Behold, our half-completed chicken tractor! The Marans are getting a little big for their feathered britches, so my girlfriend and I worked up some new digs. I've got a pretty palatial doghouse (with a covered porch, even) that I got from some friends who needed to get rid of it (they built it from the plans that appeared in the first issue of GRIT Country), and some scrap cedar cutoffs I got from a fence contractor.
We'd love to have a dog, but because we're renting, fencing the property just isn't in the cards - and I'm not an indoor dog kind of guy, for the most part. The doghouse has sat vacant for several months, and surprisingly, none of the local critters or roaming canines have taken up residence. When we realized that it was time to give our feathered charges a new, outdoor home, it immediately came to mind. It's a little on the heavy side, the base having been constructed from 2x6, but that'll keep it stable, and help prevent predators from getting free helpings of my grass-fed eggs.
We could have covered the bottom of the 'yard' portion with chicken wire, but I want the chickens to be able to scratch and dustbathe, and I've no experience, so I don't want any possible obstructions. If a predator makes it in, well, I'll know for next time, I guess. Other than the weight of the chicken tractor, I plan to lay some sections of woven wire down along each side, attached to the frame with fence staples, to deter digging or lifting from the outside. We did decide to use some new lumber for part of the frame - two new 2x4s and two new 2x6s form the top and bottom side rails of the yard, respectively. They're joined together and reinforced by pieces of the cedar cutoffs. We also hinged the gable ends of the doghouse and added ventilation holes covered with 1/4" hardware cloth. Right now, the Marans are experiencing the wide world from the safety and convenience of the doghouse's chickenwire-screened front porch. For the first week, we're limiting their run to the doghouse as a sort of 'coop-training.' It'll also give us a few days to finish the rest of the tractor.
I was really nervous when we first put them outside, but they figured it out eventually. They stood on the porch for a long while, but when it finally got fully dark, they filed into the coop to perch on a makeshift roost I made from a stick and a couple of cedar cutoffs. They seem to like actual tree branches, although I'm sure that any wood with rounded corners that's a little wider than your thumb will do - just be sure to avoid pvc or metal pipe, as it's difficult for them to find purchase, and the metal can freeze little chicken feet in winter. This morning I went outside to find them chirping contentedly - two of them are making a noise that could be a cluck in the making. They're still not really excited about me opening the coop, but, this too, shall pass, and delicious eggs are in the offing!
Right now we're bedding them down with cedar chips, and we'll probably change to straw in a week or two. Nesting boxes will go in one side of the coop, with higher and more permanent roosting bars on the other. We'll hang the food and water from a piece of cedar in the middle-ish of the tractor's 'yard.'
Now we just need to figure out what to build for our six new Buff Orpington chicks!