This is the final part in a three part series on the design of a chicken tractor. The focus of this post will be slightly different in that not all chicken tractors need to adhere to these criteria or constraints. For the Golden Egg experiment we want our tractor to 1) be relatively easy to construct and maintain, 2) have “good neighbor” aesthetics, and 3) be cost effective. These constraints are a little subjective since every situation is different. Read on to see how we’re going to approach these.
- Protect hens from the elements: heat, cold wind, precipitation
- Protect hens from predators: four-legged and flying
- Give hens a cozy place to lay eggs
- Provide adequate space
- Keep feed accessible and dry
- Keep water fresh and available
- Be relatively easy to construct and maintain
- Have “good neighbor” aesthetics
- Be cost effective for our purposes
Be relatively easy to…
To the greatest extent possible we need to Keep It Super Simple (KISS). Whatever we end up building for our hens, we need to be able to do it with basic tools and skills. In my mind that limits us to:
- claw hammer
- cordless drill
- drill bits (spiral and driver)
- miter saw (hand or power)
- tape measure
- utility clamps
Rectangles and right angles are easy to build so we’ll do our best to stick to those other than the occasional 45.
With blueprints and good planning it should be buildable in a weekend. Our first one will take longer than that because it’s a new design and there’s always a learning curve. But we’re going to be developing plans and directions so that you CAN build it in a weekend.
There are several components of regular coop maintenance: egg collection, nest box cleaning, coop bedding cleaning, feed, water. We talked about the feeder and waterer already so we won’t go over it again here.
Egg collection is going to be a daily task so we need to make sure that it’s easy to do. A simple latching door that gives us access to the nest box should do it. If we want to get fancy we could design a roll-out nest box which can sometimes help prevent egg eating issues. But in the interest of KISS, we’ll skip that until we have a problem that needs to be solved. A well designed nest box door will also give us adequate access to be able to clean any dirty bedding out of the nest box and replace it with fresh stuff.
Coop bedding can be a touchy subject. There are lots of options and even more opinions. We’re going to avoid the subject entirely by going with an open bottom tractor that will protect the hens and put the poop in the pasture where we want it. That does mean we’re not going to have anything to put on our garden, but we’re in this for the eggs right now. If we were going to have an enclosed coop area we would want to make sure that one entire wall can be opened or removed so the old bedding could be removed and the floor cleaned. It’s also advisable to put a layer of vinyl flooring down to keep the plywood from soaking up the yuck.
Have “good neighbor” aesthetics
First of all, the chickens don’t care.
While it’s important to be considerate of your neighbors, it’s most important that you like the way your chicken tractor looks. Pick the shape you want. Pick the colors you want. You’re the one that’s going to be looking at it day in and day out so make sure it looks good to you.
I will tell you that in my experience a finished coop (stain, paint, whatever) usually looks way better than an unpainted one. It will also extend the life of your coop by providing another layer of weather protection. A couple of coats of any exterior paint will do the trick in most cases. We’re going to use white barn paint because it’s cheap, durable, and it will reflect some of the heat.
Be cost effective for our purposes
For the Golden Egg experiment we want to get to our financial “break even” point as quickly as we can without sacrificing the health of our hens, our time and money, or our neighbors good will. But we also want this thing to last for at least a few years.
We could build a really cheap tractor from 2×2 lumber, chicken wire, and tarps. It would probably cost us less than $100 but it would be ugly and it would be risky for the hens.
We could also go buy a nice, high-quality mobile coop from the internet and spend $600 to $900. It would look really nice, and be easy to use, but that’s two to three hundred dozens!
So we’re going to shoot for something in the middle It cost us $140 to get started with our brooder, equipment, and chicks. Let’s see if we can build our coop for less than $250 (84 dozens). That needs to include all the materials and hardware to build the coop, feeder, and waterer.
Requirements Summary (TL;DR)
- Top cover (roof) to provide
- protection from precipitation
- Open/Close vents to provide
- fresh air exchange
- protection from the cold wind
- protection from blowing rain
- No chicken wire
- No large holes
- Place for our hens to hide
- Fully enclosed run
- Nest boxes (qty. 2)
- Provide 6 to 8 square feed per bird
- Provide 9″ to 12″ of roost space per bird
- Removable feeder (qty. 1+)
- Removable waterers (qty. 2)
- Basic skills and tools to build
- Designed with maintenance in mind
- Be painted for aesthetics and weather resistance
- Cost less than $250
Next up is the Brooder build that I’ve been promising. It looks like I’m going to miss my target of end of May, but the first Saturday in June is pretty darn close! And I’ve learned a few things about the shortfalls of my design that I’ll share with you.
See you next week!