I had really wanted to move the chickens into tractors so they could clean up the field, eating the spent vegetable plants, bug, grubs and weed seeds, and at the same time we would know where they were laying their eggs. It seemed ideal and totally fitting with our sustainable method of farming, in theory. We built, or started to build, a couple of different styles of chicken tractors, but each time we had the same problem – they looked like a cage. Granted they were large cages (one was 8′ by 8′ by 2′ another was 8′ by 10′ by 4′), but even with one chicken in each there was no space for that chicken to run like they do all over the farm at the moment. We couldn’t do it.
Onto Plan Two (or three or four or five)
A new chicken house. This wasn’t perfect – I still dreamed of the field clean-up crew and easy to find eggs – but the chicks were outgrowing their brooders and I had run out of tractor ideas. We decided to add onto the packing shed with the chicken door going out into the back field.
As Karl started building I became more and more excited about the possibilities. “Can you make me a full sized door on the side for easy cleaning?” “If you make me a hatch on the side nearest the packing door shed I will be able to collect the eggs with ease.” “Oh, if you make another hatch under that first one I can put the feeders and waters under the nest boxes and fill them from outside.” “I have a great plan for the perches…” He humoured me and I got everything I wanted – I hope the chickens appreciate it.
In this picture you can see the feeders and the space above where the nestboxes will go. These girls are still too young to lay eggs and they are too young for the perches I planned too – to the left you can see the re-purposed shelving they are using for learner perches. Sharp eyed individuals will recognise these as the old packing tent shelves. Before that they were plant stands at a big box store. This is probably the last use we will get from them, but it feels great to have given them over 9 years of life after they were destined for the dumpster.
We introduced the girls to their new house, and to each other, on Tuesday evening. They had been in three separate brooders to give them the most space possible (even when they need to be in a secure enclosure we cannot stand the idea of them being cooped up – haha). First we took the feeders and waterers from the brooders, refilled them and hung them in the hen house (oops the pipe is bending – first design flaw noted). Then each group of pullets was taken from their brooder into a cage and carried to the hen house for release. Every single one of them ignored the open space and made a beeline for the water as though they had never seen water before in their lives. It made for a very disappointing photo opportunity.