All posts by Gina

About Gina

For the last seven years I have been the editor of the Keeping Chickens Newsletter @ http://www.keepingchickensnewsletter.com

Adding Wheels To Your Movable Chicken Tractor

In the video below Donald Loose shows how he has attached some wheels to his moveable chicken coop so that it lies flat when the chickens are in it, but when he needs it to be moved to another place in the yard the lever can be pushed over to raise the coop up off the ground and it can be wheeled into a new position with minimal effort. That way his flock can enjoy their home being in a fresh area of his backyard which gives the soil they were on a chance to recover (and them a new cleaner patch to live on).

To do so he used two handles made from scrap lumber, about 18 inches long and a couple of old lawnmower wheels attached with half inch bolts and nuts and washers. Lug bolts for the paddles to rest on and a block of wood to put a bit of space between the wheel and the coop on each side so that it can pivot freely.

So basically the wheels get bolted to the paddles. Then, the paddles get bolts through the block of wood and the bottom base board of the chicken coop. A similar system could be used on a different coop design. There are many variations possible. Often it will be an a frame chicken tractor, some are built with a ramp up to a door cut out of a top level where the chickens can roost and lay their eggs, and then underneath they have a built in pen secured traditionally with chicken wire (although galvanised steel wire / hardware cloth is actually a stronger, more secure choice).

Our collection of chicken coop designs include several chicken tractors. We have an A frame chicken house (also known as a triangle chicken coop) as well as an under tree design, one with an upstairs roost and a retangular chicken tractor. Unless the building is being done with some really heavy solid wood they should all be movable by two people but it may make your chicken tractor easier to move if wheels are added.

chicken tractor plans with in built wire run and chance for the birds to free range

Chicken Nest Boxes and Egg Baskets

President Grant's house is an important U.S. historical site for the backyard / small-farm chicken raising community.

Today - I want to show you a couple of things I thought were interesting there...

Most importantly -

The technologies have not changed a whole lot. Here is a picture of the egg baskets they used back then:

chicken egg baskets

Today, you can still find the same baskets, usually coated with a plastic coating so they're softer on the eggs but still able to dunk in water to clean the eggs. Today pricing starts at around $27 for a 6-inch high, by 8-inch wide - 3 dozen egg capacity sized basket.

Additionally, here's some shots of the raised nest boxes. There used to be several rows of the hens nesting boxes, but for now they just have the 3 nests remaining.

chicken nest boxes

more chicken nestboxes

This is the same basic design and size that is still recommended today :

  • About 1 cubic foot - (12-inches wide, by 12-inches tall, by 12-inches deep)
  • Raised off the ground about 24 inches
  • Front ledge piece to hold in the bedding material, and also provide a little more protection for the hen.

And I wanted to note a few things about this set-up, just in case you might be wondering:

  1. If your nesting boxes are at 24 inches high, it is recommended that your roosts always be higher than that. Chickens almost always roost in the highest spot they can find - they feel safer there. So if your roosts are at the same height, or below your nesting boxes - your chickens will roost in (and soil or dirty up) your nest boxes.
  2. There is no hidden latch or outside access to the nest boxes. You have to walk inside of the coop to gather the eggs. Many chicken house designers today swear by having outside, quick, and easy access to the nest boxes. You might keep that in mind when you are building your coop.

Ever Heard of Raising Your Chickens on the Roof?

It would have seemed odd to me, under normal circumstances...

but a couple weeks ago I got a very strange request from a reader who wants to build small garden plots on top of his warehouse type roof, so that he can raise chickens on them.

Now, looking back on the mesage he sent, I'm thinking to myself, that's pretty cool! He wants to be mostly organic, and completely 100% self sufficient.

And then I read this, in the Dayton Daily news:

In 1909, Chef J. Redrey was brought in to oversee the fourth-floor, formal dining room. The Sunday menu included lobster cocktail, green sea turtle soup, fresh crab meat a la Newburg, roast prime beef dema glace, steamed potatoes, filet mignon Stanley, German asparagus, Nesselrode pudding, Roquefort cheese and coffee. To ensure patrons received only the freshest product, a chicken coop was built on the hotel's roof.

What do you think?

Is raising chickens on the roof a good idea?
Is it really possible to do?
What is the best way to do it?

Well here is a photo of one rooftop garden chicken coop

keeping chickens on a roof
Some good points I can see straight away are that it saves space in your backyard - and it must be harder for four legged predators to get to ๐Ÿ™‚

Keeping Chickens and Goats Together (and Donkeys!)

Wondering what life might be like with goats and chickens - take a look at this video ๐Ÿ™‚

Raising chickens isn't a one-step, easy to follow process. As a special follow-up to a recent email, I got this tip for stopping chicken predators from Michel, one of our readersโ€ฆ

They suggested keeping pygmy goats with bells around their necks, as a companion pet to your chickens - in their pen. Because they scare off dogs, coyotes, racoons, and other predators. This has been effective at keeping all their chickens alive for more than a year. So that's not too bad - if you can manage it on your farm or property.

Simple enough - right?
Well, maybe not.

