You Aren’t Buying a Feeder, You are Buying a Solution
for Stopping Rats Eating Your Chicken Feed
The only truly rat proof chicken feeder on the market and how it came to be made
Nearly a year passed after I started raising chickens before the rats became a big problem. You could see the newly dug holes, the nasty rat poop in the feed, rats were eating my chicken feed, but hey, I could live with that. I was using one of those old style hanging poultry feeders and you would walk in to check on the birds an see the poultry feeder swinging back and forth but the chickens were all out in the yard! The rats were jumping up about a foot off the ground to get to the feed. Then I started hatching chicks, putting them out in the coop once they had feathered out, and at some point I realized that the chicks were disappearing faster than I was hatching them. I had lowered the poultry feeder to the ground so the chicks could eat the crumbles in addition to their chick starter.
The chicks had become very nervous and flighty and one day I happened to pick up the round poultry feeder off the ground and dozens of rats boiled out and across my feet. Yikes! The rats had dug a basketball sized hole under the round metal poultry feeder to hide in when they heard someone approaching. The rats were doing more than eating chicken feed, they were killing the chicks and dragging them into their burrows. Now I had to do something. I needed a rodent resistant chicken feeder.
Online I found the wonderful metal Grandpa treadle feeders but at that time the cost was outrageous at over $200.00 and they could trap a chicken’s heads due to the design. And it was made in China! There were the DYI wooden treadle feeders but how long till rats chewed through the wood? I couldn’t see paying $200.00 so I started making prototypes out of plywood.
After testing the prototypes in my own chicken house that was over run with vermin I found that mice and rats will starve out in about two weeks once the rat proof treadle chicken feeder was installed. The starving rats started ranging into the open yard during the day to look for food and my two dogs killed many of them. No more feeding chicken feed to the rats and mice. The feeder was also a bird proof feeder so the sparrows and starlings weren’t happy.
At that point I decided that others might have the same problem so I posted on BackYardChickens.com to get some feedback on my design thinking that there might be a small amount of business in providing a cheaper alternative. There was plenty of interest, rats eating chicken feed was a huge problem, and the feedback on the design helped a lot. A few of the fellow posters ordered feeders and production began.
The original rodent proof feeder was made out of 1/2″ plywood as I didn’t have the sheet metal equipment and it appeared that the rats would starve out before they figured out that they could chew through the plywood. The wooden doors were hinged using pins acting as hinges, with a 3/4″ round steel bar acting as the counterweight, sliding up and down in a sheet metal channel. Eventually the idea came to make the front, bottom, and back out of one section of sheet metal so I purchased a small shear, then later after being motivated to see if I could make the entire rodent proof feeder out of sheet metal I bought a larger shear and a bending brake.
The rodent proof feeder was then a hybrid, sheet metal carcass but with a wooden top front panel and door as I had yet to come up with a dependable and easily produced door axle. By then we were selling a rat proof feeder every day and with the project producing as small profit I plowed the money back into better equipment and finally bought a gas welding rig. Now I could make a proper axle so the wooden door was phased out, the three piece treadle evolved into a one piece treadle with a wooden step, and with a door crank I could now spring load the door. The product was ready for eBay!
But the problem was that I was no longer making a profit after upgrading the feeder. The initial idea was to be a low priced alternative but the time needed and the more expensive materials meant it was a money losing product. My low tech method of sales meant that you had to answer an email about the poultry feeders, get the address, get a shipping quote, and receive another email back after payment had been made, copy and pasting the shipping info into the shipper’s web page, then printing the shipping label. Slow and tedious.
About that time an old friend turned back up after being missing for about a year, he had moved to the Philippines and had married a girl. And no sooner than married the family started pushing the new bride to start working in Hong Kong as a maid! As the eldest daughter she had the family obligation of finding work and providing income for the family. So my friend asked if I had any work she could do over the internet and the idea was born to outsource the customer correspondence, shipping quotes, and bookkeeping.
So I sent a laptop back with my friend and they bought an internet dongle so the girl had internet connection out in the boonies. Quite a training process using Skype and a remote laptop software system, roosters crowing in the background, mystified neighbors coming over to peer into the screen to see what the former maid was doing, but she turned out to be a hard worker and quick to learn. And cheap to hire, initially her wage was $10.00 per day, about two thirds more than she could have earned locally and she had a degree in Business Administration. Jobs are hard to find in the Philippines and most are six month contracts that evade the labor laws, paying as little as $4.00 for a ten to twelve hour shift.
By this time the rat proof feeder sales began to pile up and I would make parts at the shop, take them home to do the labor intensive assembly, then bring them back to the shop for packaging and shipping. And I still wasn’t making a profit so the idea was born to open up a shop in the Philippines to produce the feeders by the container load.
By then my friend was having problems with the in laws because daughter wasn’t turning over her lucrative (by their standards) paycheck to the family so I financed their move close to the old Clark Air Force Base in Central Luzon. The first shop was right on MacArthur Highway, cement block with a steel roof to weather the frequent typhoons, and two downstairs rooms that would hold about half of a shipping container load of boxed feeders.
Finding the raw materials was easy enough despite the lack of Yellow Pages or websites for the local businesses but finding the equipment took a lot longer and we wound up disassembling a sheet metal brake and taking it on the flights into the country. No one had a sheet metal shear, labor was cheap at around $25.00 per week so they use manual shears, similar to hand held sheet metal shears but bigger. Things like brazing flux for welding the axles were tough to find as they have different names for most products.
