Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mobile Chicken Coop

This project really deserves some long overdue love on this blog.

We have dabbled with the idea of a mobile chicken coop for several years.  The idea of it made sense in so many ways.  Being able to rotate our chickens around our pastures and gardens would not only help with the fertilization of our ground but would also keep our birds healthier by reducing their parasite load and might even cut some of our feed bill down by giving them access to fresh greens every time we move them.  The two main issues that kept us from moving forward with this project were the initial cost of building a mobile chicken coop, the electrified netting and charger and more importantly to me, not being sure that this set-up would keep our flock as safe as our current chicken coop (which is the Fort Knox of chicken coops as long as we remember to shut the door in the evening).

Enter last summer.  No rain for over four months.  The majority of Arkansas was in as severe a drought as we'd seen in a long time.  Our yards and pastures dried up.  The little bit of green that managed to survive was literally mowed down by army worms in mid-August.  We had no grass anywhere and the acre yard that the chickens live on turned to dirt for the first time in 8 years.  I remember posting pictures of us cutting buckets of kale out of the (irrigated) garden to feed to the chickens to get them something, anything green. Despite the fact that we finally began getting rain at the end of October, those pastures and the grass in them didn't recover until this spring.  In the meantime, our two fallow fields that had been sown with rye grass and crimson clover started to grow and by mid-December were thick with grass and clover.  Every day I wished we had a way to get our chicken flock to those two fields so that they had more fresh food to eat.  I was more convinced than ever that we needed a mobile coop.  At the time though Robert was busy building our walk-in cooler closely followed by a new greenhouse.  Discussion of this project was tabled for a while.

Late this spring it came around again.  This time though Robert had a little more motivation because he'd worked up designs for a new tractor shed that involved using the materials from the old tractor shed...which the old chicken coop is attached to.  Time to make a mobile coop.  I think we all had a little fun with this project.

When I first mentioned this idea to Bruce a few years ago he told me he had an old trailer that would work for the project.  The first step then was getting this trailer to the farm.  Bruce pulled it over on three wheels, although only one of them held any air, and parked it at the end of our strawberry beds which is where it sat for a few months.  Then Robert started knocking the rotten floor boards off of it and cutting out the rusted bolts.  I don't have a picture of the trailer from the start, but I do have one with the floor out and the first of the vertical boards attached to it.



One of the more difficult aspects of building a mobile structure for laying hens is that not only do you have to give them shelter from weather and keep them safe from critters, but you have to provide them with adequate laying boxes.  Robert did a really great job of taking into account all of the elements I wanted incorporated into this coop and fitting them on this trailer.  Once the initial structure was framed up, he built eight sets of laying boxes that each have three compartments in them for a total of twenty-four laying boxes.  The summer interns, Milan and I spent a morning painting them with primer and then Robert took back over and added a little color.



Eventually a roof and a door went on.


Chicken wire was added to critter-proof the sides...


A cattle panel and hardware cloth made for a mesh floor to allow chicken poop to fall to the ground.  And we ran ten horizontal 2x4's for the birds to roost on in the evening.  Milan's main contribution was filling the laying boxes with pine shavings.



And then we were ready for the big move...

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