Monday, March 17, 2008

The Chicken Tractor

Some call it a chicken tractor others a hovel, I call it the cheaper version of a $600 shop bought movable chicken coup.

I can claim no credit for the idea, it comes virtually direct from Linda's book. But hopefully, checking out a few photos will help the next person improve on the design.

There are many examples of box-like tractors, we needed ours to be round to fit the shape of our garden. The idea being, every two weeks we just hop inside to lift it to the next spot without even having to let the chooks out. (They devoured all our carrot tops last time I let them range free)

The materials:

* PVC piping (there's got to be a better environmental alternative out there....)
* Bird netting (lightweight and much easier to handle than traditional wire mesh)
* A few t-junction and straight joiners
* Twine
* Wire
* Zip ties
* Shade cloth
* Tarp
* Some sort of clip for the door
* Pot for water (chickens love to knock them over and scratch mulch into them. Look for wide bases or tie them down somehow)
* Boxes
* Fake egg or golf ball (encourages laying in a desired spot)
* Bamboo / doweling for the perch
* Drill


I think a few tips here are more important than instructions - the pics should be mostly self-explanatory.

1) Measure 3x cut 1x! Something to watch out for is the cross-over at the top - some poles will need to be ever so slightly longer to keep it round.

2) I suggest you don't do it alone. PVC doesn't always shape the way you want it too.

4) We attached the t-junction joiners to the PVC by drilling a small hole and threading wire through both PVC and joiner. This also works for joining PVC cross over points as well.

5) After the structure is in place it will be quite flimsy - it needs cross-bracing. I found this frustrating. Every square I tensioned upset the tensioning on the previous square grrr...... The solution I found was to tension all the bottom squares with twine in one continuous zigzag. After a little fiddling, I then re-braced with wire (twine would never last). You should only need to brace the bottom squares.

6) The netting should be pretty straight forward - all fixed to the base with twine. If you live in an area with rats/snakes you can leave an overhang of net on the ground to confuse burrowers.

7) The perch is just bamboo. Chickens love sleeping off the ground, a survival instinct from predators.

8) The tarp - need I say more? If you're worried about wind carrying the tractor away use tent pegs.

9) I'm sure there are variations on doors. Ours is just fixed with zip ties at the top with clips at the bottom. A benefit of shade cloth is it provides a little more shade for the chooks without smothering them in tarp. In reality the door can be much much smaller. We only use it for putting scraps in. Retrieving eggs and getting inside is just lifting the tractor up itself.

Our only issue to date has been aesthetics. I think one day we'll try to make a Thai style 100% bamboo model.

By the way - chooks are cool!

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