Giant chicken farm

Behind this wall with the awesome pixel art is a humongous auto-chicken farm, a farm that is NOT the subject of this post.

Fans of this blog will not be surprised to hear me say that I like the farming part of Minecraft. It’s because Minecraft farming can be both relaxing and stimulating, alternatively or even at the same time. If I want, I can just have a simple farm where I manually harvest and plant crops and manually tend to the animals. The wannabe artist/architect in me can beautify all this manual labor barns, chicken coops, stables, and grain silos. Relaxation at its finest.

Classic red chicken coop.

Here’s a chicken coop I recently built in the same style as the barn I posted about last week.

On the other hand, farming is one of the few parts of the vanilla game that you can really automate with redstone, hence its “stimulating” character. Among the livestock that you can raise in Minecraft, chickens are unique in that they can be reproduced without feeding them simply by throwing their eggs and seeing if they hatch. This presents the possibility of “auto-breeding” them even in the vanilla game by using a dispenser to toss eggs that are pumped into it.

I’ve built several quick, semi-automatic chicken farms in the vanilla game, and I’ve built a few ridiculously complicated fully-automatic chicken farms making use of modded items (in version 1.5 I once used Railcraft and ComputerCraft together for this purpose). Up until recently, I’ve never gone through the trouble of actually building a fully automatic vanilla chicken farm, even though I knew it was theoretically possible. By “fully automatic” I mean that it hatches eggs without my help, kills the adult chickens without my help, and collects all the relevant items.

Classic red chicken coop 2

My little red chicken coop is actually a fully automatic chicken farm. That stone brick building underneath hatches and slaughters chickens and collects their eggs, meat, and feathers.

I’m the kind of person who likes to try my hand at something before I see how others do it. So the first thing I did was build this huge, ridiculous monstrosity.

The quartz demarcates the egg collection zone, the stone the hatching/slaughtering zone, and the wood the drops collection and sorting zone.

The quartz demarcates the egg collection zone, the stone the hatching/slaughtering zone, and the wood the drops collection and sorting zone.

It does work. But it is neither compact, 100% reliable, nor 100% efficient. But what I learned through building this was that there are four distinct phases to consider when fine-tuning a design: egg collection, hatching, slaughtering, and drops collection.

After building my initial attempt, I went online to see what other people were doing. Needless to say, I saw very quickly that my farm could be improved. So I studied a lot of designs and even learned a new redstone technique in the process. I eventually came up with what I think is a new design. At least it is a new adaptation of features I saw in others’ chicken farms. My design is not the most compact one out there, but it does have a lot of cool features, and it isn’t based on any exploits that could be corrected in future versions of Minecraft, meaning I would bet (but obviously cannot guarantee) that you’ll never have to rebuild this.

Two variants of VladTubaka's soon-to-be-famous auto-chicken farm: On the left is

Two variants of VladTubaka’s soon-to-be-famous auto-chicken farm: On the left is “Sleeping With the Fishes”, on the right is “The Colonel’s Original Recipe”.

First, I’ll describe how the farm works, then at the end I’ll have an image gallery with a layer-by-layer how-to guide.

Egg Collection

Egg collection is actually very easy. A slab on top of a hopper and surrounded by full blocks creates a pen 1.5 blocks high (meaning chickens cannot jump out of it). Any eggs they lay will fall right through the slab into the hopper. Piece of cake.

What you see here are 16 chickens occupying what I like to call

What you see here are 16 chickens occupying what I like to call “The Pit O’Laying”.

This is a cutaway of the Pit O'Laying. The walls are 1.5 blocks high, so the chickens cannot escape. The top hopper points away (to a dispenser in the final build) and the bottom hopper points to the chest.

This is a cutaway of the Pit O’Laying. The walls are 1.5 blocks high, so the chickens cannot escape. The top hopper points away (to a dispenser in the final build) and the bottom hopper points to the chest.