After publishing that tip I got several readers commenting that goats (dairy goats specifically) may not mix well with chickens. And they may not protect your flock as well as you think. One reader proposed trying a donkey instead, based on some success her friends had using one. It seems donkeys might be a better deterrent to predators in some situations.

donkey and chickens

So, there's not always a clear-cut answer to things and plenty of room for conflicting opinions.ย  Millions of people are keeping chickens and there is probably a million different ways that they do it. And with regards to protecting a flock - a rooster can usually do a pretty good job as well ๐Ÿ™‚

Portable and Mobile Chicken Coops

In our first couple days we talked about...

-> Temperature
-> Predators
-> Essentials to consider before building
-> The most important coop building materials

In today's note, we'll talk about portability or mobility.

There are many reason why you might want a portable chicken coop.

  • Chickens can quickly scour a small area of all grass and other foods very quickly - so they need to be moved often to have fresh food to scratch at.
  • So they can't get into your garden and other plants and eat them. (When they are cooped up in a mobile coop, they can't do that)
  • You can quickly and easily fertilize different areas of your yard (chickens are well-known to be great organic fertilizer producers and so a 'chicken tractor' can help with the gardening where once the chickens have finished preparing and fertilizing a garden bed or other area they then get moved onto another section to get to work on.

Whether you are making a traditional A frame coop or rectangle single or two story chicken house and run, one of the easiest ways to make a coop portable is to use 2 x 2, or 1 x 2, framing lumber, instead of larger 2 x 4 lumber. This makes your framing light, but sturdy enough to handle your flock. To help make your chicken tractor more moveable you could add wheels to the base or even place a piece of pvc pipe underneath the frame when you want to move it which should roll with the coop as pull it along.

Here's a picture showing you the type of lumber pieces I'm talking about:

chicken coop lumber pieces

The most important thing about portable chicken coops is...

If you need to move it regularly it is probably best if you can move it by hand. Some are built to be moved by cars or farm equipment, but unless these are easily accessible, you most likely will never move the coop (see the 2nd mistake people make when building a coop)

So... easily movable, by hand, with 1 or 2 people is going to be easiest for you in the long run.

You can check out some mobile chicken coop plans here:
http://www.chickencoopplan.com

chicken tractor plans

Here’s Where My Chicken Coop Journey Began, Does It Sound Like Yours?

By Kelson Spear

About 15 years ago, I was still in high school. My folks lived in Alaska, and I stayed with my Grandparents during the school year.

My Grandpa had a farm with an old milking cow, and I would go out with him, sometimes, and help milk her. Everyday I got to enjoy fresh dairy milk.

Then, a little later in the day, we would go out to his big old chicken coop, gather up the eggs. And we would throw down some chicken scratch for the chickens to dig around in.

I always enjoyed helping him out on his farm. But you know, I was young. All I thought about was sports (and girls- of course).

And I didn't realize what my Grandpa had.

It was always peaceful at their house. There was a quiet stillness about their life that was so relaxing. We ate great tasting food together. I always enjoyed getting up early, sitting around sipping hot chocolate and talking about the day with them.

-----------------------------
FAST FORWARD A FEW YEARS...
-----------------------------

Now, warp ahead with me to the year 2007.

I had 2 girls by now and we live right SMACK, in the middle of a city. By most standards, our yard is bigger than many new modern homes in our area. Instead of 5000 square feet, we actually have a 13,000 square foot yard. But it's nothing compared to the acres my Grandpa used to have.

And even with today's 'HUGE' yard, we rarely have time to get out and garden, or even play outside anyhow. It seems I'm always working long hours and then trying to keep up on the housework.

Living in small spaces and working a corporate job has meant that I had to lose that close contact with the land and with nature.

But that love of nature has never left me. And I often catch myself day-dreaming about having some space to roam, and leisurely taking care of some animals.

The truth is, I grew up loving that peaceful lifestyle. And now that it's gone, I long to have it back.

And I know that raising chickens is not a replacement for those bygone days, but you know what...

I love the chance to get a little closer to natural food, and animals, and letting my girls get their hands dirty, and just spending time outside.

And I love that even in a sprawling metropolis, you can still have a little bit of space to connect and get back in touch with those old sentiments.

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Small scale mobile chicken coops
-----------------------------

So I built 2 mobile chicken coops. FROM SCRATCH.

In an attempt to get back to my bygone days.

And even though I told you that I used to spend time on the farm with animals, I NEVER used to help build anything.

I'm not a macho construction worker. And I don't play one on TV. If you knew me, you'd know that my mechanical skills are seriously lacking.

But this project was an awakening for me.

I have done things and thought in ways that I didn't know my mind OR body could. And I got the blisters and slivers to prove it.

You can do this.

My Flock in their coop

Not-so-Helpful Advice About Building a Coop From My Friends

By Kelson Spear

The funny thing is, even though I grew up on the farm I never paid attention to the chicken coop. I never noticed how it was built. I never realized how the chickens have a schedule for laying their eggs. I never noticed the different clucking sounds they made just hanging out together.

It's strange to me - almost like re-reading a book after 5 years - you remember some of the story line, but a lot of the details are foggy.

Some of the past was so memorable, but then some of the details just weren't clear.

