Tag Archives: chicken tractor

Summertime Blues


An unusual year we’re having. First, we had spring, a season we typically only see mentioned on the calendar. Now, here we are in late summer, when the grass is usually brown and crunchy underfoot, and we’re setting rainfall records. Fifteen inches in July alone, and we’ve had more rain in the past seven and a half months than we were projected to have for the entire year!

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for the rain after years of drought. And like everyone keeps saying, “It’s nice to see the lakes full.” But really. Everything in moderation.

The tomatoes are spindly and growing ever taller, searching for nearly nonexistent sunlight. The mosquitoes have organized and are demanding better wages and flying conditions. And the ground is so saturated that the rain in recent weeks has just been running off in torrents, filling the ditches and damaging the roads.

Oh, and weakening the trees. Which is how we ended up with three down in our yard a few weeks ago. A weird storm came out of the northeast, and I’m guessing we were hit by a microburst. Whatever it was, it did some major localized damage. Besides our big pine tree and two tall oaks from the woods behind us, the wind took down the last of our neighbor’s three huge oak trees (all three gone within a year!), then crossed a field and felled four large trees in one yard on the other side.

Our splintered pine tree. We'll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Our splintered pine tree. We’ll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Both of the oaks behind the house landed on the power lines, and one came down smack dab in the middle of the chicken tractor, killing two hens and trapping two more, while four managed to escape from the wreckage. Because the downed power lines were draped over the whole pile, I couldn’t even rescue the Marans hen I could see, let alone search for any other survivors. Fortunately, when the power company guys (who must have been very nice) arrived the next day, they got her out unharmed and put her in with the escapees I’d already captured.

Tree on tractor

Looking at this, I’m still amazed anything survived. The Marans hen was trapped in the corner on the left in this picture.

We stayed at my parents’ house until the power was restored, so it was two days after the storm when I found my little red partridge Silkie under the splintered tractor, alive, but with one foot crushed under a 2×4 that had a lot¬†of weight pressing down on it. We got her out, but I really didn’t know how much damage was done and what her chances of recovery were. After a few days of rest, though, she was running around with hardly a limp. Now you’d never know she had been injured.

Crushed tractor

Here it is after the tree was semi-cleared by the power company. The Silkie was sitting quietly in the corner on the right, apparently waiting for rescue.

The destruction of the chicken tractor has really exacerbated our overcrowding problem, since all of the girls from the tractor have had to move into what had been the portable extended run for the main coop. I sold my five Buff Orps last month and hope to sell the ten Silver Laced Wyandottes this weekend. At that point, we should be back down to a manageable flock size. Oddly, most of the ones I’m keeping are the older hens. They’re just still laying too well for me to get rid of them, and obviously people buying adult hens would rather have the younger ones.

In the midst of all the mayhem and losses, one of the two surviving Gold Stars from this spring has started laying. It’s amazing to see how the cycle of life carries on in spite of what must seem to those chickens like nearly apocalyptic events.

Not bad for a first egg!

Not bad for a first egg!

Life goes on inside the house, too. Ben is working an insane number of hours because of “back to school,” so we probably won’t get to see much of him until late September. The 47-mile drive tacked on to each end of his 10+ hour workday certainly doesn’t help. He’s only had three days off in the past month, so his homecoming is a big deal every evening. The Boy is always waiting to open the door for him and tell him the latest news, and The Baby lights up and starts trying to push off of me to reach him. Daddy is pretty popular in these parts.

I’m staying busy with kids, critters, and the everyday. What life might lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in cuddles, giggles, and kisses.


First Eggs (Again) and White Leghorns


Well, the last few days have seen the first little brown Wyandotte eggs coming out of the chicken tractor. There’s always something so rewarding about seeing new pullets start to lay — it’s like confirmation that you didn’t screw them up too badly as chicks.

I’m working on moving all of the Wyandottes over to the large coop, because they’ve gotten too big-bodied to be sharing the tractor. But at six months pregnant, I can’t exactly climb in there anymore to catch them, so I just grab one whenever they come within reach. There’s a good bit of squawking and flapping, and obviously, it’s taking much longer to complete the transfer this way, but eventually the tractor will only house a few Easter Eggers, Marans, and Silkies. It’s fun to see the big coop becoming increasingly diverse and colorful.

