The past few years, we have teamed up with the Stch family to raise broiler chickens for ourselves and others.
One of our first steps to raising chickens on pasture was creating some sort of moveable pen that sheltered the chooks from rain, sun, and predators. After much research and debate, we decided to make our ‘chicken tractors’ from 2×4′s and cattle panels.
After acquiring the supplies, the first step was to frame in the base of the pens. Not being trained cabinetry makers or anything, our carpentry was a bit rough. Those of you with actual wood-working skills may want to skip these first few pictures…
We created rough (very rough) skids, then joined the corners together with bolts:
… and braces, metal and wood:
… until we had a kinda-sorta stable squarish base to built upon. The cattle panel was brought out:
… and attached to the base by hammering in heavy-duty staples.
Once the panel was secured, the men framed in the ends. The nearest end was destined to be a door; the far end merely a support to keep the arch stable and to provide something to secure the chicken wire to.
Chicken wire was duly attached to the frame and cattle panel with zipties.
Hundreds of zipties. I bought zipties on Ebay at far less expensive prices than the hardware store. In reseaching our chicken tractor design, I came across many warnings against using chicken wire. However, in more closer reading, it appears that the main problem with chicken wire is not that raccoons rip the wire apart, but that they tear it loose from whatever it is moored to and slip in between the wire and the frame.
I am pretty sure that the only way a raccoon is pulling this chicken wire apart from its mooring is by gnawing through dozens of outdoor-quality zipties. It’ll be faster for them to pick the lock.
The doors were attached.
Here I am, frantically zip-tying away. We were racing the dark, and only got one tractor completely done the first day.
We were in a hurry to finish, because the broiler chicks were growing at a tremendous rate in their brooding pen in the barn.
We purchased tarps that were slightly too big for our tractors. Nothing was available in exactly the size we needed, which was to be expected.
I hemmed the tarps to the size needed, and then punched holes and inserted grommets about every six inches. These have held up pretty well. I was worried that simply punching holes and zip-tying through them would cause snags that would ‘run’, and the grommets prevented that nicely.
Zip-tying the tarps down every six inches along the perimeter has also helped prevent them from flapping and advertising entry points for predators.
The last two tractors were finished in a mad dash in the pouring rain. I don’t have pictures from that day that are worth posting; we all felt like drowned rats and looked it!
The chickens were introduced to their new quarters and spent several weeks on pasture.
I should mention: The awesome Stch family did all of the work of raising, feeding, moving, watering, etc. etc… we just showed up for the construction and butchering. We absolutely could not have down this without them and their farm. I am so very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Stch for letting us invade and take over. (They claim that they’re our enablers. We can’t deny it…)
There were a couple of design flaws that Mrs. Stch discovered once the chickens went in.
First, we should have created an access to the feeders and waterers that didn’t require opening the main door. A crack in the door was invariably met with a cackling mob, who then spent much more time outside of their homes than was originally anticipated.
Second, we should have built a strong enough frame to suspend the waterers and feeders from, so that they could be dragged along with the tractors when moving to fresh pasture, rather than being moved seperately.
The next generation of our tractors will likely be built along the lines of what Joel Salatin uses at Polyface Farm.
One advantage of our design was that it shed the rain wonderfully, and they were tall enough that we were able to use them to raise turkeys later in the year.
In the end, it was all worth it. We all ate well!