Internet controlled animal feeder. Ideas for a good feeding mechanism to use?

I'd like to be able to make an internet controlled animal feeder to be able to dispense a range of foods like shelled peanuts, small nuts, or kibbles.

But there one main problem I'm running into, and thats figuring out what sort of feeding mechanism to use. It is preferable that it has low power draw, and also cheap.

Most importantly it needs to not clog or jam. And also it needs to be very controlled. I don't want to just open a solenoid and dump a ton out, I'd like to just dispense small bits at a time. Trying to find something that will dispense only small bits, while at the same time not worrying about it getting jammed is a problem that's baffling me.

Any Ideas?


A mechanism that will not clog is the real trick!

Dispensing a known amount is relatively straight-forward problem. You allow the feed to fall into a small cup or chamber that fits flush with the bottom of the feed hopper. When its time to dispense, you cut off the path of the feed and then empty the cup/chamber. This could be done with either two solenoid operated gates or maybe a rotating chamber controlled by a servo. But either way, jamming will be a problem.

The only way I can think of to avoid the jamming problem is to have control over gravity by being able to rotate the entire hopper upside-down, or at least between vertial and horizontal, and have an 'S'-bend type trap attached to it. When the hopper is vertical, the trap fills under gravity. When the hopper is horizontal, most of the feed in the trap falls back into the hopper, but a portion of it falls out of the open end of the trap.

Hope that makes some kind of sense!


^^^ It makes sense to me, but something that can rotate the hopper with roughly 20 LBs of food will likely draw a fair amount of current, plus also have a pricey startup cost. Cereal dispensers as used in hotels would likely function well with a single motor. It's simply a hopper that tapers to a half opened sleeve that houses a carrier screw shaft that moves the cereal on an axis inside of the sleeve and carries it from the hopper to the dispensing chute. Same concept as in a vending machine with a bag of chips. I don't know if they come assembled with drive motors in them, but even if not, they shouldn't be that difficult to mount a drive motor.

Maybe take a look at deer feeders and see what mechanism they use. There's a recent thread here about someone trying to replace the broken electronics in one with an arduino.

The tube is threaded internally and is spun by the motor. Within the material hopper the tube has a hole in it’s side – it’ll look something like the attached picture (the spiral shouldn’t be blocking the hole but that’s a limitation of FreeCAD). So the cleverness in the design is that the only way it can jam is if a kibble gets pushed by that side hole and gets jammed against the side of the hopper but that’s easily avoided by ensuring that there’s plenty of distance between the tube and hopper.

Plan for a tube at least 2x as large as the kibble, so a 1" PVC pipe should work in your case. If you need a fast pour rate then plan on a larger tube or faster rate of spin. To create the internal threads you could glue a spiral of wire or such inside.


Oh yes, the deer feeder thread...

That reminds me to ask - do you intend to harm these animals in any way? What is the purpose of feeding them?

Thanks for the replies so far.

Now as far as the deer feeders, I actually looked into this, I even purchased a deer feeder and used it, but it wasn't ideal. Their method of delivery is an interesting one, the food simply falls out the bottom onto a horizontal plate, which spins when dispensing. So when its not rotating, the food doesn't flow, but when it does spin, the centrifugal force kicks all the food off, allowing more food to continue pouring out and flying out for as long as the plate is spinning. However this dispenses tons, and is hard to control in smaller quantities like I want to do. I'd like to do something like 10 shelled peanuts at a time.

The cereal dispenser is a great idea I'm really looking into right now. From what I've gathered, their secret is that their main part that controls the dispensing is made of just the right hardness of rubber. Hard enough to be able to push the food, yet soft enough that if a piece does get caught, the rubber will flex to prevent a complete jam. This is thought provoking I may be on the right track.

As for the reason for feeding, its simply because I like animals, mainly the squirrels. I want to be able to give them a little snack, and watch them eat it on webcam when I am away from home for extended periods of time.