BRANDON — Consumers are willing to pay a price premium for chickens grazed on grass. However, keeping those birds well watered, well fed and safe from predators is an ongoing challenge.
It’s a challenge that Daniel Badiou has taken up with enthusiasm. Badiou, who helps run the family’s dairy farm near Sommerset, Man., graduated with a degree in mechatronics engineering from Polytechnique University in Montreal last spring.
Badiou was anxious to reach out beyond university projects and get his hands dirty with a real-world project that he invented and patented himself: an automated, mobile chicken coop. Creating a safe, nurturing pasture environment for a flock chickens was an idea that got the gears going in his head.
“This is a fully automated robotic chicken coop. You program it for how often you want it to move itself, depending on how many birds are in there. You can run a full week without going out to check it,” he said.
“There’s enough water and feed for 20 chickens to last one week. Everything is run by electricity. There’s a solar panel for power, along with a back-up battery that will last a full week if necessary.
“The wheels are omni-directional. They go forward or reverse, but they also turn 90 degrees so the coop moves sideways. When it reaches the end of a swath, it steers the wheels and moves over one full width to start the next grazing swath.”
Badiou said the side awnings are controlled by temperature and wind. When it’s too hot, they lift up to provide better shade and air circulation. When it’s too cold, the awnings close up to retain heat. When it’s too windy, they close up so the chickens don’t ruffle their feathers.
“For example, if you have a driving rain from one side, the slats on that side close up so the chickens don’t get wet. The other slats can remain open,” he said.
“I have sensors for temperature, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure. We need as much information as possible to optimally grow the chickens. We can also have an onboard camera so you don’t have to run out there to check the chickens.”
Badiou said the operator plots the course, including all turning points, and puts it into the program before launching the chicken coop. This would prevent it driving into a boulder, tree or fence.
There will eventually be sensors on board to prevent accidents. Steel siding runs down to ground level to keep predators outside the enclosure.
“We should be clear, these are not organic chickens,” he said.
“We call them pasture chickens. To be organic, the ground needs to be certified organic. These would be more like the chickens Grandma used to raise.”
The smallest size travelling coop is designed for 15 to 20 chickens and sells for less than $10,000. The largest model is designed for 200 chickens and sells for $18,000. Badiou figures return on investment should come within three years. He plans to raise 1,000 pasture chickens in 2017 using the mobile coop.
For more information, contact Daniel Badiou at firstname.lastname@example.org.