Day-Ranging chicken coop :: version 2.0

Just as our chicken tractors went through a few improvement versions, our day-ranging coops are as well. Introducing the new and improved version 2.0 of the Day Ranger.

Still protected by the electronet fencing, this one abandoned the use of political signs as walls and roof for the use of salvage lumber. The political sign coop works well, but it needs to be a backyard that does not have high winds.

In addition to going with heavier lumber to resist the wind, the version 2.0 Day Ranger features six nest boxes and 20′ of roost space, in anticipation of starting a newer, larger flock this winter.

A few more photos to see the additional details:


From chicken tractor to day-ranging

We’re moving.

Not from our small town, but from our current Joel Salatin inspired chicken tractor setup to an Andy Lee style day-ranging setup.

Why?

  • Transition most daily chores to weekly/monthly/quarterly.
  • Enable remaining daily chore (egg collection) to be done by kids.
  • Increase health of the birds. Hoping that more space means less pecking each other.

How?

  • Built a smaller coop meant to solely be a place to lay eggs and roost for the night. Protection from elements only, not predators. Self-imposed limit on the coop was it had to be made entirely from found materials. We used old political campaign signs as the wall/wings and roof, IKEA bed slats as framing lumber, etc. Local woodworker did the design work and let use use his awesome workshop.
  • Added 1/4 acre of electronet fencing to protect from daily coyote visits and occasional raccoons. That’s enough pasture to not need to move the coop and fencing but once every 1-3 months, depending on the season.
  • Added rebar posts with pinwheels to distract the local birds of prey. We get daily fly-bys from eagles, osprey, hawks…and owls each evening. They are beautiful, but I like to eat eggs.
  • Added a range feeder that holds 50# of feed while keeping it dry. My daughter is wearing the top part as a hat in the nearby photo.
  • Made my own 7-day waterer from an extra 5 gallon bucket and $1 chicken nipples (can’t believe I just wrote that) from Farmtek.

Here are some photos…


How to build a chicken tractor :: version 2.0

A recent wind storm turned our chicken tractor into a kite, throwing it 30′ away.

All the birds were OK, just wondering where their roof went. I retrieved my son from school early, bought the largest fishing nets we could find, and tracked down our birds wandering around the pasture before the daily sundown coyote pack visit.

Chicken Tractor Version 1.0 was damaged enough to warrant building an entirely new portable coop. So I broke out the long list of change ideas I had been collecting and designed a new tractor.

Improvement goals for new Chicken Tractor Version 2.0:
  1. Aesthetics (for us and neighbors)
  2. Wind management for entire coop + nest boxes
  3. Coyote/Raccoon proof
  4. Weight for daily movement
  5. Manageable trap door and access to nest boxes for my kids
  6. Cleaner eggs

Primary changes:
  1. Flat roof. There are zero flat areas in my back yard, so a flat roof will still shed rain well since the entire coop is always at an angle. The new flat roof allowed me to get away from tarps, which never stay tight nor look attractive for long.
  2. Solar electric fence to replace the hardware mesh skirt. The skirt *is* effective against coyotes; we’ve found their scat right next to the coop several times. But it catches on the pasture grass and makes daily movement of the tractor difficult for my wife.
  3. Horizontal access door (replacing a vertical accessible hatch). You can see it in the accompanying photo, held in place by carabiner lock bungee cords to thwart the raccoons. See additional detail photos in the nearby photostream. The nest buckets are bolted to this door, which keep s them upright even in strong wind. My seven year old can lift off this panel to retrieve the eggs by himself. With the nest buckets secured, we can use straw rather than sand in the base, which makes for much cleaner eggs.
  4. 4′ additional roost space with 100% of it under roof. Old design only had 8′ of roost space with 2′ open to the sky (rain).
Suggestions for your own efforts:
  1. Do a dry fit before applying pipe cement and drilling holes.
  2. Remember overall lengths increase when adding fittings by about 1”. Adjust your pipe lengths accordingly.
  3. I considered using cattle panels, but at 36 lbs for every 50″ x 16′ section, they would add too much weight. Same for wood versus water pipe. Weight considerations drove alot of our decisions.
Materials list:
  1. Corrugated plastic roof panels
  2. Bolts to secure panels (2″ with wide washers and locknuts)
  3. Silicon to make drill holes for bolts waterproof
  4. Water pipe (1″ schedule 40)
  5. Pipe fittings (esoteric ones here)
  6. Chicken wire (2′ roll)
  7. Solar electric fence
  8. 17 gauge wire for electric fence
  9. 14″ screwdriver to act as a ground for electric fence
  10. Zip ties (lots and lots)
  11. Pull ropes with clamp-on end hooks
  12. Ground stakes used for dogs to secure coop in high wind

