Friday, October 10, 2014

Hen House Home Sweet Home

When we decided that we were going to raise hens for eggs we had to think about where we were going to keep them.  Boy, did we think long and hard on this.  We probably spent about three weeks researching online and visiting local farm and pet supply businesses.  It looked like the wave of the future was to purchase or build a stand alone coop or chicken tractor.  For those of you who have never seen or heard of a chicken tractor, I would describe it as a henhouse on wheels with an attached run.  Connected to the run is a set of wheel barrow handles.  The idea behind this is to be able to relocate the chicken tractor anywhere on your property with ease.  Chicken tractors come in all different sizes and styles.  Depending on how many chickens you plan on raising will most likely determine the size of the tractor you will need.  We decided to start with eight hens.  Therefore, the chicken tractor we were looking for had to hold at least eight hens.  I’ll admit this idea of being able to move the tractor around the yard was a sell for us.  We figured by relocating it we would be able to clean up weed areas, aerate the soil and keep the hens safe.  And besides, everyone was doing it.  Looking back, we probably should have shopped around a little longer.  Maybe we even should have checked out some permanent coop structures. 

The tractor was delivered all assembled and ready to go.  During the first year of the chicken tractor it seamed like we were moving it around the yard often.  Letting it sit for more then a couple of weeks was way too long.  The area would get filled with chicken poop and the healthy grass would die.  At this point we decided to move the tractor every four to five days and hose down the area.  Let me also remind you that our hens were free ranging all day too.  We continued to do this all summer and into the fall.  As the temperature started to plummet we decided to wheel the tractor just outside our walk out basement where it would sit on a cement slab and we could plug it in to the side of the house.  We added electric outlets inside and out after we purchased it.  This is something we did on our own and saved money doing it that way.  Now that we were settled in for a cold and snowy winter, the hens were warm and safe inside their tractor.  Let me back up a little.  They were warm, but not safe.  We wouldn’t know this right away until a nasty little snow weasel breaches the fortress!  Our kids were at home when they heard a ruckus.  They saw a white animal resembling a ferret going under the tractor.  It was able to kill one of our beautiful Australorps.  The kids chased this nasty thing until it disappeared from the property.  At this point we knew that the tractor was not closed up tight.  I would call it a flaw in its design and they all have it.  Underneath the hen house portion there are three sides that fold up and down.  Up when you wheel the tractor and down when you have it in the area you plan on leaving it in.  Well, those three sides are just about and inch to two inches short of resting flat on the ground beneath it.  Upon further inspection, the door that opened into the run portion had a half inch opening above the frame.  The kids said they saw the snow weasel go through it.  Of course we didn’t believe them.  The opening was small.  Three days later, wouldn’t you know the darn beast came back, killed two more hens and was able to get through a small opening where the sides fold up and down about a quarter of an inch.  I saw this with my own two eyes.  I chased this animal for quite some time.  Around and Around.  All’s I could think of was the Ring Around the Rosie poem we all learned as kids.  I was the monkey chasing the weasel!  It was about an hour before this animal gave up and ran off.  I was exhausted and motivated to redesign this tractor before any other breaches could happen.  We ended up pushing the tractor up onto two pallets with a piece of plywood lying on top.  This would ensure no animals could breach from the bottom.  After the sides came down, we hammered in four by fours to close up any holes.  We also screwed a board on the inside from of the door so when the door was shut it would abut the board leaving no openings.  One other thing I should mention is we had to place a patio umbrella over the open run area to keep it dry.  Having it wet was not good at all.  It would smell and draw flies causing yet another flaw in its design.

The following spring we started a new batch of chicks to add.  Adding chickens to a flock is a lot of work and we can talk about that later.  Once all the snow was gone, we relocated the tractor to the other side of the house but decided to leave it in one spot for safety reasons.  We kept it on top of the pallets and plywood.  I would not recommend a chicken tractor unless you can make sure that it is safe all around.  Inspect the design for gaps.  If you build it yourself, be sure to close up all small openings.  We figured if we could put our finger through a gap than a small animal would be able to get in.  If you have a suggestion or solution about a coop breach I would love to hear from you.  It would be great to learn from each other ways to protect the flock from hen house breaches.  Keep them safe and happy.

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