Automating grain feeding in mobile pastured poultry coops.

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2024: $29,956.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2026
Grant Recipient: Three Brothers Farm LLC
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Michael Gutschenritter
Three Brothers Farm LLC


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal summary:

One of the greatest challenges in a pastured poultry enterprise
is excessive labor. The most strenuous labor comes from feeding
the flocks. The large majority of pastured poultry farmers use
5-gallon buckets to feed their flocks. Most farmers currently do
the following daily chore in order to feed a flock:

  1. manually fill feed buckets (35 pounds each) from a grain bin,
  2. lift buckets onto a pick-up truck or trailer,
  3. transport them to the mobile coops,
  4. lift buckets off of the vehicle or trailer,
  5. carry the buckets to the feeder, and
  6. lift buckets to dump feed it into a feeder. 

This has been the accepted way to feed poultry flocks. Typically,
on a farm with 2800 hens, for example, the farmer will manually
move 700-900 pounds of feed every day. Handling it multiple times
means the farmer often lifts over 2000 pounds every single day
just for this chore. This directly affects the emotional and
physical strain on the farmer, leading to 1) high rates of
burnout and 2) injuries such as carpel tunnel and ligament tears
(both experienced by Michael, Project Coordinator)

In the proposed project, we will replace the current strenuous
system with creative technological design.

Project objectives from proposal:

In order to eliminate the excessive daily labor of manually
feeding poultry, we will use elements of conventional poultry
house technology, modify it to be mobile, and accommodate each
step of the process to minimize manual labor. The main piece of
equipment we will use is a standard feedline with deep pans.
Specifically, we will use a Cumberland brand, auger feed line. In
a conventional poultry house, this would be connected to a
stationary grain bin via a bin boot and unloader. The grain would
then be drawn through a 1.5-inch pipe with an auger. As the feed
flows through the pipe, it falls into feed pans through fittings
along the pipe until each pan is filled. The final pan is
equipped with a sensor that deactivates the motor when it is
full. This system is powered by an AC motor. We intend to keep
the premise the same, but make the necessary modifications to
make it function properly on a mobile coop. 

Starting from the bin and moving to the motor, the following
modifications will be necessary:

  1. Grain bins need to be attached to the coops. Because grain
    bins are built to be round and would be extremely challenging to
    secure, we will hire a local individual to fabricate flat-fronted
    grain hoppers. This will require extra bracing on the coop to
    maintain the coop's integrity under the extra weight.
  2. We will run the auger motor off of a 250Ah 12-volt battery in
    each coop. This requires that we include a 2000 watt pure sine
    inverter and a 700 watt solar panel (with a charge controller) on
    top of each coop. We have already confirmed that these materials
    are appropriately sized to operate the system. 

Beyond the system described above, we need to consider how to
transport the feed to the coops. For this, we will do the
following with equipment already in use on the participating
farms (therefore not included in budget):

  1. Use currently installed feed bins to store bulk feed.
  2. Fill auger wagons from bins with the bulk feed every 8-10
  3. Drive the auger wagon to the coops and fill each grain hopper
    that's attached to the coops.

We will build these systems in the Spring of 2024, operate with
them in a daily-move system, and refine the system as we deem
necessary. If there are any major changes that need to be made
after a grazing season, we will take the winter to make the
changes, and trial the changes in the Spring of 2025, finishing
the project by mid-June 2025. 

We will take weekly assessments to collect data about the

  1. Weekly time it takes to feed each flock (and associated labor
  2. Levels of physical strain caused by feeding
  3. Levels of burnout (measured with Maslach Burnout Inventory)
    from feeding

We are actively taking these assessment in the 2023 season in
order to have a comparison. 

Michael will then distribute data results and construction
details to the pastured poultry industry through communications
listed below. 

Objectives of the project include:

  1. Design and build a mobile solar-powered automated feeding
    system for pastured poultry that eliminates all strenuous aspects
    of daily feeding for farmers.
  2. Identify necessary modifications for the four major types of
    pastured poultry (Laying hens, pullets, broilers, turkeys).
  3. Document data associated with labor in terms of time,
    physical strain, and burnout levels.
  4. Distribute findings and construction details to pastured
    poultry industry through three articles (Grit, Organic
    Broadcaster, Three Brothers Farm Farmer Newsletter), APPPA
    (pastured poultry) forum discussion, and social media (Instagram-


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.