But a lot of chicken farm designs I’ve seen don’t have the ability to collect eggs as well as hatch them. An exception is a design by CR3W (pronounced “crew”) (https://youtu.be/fu5xarF5Y0M) which provides a lever that can turn on “Egg Mode”. With the lever flipped, eggs will be collected into a separate chest. CR3W’s design is also notable for providing the user with the option of slaughtering the chickens using either lava or water (i.e., drowning them). This means that you can choose either raw chicken or cooked chicken. The only problem with CR3W’s design is that its method of killing by fire (a floating lava block) no longer works in 1.10.x. If you’re playing 1.9 or earlier, the floating lava block won’t destroy most of the drops, but as of 1.10 such a method destroys all the drops. Fortunately, there is a workaround to which we will get in just a bit. And let me say this: my design is probably most similar the CR3W’s, so I want to make sure he gets that credit. My design is slightly more compact (4x5x4), and you don’t have to choose between egg collection and chicken hatching as you do in CR3W’s design (turning egg mode off will empty the egg chest into the egg dispenser), but the overall functionality is very similar.

In my design, I have implemented a very easy egg collection mechanic so that the same farm provides you automatically with eggs as well as chicken and feathers. This is done through a simple hopper technique.

Understanding Hopper Priority

There is a subtlety to hopper behavior that allows you to use a hopper chain to send items in two directions. When one hopper that is pointed horizontally (connected to an adjacent hopper or chest) sits on top of another hopper, a stack of items placed in the top hopper will divide evenly between the adjacent inventory and the lower hopper. But if items are sent in one-by-one (e.g., from another hopper, a chest above, or by tossing items in with ‘Q’ one-by-one), items will always go down rather than sideways if they can (if the lower hopper is not full or has not been disabled by a redstone signal).

This image illustrates the principle of hopper priority that I'm talking about. If an item is sent or thrown into the top hopper, it will make its way into the chest on the lower right. If the lower hopper is disabled or full, then the item will go into the hopper on the upper left.

This image illustrates the principle of hopper priority that I’m talking about. If an item is sent or thrown into the top hopper, it will make its way into the chest on the lower right. If the lower hopper is disabled or full, then the item will go into the hopper on the upper left.

This means that you can send eggs first to a chest and then, once that destination is disabled or full, send them into the auto-hatching system. This aspect of hopper priority is also what makes hopper-based item sorting systems work.

A hopper-based sorting system uses this aspect of hopper priority in a more advanced way.

A hopper-based sorting system uses this aspect of hopper priority in a more advanced way.

Following CR3W’s design, I have added a lever that, when activated, manually de-activates the egg collection hopper and re-routes sends the eggs into the hatching system.

This lever, when activated, sends a redstone signal into the lower hopper, shutting it off and redirecting eggs into the hatching/slaughtering system.

This lever, when activated, sends a redstone signal into the lower hopper, shutting it off and redirecting eggs into the hatching/slaughtering system.

Hatching

The upper hopper of the two egg-receiving hoppers should feed the eggs directly into a dispenser. In front of this dispenser you need a slab sitting on top of a hopper that feeds into a chest or sorting system (for the model I have used a chest). When the dispenser is activated, it will shoot the eggs into the slab. If they hatch, the baby chickens will stand on top of the slab.

The slab needs to sit in front of the dispenser on the bottom half of the block.

The slab needs to sit in front of the dispenser on the bottom half of the block.

To make the dispenser activate, there are several options. I’ve seen several designs that place a comparator next to the hopper that feeds the eggs into the dispenser to generate a redstone pulse whenever an egg passes through. This technically works, but I don’t really like it because if there is ever some kind of glitch and an egg doesn’t get dispensed, there is no way to automatically clean out the dispenser. The egg will just sit in there. Instead, I prefer to have a comparator placed next to the dispenser itself. If there is anything in the dispenser, be it one egg or multiple eggs, the comparator will remain on until the dispenser is emptied.

The comparator is used to activate some kind of redstone setup that will generate repeated pulses. A simple comparator clock is an obvious choice, but for compactness, I actually prefer a burnout switch.

Burnout Switches

Burnout switches have been a part of Minecraft ever since redstone was first introduced, and I really don’t think they’re going anywhere. The burnout behavior of redstone isn’t really a glitch. It’s just an inevitable part of its behavior. A burnout switch consists of two redstone torches, a piece of redstone, and four blocks. The first torch activates the piece of redstone (through the block above) and thereby deactivates the second redstone torch. When a redstone signal is applied to the first torch, the second torch is able to activate. But when it does, it also reactives the piece of redstone (through the block above it), which in turn deactivates the redstone torch, which deactivates the redstone, which reactivates the torch, which reactivates the redstone … yeah. It’s repetitive, and it happens super fast. After eight ticks, the torch just burns out. FunkyProfessor has a good video that explains burnout switches and a way to use them as BUD switches.

