Some Feedback Please on These Design Upgrades

Al Gerhart

Songster
Sep 29, 2011
626
543
231
Oklahoma City
The old timers here remember back in 2012 when I first posted on the rat proof chicken feeder and the feedback was enormously helpful in making the feeder design successful. There have been minor re-designs since around 2013 when we went to an all metal feeder and again in 2016 when we introduced the world's first soft close treadle feeder but other than that the design has been unchanged.

Many reasons why, a very long lead time when I started producing the feeders in the Philippines in 2013. It took about a year to fill the first container after spending months dealing with red tape and locating equipment and supplies in that third world country. Then once you have a big inventory of an item you have to be careful not to make it obsolete with a newer improved version, that is a major factor that small manufactures have to consider.

But the Chinese virus not only shut us down overseas in March of this year, it also vastly accelerated sales to the point that we have almost eaten up what I thought was a two year supply of the medium feeders. Probably be out of stock of the medium feeder by December 2020 and unable to even visit my plant overseas for the foreseeable future. So, a combination of running low on inventory of that feeder and the inability to ship a container this year allowed me to think about a re design and I have spent the last three months working through the changes and I would love to have some input.

redesinged feeder inside view.jpg


The biggest change is in capacity and shipping costs. By re designing the inside feed hopper I was able to shrink the feeder and the box by about 3" in height. As the feeder only weighed 15 pounds the shipping policies of all the shippers charged more for a lightweight but bulky product. The feeder shipped at the same cost as a 28 pound feeder of the same size as a result. By testing sizes and weight shipped to one zip code I figured out that dropping the size down to 20" tall boxes gave about a 10% shipping cost savings. That is around $3.00 on a Seattle bound feeder. They still ship based upon 21 pounds but that is better than before. I know that isn't much but it is about half of the profit per feeder at the end of a year so to me it is a large sum.

redesigned feeder right side.jpg


Since the feeder was shorter I needed to figure out a way to keep the same 26 pound feed capacity (pellets) so I brought the base of the triangular shaped feed hopper forward about 2" and made the feed tray longer so it still flowed nicely but not too much as that allows too much feed to pile up at the bottom. That meant the backward door opening went from around 5.5" to just under 3.5", plenty even for a rooster. As a result, to my complete surprise, the feeder wound up holding an additional gallon of feed. The new design would hold about 36 pounds of whole corn compared to only 30 pounds for the old design. Yeah, I was out of pellets and didn't want to empty the feeder in my coop to check the weight so I used some whole corn.


The fit and finish on the door was always an issue with some of the more OCD customers. We basically went for the least expensive feeder possible that was easily made in a third world country. Precision is expensive, so is fit and finish. You double the parts production and assembly time and you more than double your costs as it slows down output per hour while the overhead is one of the largest costs. We used a flat edge around the feeder opening, de burred of course for safety, but a few times over the years a big comb rooster could nick his comb if he was trying to eat from the side. And there was always a triangular shaped gap between the bottom of the door and the top on most of the feeders. So to deal with this the inside edges of the sides of the feeders will be seamed on this new version, the bottom and top edges always were seamed. And the door has always been hung on a 8" x 1 1/4" x 3/4" wood block which was an elegant solution to joining the heavy axle to the door and still be able to adjust the door height if needed on down the road but during rough shipment on occasion a door would come loose. Probably third world country workers not remembering to set the clutch on the cordless screwdrivers and stripping the screws and we learned to stuff the feeder with old newspaper or waste printing to prevent damage from shipping.

redesigned feeder hang angle view.jpg
redesigned feeder hard spacer and adjustable door view.jpg


This new prototype has replaced the wood block with a 16 gauge L shaped part to join the axle and door. That allowed us to put in about 3 mm of back and forth adjustment for the door so the door can be snugged up against the front of the feeder and another 3mm of up and down adjustment so the OCD types can tweak the door nearly tight. Doors don't need to be tight actually, just less than a half inch gap will stop even a mouse regardless of the internet claims. We usually got things to within a quarter inch. This new system is a bit more costly but it allows plenty of adjustment and even more can be gained by wallowing out a clearance hole or just grinding a slot with an angle grinder. We selected an oversize hole so the door wouldn't drop if a screw stripped on down the road. You see a bit of darkness where the door meets the side of the feeder but that is the seamed edge, there is very little space between the front side of the door and the seamed edge if any.

