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Thursday, July 03, 2008


Okay, so here's what I've been working on, the chicken tractor! I bought plans on eBay! "Easy instructions for the non-woodworker!" That's me! Indeed the very detailed instructions, clear pictures and diagrams, and helpful hints were well worth the fifteen bucks. My previous experience building things with wood includes, in total, a couple shelves and maybe a birdhouse when I was an adolescent. So if I could follow these plans and come up with something useable it's got to be easy. I did learn a lot in the process. For example: (1) Don't start building something on an enclosed porch if it won't fit through the door when it's done. (2) Everything goes faster if you use two drills, one for predrilling the holes and one for screwing in the screws. (3) Wood is flexible.

Here's how the chicken tractor works. As you probably already know, a chicken tractor is basically a moveable coop that allows chickens access to sunlight, grass (and weeds), dirt, and the insects they like to eat and also provides space for nesting and shelter from the elements. Because it's totally covered, it will also, it is hoped, keep predators—hawks, racoons, neighbor dogs—from getting to the chickens. Being able to move the coop every few days or every week or so means that the chickens will always have relatively fresh ground to peck at, and it spreads out the fertilizer all over the lawn a patch at a time. For more about chicken tractors, see The City Chicken.

This tractor is about 3 feet wide and 8 feet long, enough space for two or three smallish hens. There's a door in the front for putting a feeder and water bucket inside. (I'll probably try to rig up hanging ones so they travel with the coop as it gets moved around the yard.) A little ramp leads up to the nesting box area. I want to trim the nesting box door in white, because it just isn't cutsy enough as it is; I haven't found anything around the house to use as molding yet. Also I'll put a branch or dowel across between the center studs as a roost.

These are the wheels in the down position, in which the tractor sits flush to the ground when it's not in motion.

When you want to move it, you lift the back of the coop with the handles (they could stand to be about six inches longer, but these were the longest pieces of 1x1 I could find at the Home Depot or Lowe's; did I mention I had to rent a pickup truck to bring all the lumber home?) and kick the wheel assembly, which is on hinges, up underneath the back of the coop. Then you go to the front of the coop and use the longer handles to push or pull it like a wheelbarrow. Even though it's incredibly heavy, it rolls easily and smoothly (you could do it one-handed, to give you some idea), and it can turn on a dime. When you find a good spot, you just hook your foot under the wheel assembly and flip the wheels back out.

The back door leads to the nesting box, where the chickens will lay their eggs. I made the nesting box for three hens (though I'm thinking we'll probably only have two; the full-height center divider just looked cozier to me). Note the very bad paint job. I've learned that there are a few things I'm constitutionally incapable of doing, and one of them is using masking tape; another is putting two coats of paint on anything.

The whole nesting box slides out for (presumptive) cleaning.

The plans called for special thin, lightweight cedar shingles, which were then painted. I could only find these rough, thick underlayer shingles, which I think work fine. I didn't paint them because I like how they look all raw, and I think the cedar will weather nicely (cedar resists rot). Unfortunately I realized, just after I'd spent a couple hours screwing them all on in the blazing sun, that the shingles should've been staggered. If the roof leaks too much (there's a painted plywood base underneath) I'll take them off and redo them.

And that's it. Now back to copyediting.


Heidijane said...

That is pretty great. What kind of chickens will you have?

We get eggs from some friend of a coworker of Rodney's, which is so fun, because they don't come graded by size, and there's a mix of colors. Maeve loves the green ones.

Courtney said...

Wow, that looks fantastic! Can't wait to see the future occupants!