The progression of a chicken tractor

Of our 14 layers in our chicken tractor, we’re getting 11 eggs/day during the warmer weeks and 7 eggs/day during the colder weather. Given that our springtime weather fluctuates from 60 degree days for a week down to snow flurries the next, these birds are likely confused a bit.

But given that our family’s daily intake for eggs is only 6 eggs/day, my son has already started his first official business selling the excess eggs to neighbors, $4/dozen. Not bad for organic eggs delivered to your door by a cute kid.

But all is not well the the Great Chicken Tractor. These birds have taken the idea of a pecking order to Olympic heights. One bird is not only clearly the Big Layer, she’s also the Big Bitch. the vengeance with which she pursues the lowest 50 percentile on the pecking order is amazing.

In fact, it’s likely to get her killed. If she keeps this up and one of the lower order birds gets pecked to death, the Big Bitch is going on our dinner table the next night. 75% of our birds have completely bald butts and throat areas. Significantly more feather loss than what molting might account for. And that’s how I ended up with purple hands for a week.

I found a product from England that both heals and leaves a bad-tasting film on the chickens’ skin/feathers. The birds are now running around with purple butts – which is hilarious – but I failed to read the instructions that the stuff seriously stains. Explaining my hands to the folks at the dojo was a bit embarrassing. I finally just settled on, “I was painting my chickens purple, of course.” when asked about it. Got some funny looks, to be sure.

Any other thoughts on excessive pecking behavior? Shoot me an email or add a comment. Thus far we’ve explored diet, space, weather, and stress. I’ve settled on stress, since we find coyote scat right next to the coop on a regular basis.


First eggs


Ah, the joys of “maiden eggs” (as Joel Salatin brands these small pullet eggs). We finally get to enjoy the benefits of the chicken tractor investment.

Two double yolks so far!

Portable chicken coop additions

Our first couple of winter-style storms blew through recently. Had a chance to observe the effects on portable chicken coop.

There was no issue with the coop trying to turn into a kite via the tarp and sail off. But I found that if I added another section of tarp on the SW corner (the direction our storms come from), it served two purposes. The new tarp both stops the strong storm wind from chilling the chickens and also provides shade for the longer days of late summer, when the sun can still get quite hot.

In anticipation of our 15 birds beginning to lay eggs for the first time, we also added a few “nest boxes” to the coop as well. These are simply upside down 5 gallon buckets with doors cut into them.

Sand + dichotomous earth on the bottom gives enough weight to keep the buckets upright. The spikes on top keep the chickens from roosting and pooping all over them. I admitted defeat and used store-bought spikes after trying twice to make my own from bamboo sticks.


Injured chicken + chicken tractor = ?

One of our Dominiques was getting her butt kicked – literally – by the rest of the chickens a couple of weeks ago. By the time we got to her she had a seriously bloody butt and no feathers left back there.


After separating her and her brood sister off in a temporary pen, I begin pondering solutions. What to do with an injured chicken when you are relying on a portable chicken tractor for the flock, rather than a stationary coop?


I was puzzled for a few days, almost ready to build a second much smaller chicken tractor (and effectively double my daily chicken chores), when I decided to instead try a simple modification to the existing 10′ square tractor.


Here’s a video of the modification (just a line of pipe + wire to separate off an 18″ sliver of the tractor) and the resulting standoff once we reintegrated the birds. Imagine the Gunsmoke theme, or perhaps when the Outsiders lined up against the rival gang. The chickens lined up along the new partition, flapping their wings, pecking at the wire, and giving each other the evil eye. It was hilarious. Well, “hilarious” in a chicken standoff kind of way.


I named the injured chicken Pony Boy. Stay golden, Pony Boy.