Grit Blogs > Out-standing in my Field

Bantams and Small Moveable Pens Equals Yard Birds

BrandonThe 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.

Moveable Pen

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 …

brandon mitchell
8/5/2010 9:24:32 AM

Yep, they'll lay in the tractor, or anywhere else for that matter. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but I'm getting close with a couple of pullets. When I see them start laying, I'll put in a nest box. Usually one box is recommended for every 5 hens, but I may stretch that out a little since more boxes equals less room.


ozarkhomesteader_1
8/2/2010 5:06:43 PM

We are planning on starting chickens this fall and want to pasture raise them as much as possible, with a coop for the winter. I like bantam eggs because they are so petite--more in line with how much egg we need to be eating--but do they lay in the tractor? I have so much to learn!


brandon mitchell
7/28/2010 11:06:47 AM

Right now I'm just using a pet carrier. It slides across the ground when I pull the pen and it will hold all the half-grown bantams I have now. It's under the covered portion of the pen so some of the chickens roost on top as well as inside. Later, I'll probably change to something different.


s.m.r. saia
7/26/2010 11:48:14 AM

This is interesting. Do you have a door to the shelter part that you have to go out and close every night and open in the morning, or are the chickens free to just enter or leave the shelter at will?


brandon mitchell
7/23/2010 8:45:15 AM

I do have a fixed pen that I'm not using now, although I will during winter. Most pens like my small moveable structure are usually covered in roofing tin, but since we have such strong winds where I live, the tin would get caught in the wind and the whole thing would get tossed, so I just keep a couple of pet carriers close by. If I'm going to be gone for some time, or the weather's getting bad, I just place an extra one inside. The carriers are so small and compact, they don't catch much wind, and all the chickens can get inside. Also, two other things I didn't mention that might be useful... I chose a four-foot wide pen because that's how wide my lawn mower is. Most of my blueberry bushes, other plants, and gates are all designed to fit my lawnmower between so I wanted this to go through the same places as well. Also, I went out the other day and noticed how much greener the grass was where the pen had been about a month before. It was dark green, where everything else, stressed by the heat and lack of moisture has turned to a sickly yellow-green color. If it can do this for the yard, just think of what it can do for your pastures.


nebraska dave
7/22/2010 3:58:29 PM

@Brandon, what a great idea you have come up with. Is this pen the only place for your chickens? What do you do in inclement weather? I have an Urban Ranch as I call it. It measures 50 foot by 100 foot if I really stretch the measuring tape. It keeps me busy enough just caring for the raised garden beds that I’ve built. I have other projects in progress as well and you can read about them on my blog if you want. I want to be the first to welcome you to the Grit community. I think you will like it here. Many of my gardening ideas and successes have started by reading the Grit blog and Grit facebook posts. Many subjects are discussed. See you in your next post.