Turn the lever on the left on and this will deactivate the left torch, starting the rapid eight pulses leading to the burnout.

Turn the lever on the left on and this will deactivate the left torch, starting the rapid eight pulses leading to the burnout.

This design uses a comparator with a burnout switch to create rapid redstone pulses so long as the egg dispenser has anything inside it. This could also be used with my simple garbage disposal instead of the comparator clock. The comparator clock is better if you need regularity in your pulses, or if you need it to go on indefinitely. Neither the garbage disposal nor this chicken farm needs regularity, just pulses until the dispenser/dropper is emptied. And neither needs to go on indefinitely so long as items are being fed into the dispenser/dropper by a hopper.

The comparator reads the presence of items in the egg dispenser.

The comparator reads the presence of items in the egg dispenser. When there are items, the comparator sends a redstone signal into the block on the left.

When items go into the dispenser, the comparator sends a redstone signal into the block on behind the right redstone torch, beginning the burnout process. The rapid pulses will cause the dispenser to eject all its contents.

When items go into the dispenser, the comparator sends a redstone signal into the block on behind the right redstone torch, beginning the burnout process. The rapid pulses will cause the dispenser to eject all its contents.

Slaughtering/Drops Collection

So now we have a system for collecting eggs and for hatching eggs. Now we need to kill those sorry suckers, but only once they’ve grown into adult sorry suckers. This is why we hatch the eggs onto a slab. Baby chickens are a half block tall, so while their heads may appear to go up above the block height slightly, the game doesn’t consider it this way. This means that you can put a fluid, like water, in the block above the slab and it won’t affect the baby chickens. It does, however, affect adult chickens, whose height is one block (or almost one block). Once a baby chicken matures, it will all of sudden be confused as it looks at its inhumanely confined dwelling place through the toilet blue of Minecraft water. It is confused because hasn’t lived long enough to understand water, but that won’t matter much longer, because in just a few seconds its supply of oxygen will run out and it will begin clucking in frightened agony. After a few seconds, it will keel over and die, dropping its raw meet and feathers through the slab it was born on into the hopper and finally into a deposit chest.

These baby chickens are blissfully unaware that the water hovering over their heads will be the means of their demise.

These baby chickens are blissfully unaware that the water hovering over their heads will be the means of their demise.

This system actually created a slight crisis of conscience for my wife. But there’s really no need to feel sorry for these chickens. Their pain is only short-lived, but they are giving their lives for a far more glorious cause – to feed my Minecraft self and provide me with arrows so that I may defend myself against Creepers. Click the gallery below to see a layer-by-layer guide to how to build “Sleeping With the Fishes”.

Now, I prefer water to lava for simplicity as well as because I just prefer to have raw chicken. I can cook it myself if I need to. But if you absolutely must have your chicken pre-cooked, it is possible to adapt this design to use the quick pulses of the burnout switch to operate a second dispenser that sits on top of the first and contains a bucket of lava. You will need to place the comparator next to the hopper rather than the egg dispenser, because you need the single, short pulse that you get from an egg passing through a hopper to get the precise number of burnout pulses required to operate the lava dispenser twice and only twice. Click on the gallery below to see a rundown of the differences between “Sleeping With the Fishes” and “The Colonel’s Original Recipe”

A Final Note: Modularity

The point of presenting the functions of the auto-chicken farm separately is so that you will be able to design and construct your own. Each of the above functions is a module that can be dealt with separately, as I have done in my red chicken coop that I showed above. The coop is where the egg collection function happens. The stone building is where the hatching and slaughtering take place. While I haven’t yet implemented it, I plan to pipe the eggs, meat, and feathers into the adjacent barn. I just find it a whole lot more satisfying to implement auto-farming techniques in an aesthetically pleasing way, with a unified style, rather than according to strict utilitarianism. I encourage you to adapt my design and unpack it a bit. And comment below if you care to share any improvements on my design or imaginative implementations of it. I’d love to see them.

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