I knew when we got chickens that we wanted to free range them and not keep them cooped up in…well… a coop all day. But then Farmer B reminded me about Jack and free ranging them went out the window.
Several years ago we owned ducks and Jack was our big white Pekin duck. Very early one morning I heard insane panicked quacking and I knew something bad had happened. When we went outside it was clear that Jack was gone. Farmer B found him in the vacant lot next door - what was left of him. There were deep scratches on our 6-foot privacy fence so we assumed it all ended in the clutches of a bobcat.
We don't want anything to happen to our chickens, so we realized that free-ranging wasn't going to happen this time around. Then there's our stupid dog who still chases anything that runs or flies and tries to flatten it, so he is the icing on the no-free-range cake.
We had to figure out the best way for the chickens to live out happy chicken lives and get a taste of free-ranging without the risk that comes with it. Although we live in a subdivision, it's pretty rural and we have a lot of airborne predators who would love a big fat juicy chicken for a snack. I did entirely too much online reading and came up with the idea of building a chicken tractor.
Although the name implies it, chicken tractors aren't John Deeres driven by hens. They're mobile chicken runs with wheels on one side and handles on the other for easy mobility. Each day you can move the tractor to a new spot in your yard for your chickens to explore. This was perfect, but then I noticed the cost. Not so perfect.
I saw a great set-up that a fellow chicken owner had built on the Backyard Chickens forum and asked him about the plans. Next thing I know I had an email from Froggi VanRiper in my Inbox with a complete set of plans just waiting for me to get cracking on them - chicken people are just good people. Farmer B is a very busy guy and building things with wood is at the bottom of his list of fun things to do. I waited a couple of weeks, but when I could tell that he'd rather lose a leg than build this chicken run, I decided to go to Home Depot myself and buy the supplies to get started. I got some wrong parts, but figured it'd work out in the end. I braved the lumber and plumbing sections of Home Depot with two little boys in tow so the fact that I came home with anything is an accomplishment in itself.
Then my butter-shaking mom came to visit and told me she'd stay up here an extra day to help me build the chicken run. "Can we really do this without Farmer B?" I asked her. She scoffed at me - "Of course we can! We won't know if we don't try, right?" That's my mom. She'll try anything, no matter how absurd, just because you should give it a go and see if you can do it. She's also a firm believer that women can do anything men can do. My dad was one of those guys who could build anything and we felt convinced that some sort of carpentry osmosis had occurred with us at some point in his life, so we felt qualified to build the run.
So we gathered the wood, PVC pipe, screws and chicken wire that I bought and looked through the plans. Jace absconded with half of the plans, so we started at a disadvantage. We did find one important page under his hat, oddly enough, so things did look up.
Like good carpenters, we measured twice and cut once. Mom took a turn sawing and then when her hands got tired, she held the wood and I used the saw. I know Farmer B would have used the handheld circular saw, but a handsaw seemed less ER-inducing to us.
The first thing we did was build the base. Did you know that if you use a power drill to screw in some really big screws and they don't go in right and you strip the screw and then immediately grab said stripped screw, it's hot enough to leave a huge burning welt on your hand? Yes, this is true. And do you know that if you watch your mom get the stripped-screw-burn-welt and then 2 minutes later you grab a hot stripped screw and get a matching burn mark on your hand you feel really stupid? I'm just saying…food for thought.
Then we put some supports on the edges of the base and started drilling holes in the PVC pipe. Pre-drilling the holes apparently makes it easier to put the final screws in. Then we attached the PVC pipe to a center piece of wood that will go at the top of the arch.
Then we unrolled the 10-foot sections of chicken wire and used zip ties to attach it to the PVC pipe. If you forget to buy zip ties you can always rummage through your husband's box of important computer paraphernalia and use up the entire bag of multi-colored zip ties and no one will ever know.
Then mom used some of the left-over wire that was wrapped around the chicken wire rolls to sew the two pieces of chicken wire together at the join. My mom is a natural sewer so she did this so well that you can barely even see the join.
Finally we attached the PVC pipes to the frame and attempted to go viola!...when one of the damn pipes snapped in half. If you strip a screw in a pipe by screwing it in too tight, then you have to cut the screw in half and use pliers to wriggle it out, leaving a whopping great hole in the PVC and then bend it into an arch, it'll break. Live and learn. Sadly it was too late in the day to finish and we didn't have an extra pipe so we had to call it a day at this point.
Mom had to drive home the next morning and I ran down to Home Depot to get one more PVC pipe after she left. Farmer B helped me finish screwing in the PVC pipes to the base and we attached some extra chicken wire to the ends to seal in the run.
When Farmer B gets inspired we're going to remove the chicken wire on one end and build a plywood door that will hook on to the top center piece of wood and have hinges at the bottom. I think we'll cut out the middle of the door and line it with chicken wire to make it lighter. Right now it's kind of a pain to lift the entire run up to get the chicks inside and take them out, but we didn't have any plywood on hand, so this is working for now.
Once the door is done, we're going to add handles to one end and wheels to the other. Farmer B's rollerblades from back when he was young and single fell apart in the heat of the shed and I saved the wheels. I think I'll try to rig the wheels onto the run so I don't have to buy anything.
But there you have it. We built a chicken run!!! Granted Farmer B helped me finish it, but if my mom didn't have to go back home, I know we could have finished it together. The chicks love racing around in there all day long. When I wake up in the mornings they're peeping like mad in their brooder because they want to go out in the run. I have been using old sheets safety-pinned on to the chicken wire to give them some shade from the hot afternoon sun, and although it looks a bit trashtastic, it does the job.
Thanks Froggi for the inspiration and the plans! And thanks to my mom for building it with me!