Oh. My. Goodness.
The past five weeks have been crazy. We worked. And worked. And worked.
Thank goodness my kids finally came home and my husband went back to work. We got a lot done but I need a break from all this “vacation” time!
But I digress. This post is really about our little portable chicken house (aka: chicken tractor) we built. We have 50 four week old free range meat chickens that call it home. During the day the chickens hang out in the portable electrified poultry netting set up around the house and at night we close them up in the house to protect them from our lovely friends – the raccoons.
Here’s the long-story-short version of how we built it. (The long-story version contains lots of standing around scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do next, swearing like a sailor when “we” hit “our” thumb with a hammer and acting like dogs chasing our tails trying to bend long metal panels in half. Fun times you probably don’t want to hear about.) Now, just so you don’t start thinking we’re really creative and smart, we totally stole these plans from about 50 other blogs, web sites and books. We looked over each plan and kinda mashed them into what we wanted to do. So if you’re looking to build this yourself, take a look at what we did, check out some others and build what works best for you.
Okay, on to what we did. First, we bought two 16 foot cattle panels from the farm store. And we brought them home on top of our mini van. (We bought two other panels at the same time to fix the barnyard fence.) I thought for sure the whole time we were driving home that they would go flying off but Josh did a good job securing them. (Have I ever mentioned that I tend to have irrational fears? This time it was: if the panel flies off while we’re doing 35 mph and somersaults onto the car behind us causing a 5 car pile-up on main street, what are the chances they will spell my last name correctly in the local newspaper?)
Once home, we attached the cattle panels to two 8 feet long 2x4s using fencing staples. This is where we discovered that we probably should have used hog panels instead of cattle panels. Because the cattle panels are taller than 4 feet each, we had to overlap the panels. Hog panels are shorter (I think right at 4 feet each). Now there’s nothing wrong with using the cattle panels. They just cost more than the hog panels. And we all know I’m about saving money so hog panels will be used if we build any more houses.
(Riveting photo here, I know.)
Then we bent the cattle panels into a U shape, attaching it to two more 8 ft 2x4s to make the bottom frame of the house. We used those ratchetting-type straps to pull the boards together enough for us to screw them into place. Now, after doing this, we re-read one of the web sites and they recommend building the frame first and then attaching the cattle panels. They say it is easier. Well, the way we did it wasn’t too hard but it wasn’t too easy either so next time we might try building the frame first to see if it is better. (In this photo we’re just starting to build the frame.)
It was still a little shaky at this point so each corner got a brace to help stabilize it. Once they were all done it was a lot sturdier.
Next came the supports for the back wall of the house. In an effort to lighten the weight of the house, we used 1x4s wherever it seemed like a good idea.
And the supports for the front and the door frame. We wanted to be able to walk around inside the house easily (hence building a taller house instead of one of the little box ones) so we built a full sized door. The cattle panels were attached to the frame with poultry staples since the fence staples were too long for the 1x4s.
We covered the sides with chicken wire 2 feet high, the back 4 foot high and the entire front. (The back wasn’t completely covered because a tarp will fold down to cover the un-chicken-wire part.) We used plastic cable ties to secure the chicken wire to the cattle panels cause we’re classy like that.
We moved away from the house a little to start building the door so a few of the laying hens came by to inspect our work. One jumped into the house and then couldn’t find her way out. I have no idea why she didn’t just go out the big hole in the front where she had just come from but for some reason she just ran back and forth around the three other sides. Yep, we have some real smart chickens here on the homestead.
After assisting the distraught layer out of the house, we finished the frame of the door, covered it in chicken wire and set it in place.
Next we put two eye bolts into the left and right edges of the front bottom board. We attached the ends of a rope to each eye bolt, forming a loop that we can use as a big handle to pull the house around. It is actually light enough that I can pull it myself (although it requires a little effort).
Finally we added a tarp for shade and weather protection. We used fencing staples to attach it to the bottom frame. We left the back unattached so we can open or close it. During the day we keep it open but at night or during bad weather we use bungee cords to pull it closed.
Ta-da! A portable chicken house! Who knew we could build it ourselves??
The chicks have been out in the field living in it for over a week now and I’d say that it is working well. Each day we move it to a new spot in the field to give them a “fresh” floor. (Man, meat chickens poop A LOT!) The only thing I would change would be the location of the rope handle. I would put it on the back of the house instead of the front. When the chickens exit the house, they go out the front door and sit around (and poop) in that area. Which is where I will pull their house the next day. Not as “fresh” as I would like it. By putting the rope on the back of the house where they don’t sit, it should be cleaner ground for the next day.
Otherwise, I think it is a success! The chicks seem happy and safe. They love it, we love it. What more could we ask for? And now that I know how (relatively) simple it is to make, I may whip one up to use as a little green house this fall.
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