Friday, April 17, 2009

Chicken Run - Building a chicken tractor!

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!


Erin said...

That is awesome! I have a husband who deploys frequently, the latest was the 6 hour notice yesterday - so I am all too familiar with the "DIY" when needed thing! I have learned all about using his tools, when I can find them, lol. Much to his dismay, I might add, since he says I always leave his "man-shed" trashed when I am done! (and, I am anxiously awaiting when my now 6 year old can push his own loaded flatbed at Home Depot, lol!) This weekend I am faced with finishing the building of our fence by myself (and 2 little boys!) since my farmer wanna-be husband has flown the coop to go hunt real pirates! - (My kids think this is much funnier than it is!)

Jeff Vandiver said...

Kate, I think you and your Mom did a fine job on that little pen. Watch those screws! Ha....yeah, they get really hot from the friction. Nice pics of the shepherd. I wish mine would relax like that!

Dani said...

It's wonderful Kate! You girls really rocked it!

Melissa said...

Love it - well done! I'm also a Floridian who loves chickens. It makes me happy to watch them free range. :) The Backyard Chicken Forum is awesome. My 13 year old son has raised 13 Red Stars and 14 Black Australorps from day-old chicks. They have just started laying. We also have 10 Americaunas just getting their feathers. I really enjoy your blog!

Cheryl said...

Makes me wish I had room for a few chickens.

Kate and Crew said...

Thanks for the compliments everyone!!! So nice of you! Yeah, my mom and I were quite proud to put this thing together, but I'd never have tried it without her.

Cheryl - you don't need a lot of room to have chickens! Come on... all the cool kids are doing it...

Megan said...

Hey there, I'm over from BYC. Wow, you and your mom did a great job! I'm sure your girls will love it. This is my first year raising chickens and we keep flip-flopping on the stationary coop vs. tractor debate. This seems like a perfect compromise because I would love to have them (safely) range around the yard a bit but still have the security of their coop at night. Thanks for the inspiration.

dea said...

It's wonderful

Rissy Anne said...

Yes, the reality of completely free range is very faulty. Don't listen to Peta if you want to raise healthy happy chickens....they need a protected area and they also need dirt, and lots of it. And keep an eye on any chickens that are hurt. If you don't take them out and slaughter them, the other chickens will gladly peck them to death. Also, the most humane way to slaughter is to hang them upside down wait till they stop wiggling, then ring their neck.

Rissy Anne said...

Yes, the idea of free-range and most ideas from PETA especially are dangerous for chickens. And once a predator finds you have chickens, they will be BACK. Also, you need plenty of dirt. They have to have an area that is scratched to the bone of dirt. Not just grass. They don't really need much room, they are not animals who do. But watch out for chickens that are at ALL injured. The slightest amount of blood or broken wing and the other chickens will gladly peck them to death. At this point there is no option but to kill them. Most humane way is making them unconscious and wringing their neck. Good luck with your chickens

Rissy Anne said...

Some animals can also break through chicken wire so you need to "batten up the hatches" at night. I don't know if Florida has weasels....but they are pretty crafty little creatures.

Anonymous said...

thanks - enjoyed the humor. Hoping to make something along these lines.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin