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.
- Aesthetics (for us and neighbors)
- Wind management for entire coop + nest boxes
- Coyote/Raccoon proof
- Weight for daily movement
- Manageable trap door and access to nest boxes for my kids
- Cleaner eggs
- 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.
- 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.
- 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′ additional roost space with 100% of it under roof. Old design only had 8′ of roost space with 2′ open to the sky (rain).
- Do a dry fit before applying pipe cement and drilling holes.
- Remember overall lengths increase when adding fittings by about 1”. Adjust your pipe lengths accordingly.
- 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.
- Corrugated plastic roof panels
- Bolts to secure panels (2″ with wide washers and locknuts)
- Silicon to make drill holes for bolts waterproof
- Water pipe (1″ schedule 40)
- Pipe fittings (esoteric ones here)
- Chicken wire (2′ roll)
- Solar electric fence
- 17 gauge wire for electric fence
- 14″ screwdriver to act as a ground for electric fence
- Zip ties (lots and lots)
- Pull ropes with clamp-on end hooks
- Ground stakes used for dogs to secure coop in high wind
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.
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.
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.
- You can’t care too much about your lawn if you use a chicken tractor on it. Even with our portable dust bath box – which they seem to like quite a bit – you are going to get holes in your lawn. I’m currently going around once a week sprinkling seed and a bit of seed starter soil mix on those holes.
- Giving a quick rinse to the ground that you just moved the coop from gives a big head start to the droppings dissolving into the ground. Important when you still have two little kids wanting to run and play on that lawn.
- The hardware cloth skirt actually works to keep digging predators at bay. The PVC pipe on the outer edge allows it to float with the tractor when moving it, rather than getting bogged down. This would definitely *not* work with normal chicken wire (too flexible).
- In this hot, hot summer I’m having to water this portion of our lawn to keep it alive so the chickens can eat on it. Normally I’d let it go brown. Adding the cost of our water and electricity (water pump) to this project is not exciting.
- We’ve added a separate “chicken scraps” bowl to our kitchen counter that sits beside the “compost scraps” bowl. We’re diverting apple cores, bread crusts, etc to the chickens to supplement their feed.
- We just planted comfrey, which performs several minor miracles, even though most folks think of it as a weed. We’re using it specifically to accelerate our compost piles and as a chicken feed. Hey, grow your own free chicken feed! Hat tip to the Deliberate Agrarian for the comfrey knowledge transfer.
- Tying a rock to the edge of the tractor allows the chickens to peck on something hard, wearing down their always-growing beaks.
- Weld two sets of small metal tubes together for the trapdoor joints; the PVC ones already broke. Still OK, though, since zip ties hold the hinge in place.
- Two trap doors instead of one. When we place everything inside (2 nest buckets, 1 waterer, 1 feeder, 1 dust bath box), that one quadrant gets a bit hectic. Although it does allow the other three quadrants more open space for the chickens to scoot around in.
- Add a temporary divide wall to section off a portion of the coop when introducing (or reintegrating) new birds into the flock. I’ve currently got one of our Dominiques off by herself recovering from almost getting pecked to death by the others. I’m thinking of segmenting off a couple of feet down one side of the tractor just for her when reintegrating her.