When we started doing the soft close, I believe it was late 2016 or early 2017, we realized that having a door that could schooch back and forth a bit was not a good thing. And folks wouldn't follow the directions and put the wire link in backwards which would allow the door to wiggle over too much. Easy to fix once they sent you a picture of how they assembled the feeder. So every feeder started getting the front cover removed during pre shipping inspection and a soft plastic tube split and inserted on the left side to keep the door from sliding too far to the left so the soft close would hit the door axle. Once again extremely rough handling during shipping would sometimes dislodge a split tube but it generally worked fine. To solve this we have gone to a PEX tube that is installed when the axle is installed. Much tougher, impossible to dislodge, and it keeps the door running smoothly and in the same place every time. We also moved the door axle back so that the front top edge of the door didn't hit the sides of the feeder that are folded around front to make the door opening sides. By moving the door axle hole back about 3/4" we solved that problem and were also able to run the door axle through the feed tray itself, doubling the sheet metal supporting the door axle and doubling the life of the feeder before wear would begin causing problems by dropping the door a bit lower.


redesigned feeder front left side.jpg
redesigned feeder treadle drop.jpg


And the position of the door crank was always a bit arbitrary. A worker would have it not quite level and that meant that each wire link had to be custom bent to length and as a result we always had to leave the treadle up off the ground if the feeder was sitting on a level surface. That crank angle and the depth that the door open required we leave the treadle not bottomed out. We were able to fix this by shortening the crank on the end of the door axle, shortening the distance backward the door opened, and making fixtures to allow a more precise door axle. Now the treadles bottom out on the work bench during assembly and as a bonus the distance required to open and close the door is about one third of what it was. A 1 5/8" treadle drop will move the door back 3.5" or more. Less movement of the treadle should make training easier.

redesigned feeder angled spring mount.jpg
redesigned feeder spring angle and adjustment view.jpg


And finally, since the introduction of the soft close doors there has always been a conflict between the spring and the soft close cylinder as they occupy the same space. The door axle and treadle changes allowed us to move the top of the spring to the front of the feeder, at an angle, freeing up the top of the door axle for the soft close cylinder and drilling a series of holes means the operating weight to work the treadle is much easier to adjust. Prior to this we advised stretching the spring to avoid too hard of a door slam or for lighter chickens. Now there are a series of holes and you can set the treadle from about 1.5 pounds to almost 4 pounds of pressure in one pound increments. You can even drill more holes a bit higher or lower to allow even more adjustability.

And there is no free lunch in life. We had to give up a bit to get these changes. First the cost, went up about $15.00 due to increased labor and material due to the increased complexity of the new feeder, including the extra cost to produce it here in the U.S., eventually I will be able to travel again and visit my shop to train the workers on making the new version of the feeder. We lost about 1 5/8" of door travel backward but the opening is much larger than the competing feeders. We paid for part of the changes by increasing productivity, such as using a drive on nut versus the old threaded door axle end. The drive on nuts are bullet proof yet you can cut them away or use a grinder if the door axle ever needs replacement which is very rare.

Which leads us to my first question both to existing customers and those that might think they would want a treadle feeder. Is the $15.00 price increase worth the difference in fit and finish, increased feed capacity, and making it in the U.S.? Are we getting away from our roots of having both the best feeder and the cheapest feeder on the market?

Second question. Our treadle bars have always been rough as a cob, a dip paint job and for the life of me I cannot get the workers to monitor the paint viscosity so the treadle bars would be caked with paint or hardly any at all. It might be the heat over there contributing to the poor quality finish. That said, it is cosmetic, few complain, and the thick steel isn't going to rust away in the next thirty years. So I am looking into powder coating and have sent out some sample parts so the work can be quoted. The question is, how important is looks on a feeder that is going to be caked with chicken caca and mud the day after you install it? Would a powder coated treadle bar and maybe the end of the door axle crank be worth doing? Unsure of the costs at this point but is it worth $1.00, $3.00, or $5.00? Should it be optional for those with more cash? I will need to make a decision on doing this in a week or so in order to hit our December 1st roll out so some feedback would be greatly appreciated. Till about then we should have the original medium feeder in stock and we have plenty of the other style and size feeders so they aren't likely to change for the next few years.
 