The Boy is obsessed with egg production right now. He wants to know every day how many eggs we’ve gotten, and when I tell him he says, “Oh, wow! Good chickens!” (On an unrelated note, he’s also desperate to go to Scotland and asks every night at bedtime if we can go tomorrow. The kid definitely has his priorities in line.)

Speaking of egg production, if you’re thinking of getting chickens and trying to decide on a breed, I have to tell you that my six White Leghorns are probably the best layers I’ve ever had. They’re small birds, and next to my pleasantly plump dual-purpose girls, they don’t look like they’d be big producers, but they are serious feed-to-egg converters. Even though they just molted and don’t even have all their tail feathers back yet, they’ve returned to full-on laying, and honestly, it’s not at all uncommon to get a full half dozen (i.e. 100% productivity) for five or six days in a row. Even on an “off” day, I usually get four or five very large white eggs. They’re considered a flighty breed — even though I raised them from day-old chicks, they’re definitely the least friendly of my flock, so if you’re looking for chickens that will double as pets for you or your kids, they might not be the best choice. Still, I’ve heard of friendly Leghorns, so maybe it’s just a matter of extra handling as babies. They aren’t as visually interesting as the intricately patterned Wyandottes or the shimmery-gold Orpingtons, but they’re still beautiful, snowy white birds.




The Silkies arrived two days ago, and they’re unbelievably tiny, fuzzy, and cute. It’s always a shock when you pick up a day-old chick after getting accustomed to half-grown ones. I got to choose my own and tried to get a variety of colors. I’m so excited to see what they’ll grow up to look like!

The chicken tractor is so close to being done. All that’s really left to do is attach the wire, and then I’m hoping Ben and I can get the wheels on when he’s off tomorrow. The BOs are enormous and more than ready to go outside, and I had to combine them with the SLWs yesterday to free up a brooder for the Silkies, so now they really need more space. But we’ve had a few cooler nights again this week, so I guess it’s good that they were still inside. Just a couple more days, girls!

My strawberries out front are growing like crazy, and many have a few berries ripening. I need to put some beer out for the slugs, though, because several berries I picked yesterday were partially eaten. The garden seems happy, too. The lettuce is up, and I’ve been building PVC and string trellises for the beans to climb. They’ll fit over pieces of rebar that will drive into the ground much more easily than the PVC.

After blossoming and leafing out beautifully this spring, one of our pear trees has been badly hit with fireblight. Oddly, it’s a Moonglow, which is supposed to be highly resistant to the bacteria, but it still managed to get sick. I cut all of the affected branches off last week, and it’s a sad-looking little tree now. There’s a spray to use on it, but I’ve read that it has to be done later in the year. Not sure if it will make it that long or not, but I’m hoping our remaining healthy tree doesn’t get infected.

I managed to get a few pictures of the younger bunnies the other day without being eaten by PsychoBunny. It’s clear from her body language that she’s acting out of fear, and it makes me sad. It also confuses me, because she’s never been frightened or mistreated, and her sister is friendly enough. Most sources say we should give her treats so she’ll associate us with good things, pet her (whether she likes it or not at first), and carry her around to relax and gentle her. I will first need some gauntlets, though, or I’m quite sure I’ll come away armless. We joke that she’s like the bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail — all cute and harmless until someone gets within range and then, Pow! She sure does make cute babies, though.

Two other major developments this past week: The Boy learned to pedal his tricycle, and we got a piano. In fact, he learned to pedal his tricycle while Ben was gone to pick up the piano. It’s a 1950 Wurlitzer in need of a little tuning, but great for what we need. It’s been fun to pull my voice books out this week and remember some of my favorites.

So that’s what’s happening, and here’s hoping that tonight will be the last night I’ll have 27 chickens in my house!

Mobile Chicken Housing, or “The Poultry Airstream”


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!)