In a previous post we talked about the week-old chicks we picked up from Cochrane Family Farm on April 21st. For the next three weeks of their lives, these 22 birds stayed in a makeshift brooder here at the farm, a cordoned-off section of an enclosed porch.
At the same time, we had been crafting a plan to build a mobile chicken coop, or ‘chicken tractor’ to house them when they were ready to take on the outdoors. What emerged was a plan to build two of these structures instead, each at 6′ x 8′ and approximately 4′ tall at the top of the A-frame. We decided this setup – given 11 birds per tractor – will provide ample space per chicken. Here is the frame:
Many chicken tractors – though mostly for meat-birds, from what we’ve seen – are rectangular or square, with typical dimensions being: 10′ x 10′ x 2’h. We wanted to give our laying hens room to perch, as well as have nest boxes that are off the ground.
If there are some hard and fast rules to making these things, I’m not aware of them. The only basic rule informing our design was a voice in the back of our heads saying, “let’s use scavenged and salvaged materials as much as possible”. And so we did. Apart from wood screws, sheeter screws, hinges, and hardware cloth, the other materials (lumber, sheet-metal, nails, door latches & handles) were mostly rescued from a neighbour’s dilapidated barn.
Ok then, here are some photos:
The door, with some hardware cloth. It opens!
Some sheet metal and hardware cloth enclose the structure.
Nest box access and feeder doors on one end.
Now, at this point, we’re more or less finished, but need to address the problem of ‘uneven ground’. With changes big and small to the topography, a chicken tractor will not always sit flush to the ground, creating gaps (aka predator entry points). We worry about this, because we’re not sure about predation levels in our area. For now though, we’ve yet to deal with it sufficiently, beyond using the technology of the ‘brick’ to close such gaps (see below) or hilling some dirt around gaps with a hoe.
Minks, weasels, and miscellaneous small critters of death roam the countryside looking for organically raised birds to destroy – it’s just the way it is. Farmers have been dealing with this problem using some form of skirting (see below for one example from SevernSunset Farm, in Ontario) around the base of the tractor. We’re likely heading in this direction should predation become an issue, or if we’re feeling particularly precautionary. At Severn Sunset they’ve attached mesh or hardware cloth all the way around the base, and then weigh that down with lumber:
The other consideration is moving the tractors. Right now, we’re moving the tractors by lifting the lighter end – where we attached a rope with eye-bolts – and pulling them to the adjacent patch. We’ve also fastened small wheels at the opposite end of the tractor.
This works fine for now, but we need to dig in the wheels a little bit so that the tractor end is not sitting off the ground, and this creates additional service time per move. We’re thinking of alternatives.
The photos below were taken when they were first moved outside and show all 22 of our birds in just one tractor. But it is now the beginning of June, and it’s looking like time to split the birds between both tractors. They grow fast!