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RojoMarz

Songster
May 21, 2020
388
577
151
Southern CO...at 8600 ft
For me:
  • The increased size isn't a selling point, as I don't fill the feeder.
  • Current fit/finish isn't an issue
  • Powder coating not important
  • US made is appealing. Philippine built is better than China.
  • I like the series of holes. That would make it much easier to adjust for young birds as they grow. That darn spring was also tough to stretch/adjust.
  • Less treadle movement seems good. Would that include less "side to side" movement also?
I never want to pay more, but sometimes you have too. It darn near killed me (psychologically) to pay $70 for a feeder. But I did and I have no regrets. I love my feeder, so thank you @Al Gerhart
 

Howard E

Crowing
Feb 18, 2016
2,821
3,749
286
Missouri
Al:

Without a side by side feed trial comparison......hard to say about some of those changes. But if both versions are equally acceptable to the birds, I go with the one that has least shipping cost.

Beyond that......took the first long, hard look at my feeder yesterday. On the treadle bar......paint is gone from end of treadle (outboard end the birds stand on) to about the front of the feeder. Don't know if any paint or powder coat would stand up to that use / abuse. Could it be galvanized like rest of external metal on the feeder? Or stainless? Or perhaps it really doesn't matter?

Bags of feed come in either 50 pounds (like Purina) or 40 pounds (like layer pellets I get from local farm and home), so 25 pound capacity splits either size bag in half.

The other thing that might help sell these is to put a feeder in a spot that is known to be infested with rats. Install the feeder......blocked open to allow rats to feed. Get video of that. Then close it up......and get video of that. Time lapsed over the course of a week. Watch the rats bunch up, swarm the feeder, then in time.....they go away?
 

Al Gerhart

Songster
Sep 29, 2011
626
543
231
Oklahoma City
Al:

Without a side by side feed trial comparison......hard to say about some of those changes. But if both versions are equally acceptable to the birds, I go with the one that has least shipping cost.

Beyond that......took the first long, hard look at my feeder yesterday. On the treadle bar......paint is gone from end of treadle (outboard end the birds stand on) to about the front of the feeder. Don't know if any paint or powder coat would stand up to that use / abuse. Could it be galvanized like rest of external metal on the feeder? Or stainless? Or perhaps it really doesn't matter?

Bags of feed come in either 50 pounds (like Purina) or 40 pounds (like layer pellets I get from local farm and home), so 25 pound capacity splits either size bag in half.

The other thing that might help sell these is to put a feeder in a spot that is known to be infested with rats. Install the feeder......blocked open to allow rats to feed. Get video of that. Then close it up......and get video of that. Time lapsed over the course of a week. Watch the rats bunch up, swarm the feeder, then in time.....they go away?
Galvanized bar stock isn't easy to come by. We tinkered with some stainless steel, very hard, difficult to punch holes in using our manual punch presses and drilling through would cost big bucks. I wish I had a plasma cnc cutter for that. Still the stainless steel would add a couple of bucks to the price. The original thinking was that it would take decades to rust through an 1/8" thick treadle bar, longer than the galvanized sheet metal would hold up to the chicken poo.

I have been thinking about setting up a rat pen and doing some side by side comparisons of the different feeders. No telling how many laws I would break doing that. LOL I am sure the health department would have a fit.
 

Howard E

Crowing
Feb 18, 2016
2,821
3,749
286
Missouri
Ought to be able to find you an infestation of rats to test somewhere. Washington DC comes to mind.....no wait, that's lawyers.

As long as it's an existing, natural colony, can't imagine getting into too much trouble running a short term test. For a test like this, not sure birds need be involved.
 

Al Gerhart

Songster
Sep 29, 2011
626
543
231
Oklahoma City
We have something like that at 23rd and North Lincoln in Oklahoma City. Has a big dome on top too, just filled with hundreds of rats. Wearing suits. Talking even. Hard to understand them though.

I am thinking about inquiring at the health dept to see if them or the wildlife nazis (fish and game) would freak out if I captured some big old rats.

Ahh, I see a new concept for a reality show. Rat busters. Howard E. would be our host and babe magnet for the show.
 

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