chicken tractor (the Tasty Shed annex)

We built this chicken tractor for the girls – very handy for when we need to do something in the backyard and need them out of the way; or if we want to give the grass in the backyard a bit of a break.
Features include:

  • Made from scrap lumber. All the black rubber bits (e.g. the handles and strap) are old bicycle tubes.
  • Half of it is shaded by burlap from old coffee bags (procured for free from a local coffee roaster)
  • Lightweight – can be moved by 1 person (although the size makes it easier with 2 people).
  • Folds up to be quite narrow – takes up very little space along the garage wall.

It’s always a big hit when the girls are in the front yard in the tractor and people walk by.

lead in soil articles

A couple articles exploring the possibility of lead in the soil around you home, which could potentially be consumed by your chickens:

http://www.portlandtribune.com/opinion/story.php?story_id=123801660877902600

http://blog.oregonlive.com/pdxgreen/2009/06/the_dirt_on_testing_soil_for_l.html

The Oregonain article had some useful resources in a sidebar that were not included on the page linked above:

Information on collecting soil samples:
http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/soilbrochure2009.pdf

Interpreting your soil sample results:
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/ec/ec1616-e.pdf

Moving Out

We kicked the little chicks out to the hen house on Sunday. At nearly 7 weeks old they are old enough to hang tough outside. Well maybe not that tough, they still need a heat lamp and they can’t stand up to the older hens just yet.
We divided the hen house in half with chicken wire, one half for the little girls and one half for the big girls. The heat lamp keeps the coop a toasty 60F for the little chicks. The little chicks are excited to be in the hen house. The big girls are not so excited to share their space…
The first night older hens just stood at the divider and squawked in protest. Torta even tried to peck at the chicks through the wire! We just let them squawk. I hope the neighbors didn’t hear the hens. We couldn’t hear them in our house so we are guessing the neighbors can’t hear them either.
Tonight the older hens flat out refused to even go in their house. I had to lure them in to the hen house with treats. Once inside more squawking protests. I suspect that in addition to the verbal abuse the older hens are stealing bedding from the chicks. The chick side of the wire wall is always sadly low on bedding while the older hens have so much bedding is it spilling out of the door.

Cleaned Out

I cleaned out the coop for the first time this weekend in preparation for moving the chicks in. DUDE there was A LOT of BEDDING in there – Four 55 gallon bags, two of them were nearly full. I was super glad we took the time to install the drop down floor. It made mucking out the soiled bedding very easy. And you know 6 month old poop and bedding isn’t nearly as gross as you would think it would be. It was a lot dustier than I expected and I was glad to have a dust mask handy.
Scott laughed at me when I pounded a sign in the parking strip “Free Chick’n Poop”. He didn’t believe that anyone would want the bedding mixed with poop. HA! The first bag was gone with in the 1st hour and the rest were gone before the 2nd hour finished up. The ad on craigslist had a lot to do with the speedy disappearing act.

Chicken Panel

I had an opportunity to be part of the chicken coop building panel at Chicken Fest 2008 at Living Scape Nursery on Saturday. There were three other coops on the panel. Each coop was very different from the others, there was a true green roof planted in strawberries, a converted shed, a hen house on sawhorses, and the Tasty Shed. It was great to see how each of us created such different structures using the same principals. I think it went well, I hope the workshop attendees thought it was helpful.

Inspected

We passed our insepction with flying colors. The Boy was home for the inpsection and said the inspector was super impressed with our construction skills. HA! If only he knew.

Coop Construction Recap

Hand me a fork, the coop is DONE. Well almost done. It still needs to be painted/stained but we will have to wait until spring or until the weather clears up a bit. Doesn’t matter though we are done with spending every day of every weekend out there. It has taken us 9 weekends, including 4 days over Thanksgiving, to construct the palace de pollo. This does not include the hours of prep time collecting materials from the Rebuilding Center, and friends’ cast-offs etc. I would guess that at least 50% of the project is reclaimed and recycled materials. Scott would say it is more like 75% but I think has repressed how much we had to get retail. We (I) also spent a considerable amount of time researching coop designs, the basic requirements, and drafting the plans. Our efforts were not wasted, the coop is a beautiful structure and we are very proud of it.
The stats:
Total Area – 50sq ft (5′x10′) the height varies from 7′ to 6′.
Hen House – 20sq ft (4′x5′x4′)
According to the books there is enough room for 5 hens. You need less room if you have bantum hens.
run = 10sq ft/ standard hen
house = 4sq ft/ standard hen
Portland city ordinances will allow us 3 hens (no roosters) with out a permit. If we want to suffer a site inspection and pay a $30 application fee we can apply for a permit for more birds. We will probably apply for the permit to keep a total of 5 hens.