It took about a year and a half to get the first container load of boxed poultry feeders produced and another six months navigating the complex bureaucracy of getting an export permit. And yes, we started on the import permit immediately but the process is mind boggling compared to the U.S. import permit that took all of a half hour to complete and a few days to activate. But we had feeders that we could make a profit on and I didn’t have to work till 9 pm on my kitchen table assembling feeders.
Since then the Philippines shop had grown and prospered. We had moved out to a new shop in the old Clark Air Force Base, now a Freeport Zone, and slowly found needed equipment like large sheet metal shears and used the frequent flights into the country to bring what couldn’t be sourced locally. I bet I was the first person in history to bring a Craftsman table saw on an airplane. At that time we are set up really well with a dedicated area reserved for producing feeders in a very productive manner. A forty foot high capacity containers could be shipped around every six months if needed, the feeders are higher quality thanks to the super cheap labor, and we were able to increase the thickness of some of the sheet metal due to the labor savings. We were producing generic cabinet parts for my cabinet shop too.
Were the workers happy? They were… the vast majority of jobs in the Philippines evade the labor laws and minimum wage laws by using 5-5-5 or Endo, end of contract jobs where the worker is fired after five months on the job to prevent them from attaining “regular” status where minimum wages and benefits kick in. As much as 75% of some industries use the Endo system including the large sales forces at shopping malls where a young woman might earn $4.00 for a twelve hour shift, six days a week, and working off the clock without pay in order to keep your job is rampant.
Even these 5-5-5 or Endo contract workers consider themselves lucky to have a regular paycheck and to have some chance of eventually having Social Security withheld. Believe it or not it is almost impossible to get full time employment unless you have a college degree, fast food workers, mall sales girls, check out girls and sackers at the grocery stores, even selling pumping gas requires a college degree and a long list of “requirements” paid for by the prospective employee that range from medical exams to National Police background checks to gate passes or uniforms. Those without a degree, called “undergraduates” : ) can find employment in the informal sector, through employers that pay cash wages as low as $25.00 per week salary with zero overtime, benefits, or even days off. Day off boss? I need to eat that day too so can I work?
Our workers have regular employment with full benefits, 25 days of paid holidays (insane amount), health insurance, retirement, and don’t have to look for a new job every five months. That is a dream job even for the average college educated Filipino and they get the state minimum wage which is more than double what the local employers pay through 5-5-5 or Endo contacts. They also get a year end bonus called 13th month pay which is an extra month’s pay for a Christmas bonus. At the time none of them had college degrees they are doing well for the Philippines.
Covid hit of course in early 2020 and before long they had the entire country literally locked down. If you wanted to go out to get food or water or medicine, a four hour time period was given and a paper pass. If you wanted to go into or even through a different barangay (think neighborhood) you would need to apply for passes after you got there and pay for the pass. Imagine going five miles through six barangays…. you wouldn’t, you couldn’t. We couldn’t get materials to the shop or supplies, most of the stores and suppliers were shut down completely and few trucks were running that weren’t food, water, or medicine. Worse we had at that time moved out to a big old shop out of the Freeport zone and as two of our workers lived at the shop (they want to, even at good wages they wouldn’t make enough to pay for a bunk bed in a crowded room and still be able to live well much less send money home to family) so we struggled to keep them supplied with food, water, and get their pay to them.
Despite not producing we kept everyone on the payroll until five months later when they began to allow stores and suppliers to open and people to begin working on non critical jobs. Luckily we had started a nice cabinet job right when Covid shut things down so coming out they were busy for three months completing that cabinet job.
Around that time we had bought a small lot out North East of the Clark Freeport zone, cheap, bad roads, but at the time not developed or enclosed in the Freeport zone. After the debacle of having workers in one place and living in another we decided to invest in a new shop and spent the next six months building the new shop. And as things go in the Philippines, when we were nearly done the Freeport zone expanded their borders by putting guards on the roads into the property and making it hard and sometimes impossible to get materials in and out .
We have continued to build feeders there in the Philippines, assembling them, disassembling them for flat packing, in order to be able to store so many feeders and with the Covid hitting freight rates skyrocketed, from $2000 for ocean freight to $30,000 if you could find a container and a ship willing to take the container. Then the West coast port pile up, American trucking rates skyrocketing, it was simply impossible to export between late 2019 and even now in February 2023. Our goal is to eventually ship a container of flat packed feeders to re assemble here in the U.S.. U.S. material prices were fine in 2020 but in early 2021 they exploded with many materials unavailable or at four times the old costs so we had a price increase of $20.00 on the Medium feeder in late 2021 after the previous shipment of Philippines feeders had sold out. We still have some small and extra large Philippines feeders so their prices are the same since 2018. Currently material prices are stable at about double what they were in 2019 on the sheet metal but the domestic flat bar stock is still three times the old pricing and boxes and inner packing and hardware costs remain high. Meanwhile in the Philippines some inflation has happened but we can still produce a complete feeder for half the cost of the materials bought here in the U.S. so while we have been making the Medium feeder in the U.S. since late 2021 we are still working on being able to export to the U.S. as soon as shipping rates allow. We may retain the Medium feeder production and offer the Philippines built/U.S. assembled and packaged feeder but that is some time in the future to contemplate.