July 25, 2011

My other tractor

I wanted something different for my chickens. They needed a house, a “run” for exercise and fresh air. And of course they needed a place to lay their eggs. To borrow a word from my late grandpa, Marion Ellsworth Campbell – an Indiana high school classmate of Orville Redenbacher – I wanted something snazzy.
DJ Orvie R, stylin', snazzy
There are many original and clever chicken house designs out there, and any of them would have done fine. But with few exceptions, they’re variations on the theme of straight-sided walls that join the others at right angles, a peaked roof, a couple of doors, maybe windows – in short, something like the buildings we live in.
After a lot of looking I found just the thing and plunked down my $19.99 for detailed plans. They’re made by DIY Chicken Tractors, and from their website photos, looked promising.
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So back to the chicken tractor. First thing to do is explain that this is the name given to a mobile coop setup, the intent being to easily move it around your yard to give the chickens fresh pecking ground every other day or so. Most of those I’ve seen are made from lightweight and, to my eye, not particularly sturdy materials.
But the one I chose is solid, its main frame made of two-by-fours, and its walls of ¾-inch thick plywood. Therein lies its fundamental design flaw: It is heavier than hell. At least too heavy to easily move it up and down and across and over the rocky, hilly land we live on. Altering the design option of adding six wheels to the bottom, I designed two easily removable wheel blocks so the coop sits flat when I take them off. I attach them to the back of the chicken tractor, lift and pull from the front, then remove the wheels once it’s on the newly chosen spot. I have been able to move it only by lifting the front end with my backhoe and pulling it with my tractor. That’s my John Deere tractor, not my chicken tractor.
Other than that, it was a pleasure to build because the plans were precise, clear, and complete. Especially valuable are the detailed instructions for laying out the triangular walls and the doors in each. Math has always been a personal weakness, and the explanation of this specific geometry was invaluable. Which is to say, it worked like a charm.
The Palace
It is a self-contained combination of chicken house, run, and nesting boxes. While the slats that run its length are intended both for protection and as a design element, it’s recommended that you install chicken wire inside the run for added strength and safety. I chose to attach it outside to simplify the job and prevent marauding critters from chewing on the wood.
Mine has the same color scheme as the model on DIY Chicken Tractors’ website because I liked it, simple as that. Gunship gray, espresso brown, cherry red and egg-yolk yellow somehow work together.
Through the back door: red nesting boxes, yellow chicken house with roosts, and the run
While it was said on the website that a father and son assembled theirs in two weekends, I’d like to know how. Working alone, it took me several weeks, although most of that was time spent waiting for multiple coats of paint to dry.
But it was finished by the time we were ready to pick up our chicks, and the transition from the brooder in our garage to the brand new chicken palace was seamless. They tentatively explored the front door/ramp, then the back, then walked on in and made themselves at home.
One more thing. You may notice in the photos that the lines of the chicken tractor are not entirely sleek. Some of the slats are bent sideways, not everything lines up as precisely as my handiwork intended.
The wood itself is to blame. Buying well-dried, straight lumber is a matter of picking through stacks of wood in Lowe’s or Home Depot to find the one in five or one in 10 that’s not twisted or warped beyond use. We do what we can do.
So when I look at my chicken tractor in its woodland setting, I prefer to think of its profile as “naturalistic.” Naturalistic. Yeah, that’s it.

7 comments:

  1. Wasn't there lighter material you could have used?

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  2. Of all the topics we could have in common after so many years, chicken coops are one of them! Check out the coops made by my dear friends, Matt and Kevin, at their company Just Fine Design: http://justfinedesignbuild.com/

    They are working on a book of chicken coop designs that I'm helping them with, to be published by Storey Press next year. Most of the coops are shown in the Portfolio section. I'd be happy to get you any plans, especially if you'd like to be a test case for a pattern. :)

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  3. Thanks for the link, Stephany. I checked it out and your friends are very clever, innovative designers. And not just coops.

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  4. The "tractor" is of might fine design and craftsmanship but I still don't think I've gotten a definitive answer on my buddy Larry...

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  5. How much were the materials roughly?

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    1. Hey, Troy. Very roughly, about $400 including paint. Could have been more, but this is about what I remember. I should tell you I have misgivings about recommending the design now that I've used it for a while. It is extremely heavy, and I wouldn't be able to move it without my tractor (as in John Deere). It is also very, very difficult to keep clean. And because the chickens have only the short roosts inside the house, they tend to soil the nesting boxes.
      It's a great looking, tempting design, but I'm preparing to build a bigger, easier to clean, conventional coop this summer.

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