a few more bucks and bought a bigger tin? Job for another day perhaps.
The coating adds a nice, clear gloss 'wet' look. For the rigid lid and stand, it seems to work very well. But for the tips of the flames on the flexible drum I'm not convinced it will be thick enough.
With all the paint work and coatings done, we are very close now!
I wasn't sure what to use to glue the spill tray plug to the bottom of the tray, but decided to try a flexible, clear silicone. I ran a bead all around the rim of the acrylic dome. then placed it on the marks I had to show where it would sit, nicely centered in the tray.
I whacked on some weight to keep it firmly in place, then smoothed off the silicone around the join with my thumb, and left it for 2 days to cure.
bugs in the tray that were attracted to the glow paint overnight, Yum!
This 'smoothing off' of the silicone was to keep food dust from getting caught up in the uneven bulge that squeezed out the sides. But it also made the excess silicone fan out further over both plastics, so the silicone has more surface area to grab.
So everything is pretty much done!
The only last thing I decided to add, that wasn't really necessary, was to glue 3 small bits of firm foam on the top of the drum support rim of the stand. Because the rim is slightly larger than the bottom of the drum, I thought the foam pads would help guide the empty drum to sit nicely in the center before filling. But honestly, the stand is so strong it wouldn't care if the drum was sitting off to one side and you filled it with lead!
The World's Coolest Chicken Feeder has been deployed!!!
After 6 years of f@rting around with small, messy, wasteful, flimsy feeders...
After 1 year of waiting to find time to make it...
After 3 weeks part time designing, testing and building it...
We finally have a clean, durable, waste free, large capacity, fully automatic, sexy solution to keeping the ladies fed and happy! And all made from recycled materials except the bump sticks and a new tin of epoxy coating!
Wow! If you've read all the way down to here, well done! You must be totally obsessed with chickens or someone who must finish something you have started!
I should thank Bella with the henna tattoos, who works at Bunnings hardware Indooroopilly. Your curious enthusiasm for crazy artistic ideas, and suggestion to write a blog about it, got me motivated to write this =)
Also, thanks to Wendy from Australian Contract Manufacturing for doing these drums cheap. I hope you like what I did with your 'used packaging'!
And thanks to Jana for your patience with my crazy ideas and compulsive need to do things properly and make things that last.