The first farm animals I ever had growing up were chickens. A coop stood at the edge of our backyard and we kept Buff Orpingtons, Black Sex Links, BB Red Old English Game, Golden Sebrights, and a multitude of other breeds, but no matter what breed they were, bantams were always my favorite.
Fast forward to adulthood, and though I’ve had my share of chickens since my youth, I hadn’t raised bantams for quite some time. Until recently, I was raising standard dual-purpose chickens in two different spots on the farm. One was a stationary coop, while the others were free-ranged birds. Both techniques had their share of problems. The free-range birds were dying faster than I could replace them (although the roosters seemed to survive fairly well … my lot in life I suppose), and the chicken coop stayed wet and nasty year-round. Even letting the cooped chickens out for an afternoon proved deadly from time to time, mostly from roaming dogs.
Although the solution to my dilemma was fairly simple, a pastured poultry pen would solve both of those problems, but since I had goats and a cow or two in the back pasture, I would have to keep them separate so the livestock wouldn’t destroy the pen from rubbing, knocking, or jumping on it. With only a small number of pullets (about ten bantams), it wouldn’t be feasible to block off a section of pasture long enough for the hens to eat their share of bugs and grass and then let it grow back for the rest of the critters.
The solution hit me while I was mowing the yard as I seem to do daily (at least it seems like that). Why not just stick the pen in the yard? I don’t use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides so poisons weren’t a problem, and I have lots of Dutch clover that I encourage since I have a beehive.
So I set out to make a pen that was easily designed, a fast build, and left little scrap wood behind. Based on the number of bantams I had purchased, I decided on an 8 x 4 x 2 pen constructed of 2-by-4s and 1-inch mesh wire.
Four 2-by-4s 14 feet long each yield an 8-foot board for length, a 4-foot board for width, and a 2-foot board for height. Piecing those together, a rectangular pen was born in a very short time. A 12-foot 2-by-4 cut into three equal sections made a brace for the bottom and two for the top. If I were doing it over, I would have left the bottom brace out since it just adds one more thing to catch a chicken’s foot when I move the pen, but it does add strength and some chickens perch on it when their home moves.
The picture, while slightly incomplete, shows the frame of the pen. I prefer to leave the finishing touches to you. A slightly more imaginative person could do wonders with the pen design, but as it stands, I just covered the sides and top with wire (leaving one end of the top open for a removable wooden top), and placed a feeder, waterer, and homemade shelter for rainy weather inside.
The simple pen design, constructed in an afternoon, has almost eliminated the mowing in my side yard, and, if I got lazy, the chickens would do a good enough job without my help. They peck and scratch and eat the multitude of grasshoppers, leafhoppers, and crickets that find their way into the pen. The chickens particularly like feeding time, since as I walk toward the pen, leafhoppers, in an effort to get away from me, actually leap into the pen. I take time to do this on all sides of the pen and the hens anxiously await the arrival of dinner.
Moveable pens are definitely the way to go, and more are in my future. I’ve considered adding a 4 x 4 pen to the top of my current pen and placing rabbits inside. I wonder if that’s what they mean when they say farms should be vertically integrated …