And the more people I asked about "HOW TO" build a coop, the more vague, sketchy answers I got.

And since I couldn't remember all the details, I asked a LOT of people.

Some of the responses went like this...

"Oh, it's just a chicken coop, you just make a wooden box". This was the response from an old timer, when I asked for his help. AS IF just anyone could whip together a perfectly sized little box built strong enough to hold together, but still be light enough to be mobile (And I got the same response from the Feed Store - I might add)

Another person said this, "Well, my dad actually built my coop. So you can come look at it, but I can't really tell you how we did it."

In addition to those "How-to" responses, one guy told me I would need to buy some specific tools to cut the lumber. So I actually went out and bought some real "power tools", because I didn't have any. (A circular skill saw was his minimum recommendation)

But... I didn't actually use the saw.

Well, I tried to.

But I didn't screw the blade on tight enough, so it only cut through half of one of my plywood sheets, loosened the blade, and scared me. So - I abandoned it.

It's still just sitting there in my garage.

Some of those power tools scare me. That's how "un-mechanical" I am.

Sad huh?

I've heard horror stories of cutting off fingers and arms.
And I don't want to do that to myself.

And I have since found that I didn't have to - Many wood suppliers will cut to your specifications.

On top of all that, other people questioned me on if I could keep chickens in town or not. So they had NO CLUE what advice to give me.

On and on went these ever-so-helpful details.

-----------------------------
The Coop Journey Begins
-----------------------------

And so I decided to begin my own journey.

What probably takes some people minutes to do took me hours to think through, and draw, and plan.

Along with tons of help from books I bought and notes I'd taken - I might add.

Did it turn out perfect? No
Was it simple? No
Did I have to try different ideas? Yes
Did it take HOURS? Yes - over 8 hours on the first coop with 2 people working on it. OUCH!
Did I need help? Yes
Did I spend a LOT more MONEY than I should have? Yes
Am I proud of what I accomplished? ABSOLUTELY
Would I do it again? Yes

After going through all of this, I can honestly say...

YOU CAN DO THIS!

Even if you've never held a hammer, or drilled a hole, or sawed on a piece of wood.

You can do this.

Can Your Chickens Survive In This Weather? Let’s See…

By Kelson Spear

When I started with chickens, I asked Mike (an Australian chicken expert with 26 years experience) about how to protect chickens from different weather conditions. I later quoted him in an article as saying...in Mike's area of Australia, "it rarely gets cold, so Australians don't have to worry about protecting their chickens from severe weather. What a luxury we don't have in the U.S."

If you re-read that quote, you'll realize that's about the dumbest thing I could've ever quoted about Australia. Maybe in Mike's area it isn't cold, but...

Australia is an entire continent (of course).

It has weather as varied as most that we get in America.

But you know, it takes a real ding-a-ling to screw something like that up for over a year.

To help satisfy my bone-headedness, (just in case you live somewhere that has various temperatures and weather conditions) - chickens can survive in relative comfort down to about freezing (or 32* Farenheit, 0* Celsius) - As long as they have protection from the elements. Below that temperature you probably need to provide supplemental heat.

More importantly, over-heating is a much bigger concern. So make sure your chooks have plenty of water, air-flow (ventillation), and shade when it's hot out.

melon cool treat for chickens in summer
Fruit such as melon straight from the fridge can make a nice cooling treat on a hot summers day.

More About Chicken Predators…and How to Stop Them

In this, our sixth installment, I want to cover the topic of Predators and chickens.

Basically, chickens are defenseless against most animals. It sometimes seems as though the only other animal they can hurt, is fellow chickens (although small creatures like mice and frogs also don't do so well if they can get a hold of one!). Other than that, chickens get 'creamed' by most other animals, including...

  • Family Pets
  • Coyotes
  • Snakes
  • Goannas
  • Racoons
  • and several others
raccoons are chicken predators
Raccoons 'fingers' can undo egg box catches. Even when they can't dig or climb their way in their small hands may still be able to reach through coop wire and grab at your chickens.

When you are designing your coop, it is essential that you know what predators to expect. It is also good to know the tactics they typically use to get at your chickens.

Most predators, if they're strong enough, will just tear into your coop. Recently I heard about a fox getting in through a nesting box which had been designed to be easily removable for cleaning - unfortunately it also made it easy for the fox to just push up the loose base from underneath and get himself a tasty chicken dinner.

Another common factor to watch out for is digging. So, if you can build a coop that won't let predators in through the bottom, you have a great start. Burrowing down some strong meshed wire around your coop outline, down several inches and then out a few inches like an 'L' can help deter diggers (as can giving your coop a 'wire skirt' if it is a mobile coop). Another way might be to dig a deep ditch all around the coop and fill it with concrete.

Honestly though, there are a lot of things that can go wrong and also lots you can do to keep predators out of your coop, but a very important point is this...

You have to be vigilant and on the watch as well. Because even a "Fort Knox" designed coop will deteriorate and wear out over time. So if you are always aware of the coop and how your chickens are doing, your chickens WILL live long and healthy lives. If not, then you might be inviting bears, raccoons, hawks, or many other predators to have your chook for dinner.