Most of the structure is cedar. We chose cedar instead of pressure treated or landscaping timbers because we didn’t like the idea of the chemicals used to preserve the lumber leaching into the soil. The roof joists are landscaping timbers. We figured the girls wouldn’t have access to the roof and there is no ground contact.
We were lucky that the coop site is relatively level so no site leveling was necessary. We did not want to dig post holes or use pier blocks to anchor the coop to the ground. Basically we are lazy and we wanted to avoid any ‘permanent’ remnants should we need to remove the coop in the future. The 4×4 cedar skids are secured to the ground with 6 pieces of 2 foot rebar hammered through the lumber and into the ground.
The run is covered in 1/2″ welded galvanized hardware cloth and secured to the structure with heavy duty staples. We folded the wire at the bottom to create an 18″ skirt around the run and secured it to the ground with landscape fabric staples. The skirt should help deter any critters from trying to dig in to the run. The original plan was to dig down 12″ then out 12″ more inches making a moat to lay the hardware cloth in. But again we are lazy and don’t like to dig giant holes if we don’t have too. In the spring the grass will grow up through the hardware cloth and you won’t even see it. In theory I should be able to mow right over it. We’ll see.
According to the books and the forums, chicken wire is is useless for protecting your hens from predators. The holes are too big to keep hungry grabby predator hands out and it will not stand up to the teeth of a raccoon.
House Details:

There are 3 nest boxes, 18″x12″x18″ in the hen house. The books say you need 1 box per 4 hens. We put in three because 3 fit nicely across the width of the house. We may end up closing at least one off and using it for on site storage.

The floor of the coop is plywood covered with self sticking linoleum tiles. The floor is also hinged and will drop away for easy cleaning.




We went nuts with the doors on the hen house. There is a GIANT door on the front for easy access to the birds and for cleaning. There is smaller door on the East side for easy feeding. There are the sliding doors also on the East side for access to the nest boxes. And finally we have the window on the North side. The window opens and the opening is covered in hardware cloth. In the summer the window will provide plenty of ventilation.

Ventilation is super important in the hen house. Even in the dead of winter hens need good ventilation. Vents provide fresh air and a way for the ammonia fumes, condensation from respiration, and dust to escape. There is a difference between ventilation and drafts. A draft is bad. A draft is a breeze that disturbs the birds feathers. The vent should move air across the top of the hen house not across your bird. Unfortunately our vents do both. We didn’t do enough research and the ventilation but not drafts was confusing so our vents were an on the fly installation. I think we did all right though. Our vents are placed on the West side of the coop and in the roof. The vents on the West side are old heat registers that can be closed and opened as needed. The roof vents are just hardware cloth stapled across holes in the roof.

To make sure the hen house is as draft free as possible we used old bicycle tubes as weather-stripping around all the doors and the window. It works surprisingly well and we have a never ending supply from our bike crazy friends. Win-Win for everyone.

Our hen house is not heated or insulated. We have a heat lamp hanging from a rafter just in case it gets too cold. In theory they won’t need such a thing next winter because they will be older and fully feathered. We will have to see about that.

The hen house is sided with C/D grade plywood, a layer of roofing felt and scrap pieces of high grade cedar fencing boards. We scored the cedar scraps from a friend of ours. We are lucky our friend has such nice taste in fencing materials and was willing to part with scraps. The siding is what makes the structure so nice to look at. We have plans to stain it in the spring/summer once the weather dries up a bit.

The entire structure is covered in a metal roofing material we found at the Rebuilding Center. The roof is a super important component of the coop. Not only does the roof provide shade and protection from rain it helps keep the birds safe from predators and disease. There are quite a few predatory birds in our neighborhood who would love a tasty chicken dinner. And wild birds are carriers of all kinds of avian diseases and parasites.

Because we have a roof we needed a gutter. Without the gutter we were getting a lot of water splashing into the coop. We found most of the gutter parts again at the Rebuilding Center. The specialty joint pieces and end-caps we purchased from the hardware store.

It is super dark in that corner of our yard so we installed a solar powered light on the coop to help us and the hens find our way. It isn’t as bright as we had hoped but it is better than nothing at all.
We could not have completed the coop as quickly or efficiently as we did without the help of our friend the hobby contractor. Not only does he have all the fancy fun tools we needed he gave up two full weekends to help us get the frame and roof completed. He also braved the wrath of his girlfriend for spending all that time working on our project instead of their own. So thanks all around.