Mobile Chicken Housing, or “The Poultry Airstream”

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I think the world finally remembered that it’s February. These last few weeks have felt disturbingly like April. It’s been beautiful and mild — there are daffodils blooming in the front yard, in fact. But we really need a good cold spell if we don’t want to be overrun with nasty little things like fleas this summer.

Egg production is back to normal after two weeks of frequent rain and constant mud seemed to throw the girls for a loop. I’ve dug a new drain, so we’ll have to wait till the next good rain to see if it solves the problem.

We were down to just one egg a day for the better part of a week — in fact, on one terrible day, we didn’t have a single one. I thought the short daylight hours were finally catching up with us. But for the past five or six days we’ve been getting anywhere from 10 to 14. Again, from 15 hens, that’s pretty impressive.

Ben’s spending part of the weekend building a chicken tractor. We’ve decided they need to contribute more, so they’ll be helping us with yard work now, too. OK, they won’t actually be mowing, but whatever chickens we add this spring will be aerating and fertilizing the back yard, 32 square feet at a time.

A chicken tractor, or mobile coop, is a pretty cool device. It can be as primitive or as fancy as you make it, but in a setting where chickens can’t be allowed to free-range because of neighbors or predators, it gives you the best of both worlds. The birds are safely confined, but the mobility of the tractor lets you move them to a new area every few days, avoiding the poor drainage/ mudpit effect we’ve been dealing with in the permanent coop.

You provide food and water, of course, but the chickens also scratch through the grass, leaves, and top inch or two of soil, eating insects and subsequently fertilizing the freshly aerated ground. As long as you don’t leave them in one spot for too long, it makes for a very happy yard. And as an additional bonus, the eggs get a serious flavor boost from the more natural diet.

Our new tractor is 4’x8′ but has 64 square feet of living space. The bottom is open to the ground, with 30″ walls of chicken wire. The rest of the 36″ wire will fold out against the grass to discourage predators from digging under the frame. The “roof” of the run is the floor of the coop, where the roosts and nesting boxes will be — one side of the roof will flip up for easy access. The ramp from the run to the coop will be able to be drawn up and closed at night, a nice extra precaution against any critter who might be tempted to dig through in spite of the wire overlap.

So far, the weight of the frame is manageable, although there are still some heavy materials to be added. But we’re planning to put wheels on the corners, so I think it should be possible to move it around the yard on my own.

I’m really excited to see how it will work, because it seems like a simple, self-contained solution to a lot of little problems.

(I’ll post pictures of our tractor once it’s complete, but all the photos in this post are from the fabulous collection at TheCityChicken.com Go check it out — she’s collected a gallery of almost 200 different tractors in all shapes and sizes and levels of complexity!)

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