Our meat chickens (and this year, our turkeys too) live on pasture in moveable, bottomless pens/coops called chicken tractors. The idea is to move them to fresh grass whenever they've either eaten most of what's underneath them (or covered it in poop!) :) So tractors are supposed to be light/easily moveable, durable because they're outside, predator-proof so nothing gets in there for easy chicken dinners, and easy to work with (feed, water, and catch chickens in). Last year, Dave built 2 tractors that failed pretty miserably at most of those traits!
Our first tractor was made out of an aluminum frame (nice and light) that he welded together and covered in chicken wire (pretty good against predators). Then for shade/rain protection, he put a roof and 3 wooden sides on half the tractor, thereby making it waaaaay too heavy for me to move by myself. Dave couldn't even drag it around by himself because it caught on the ground too. It was also awkward to work with - being on about 3 feet high inside, I had to practically crawl around in there to fill their food and water. It cost about $25 to build because we already had all of the supplies on hand other than the red paint and hinges. It survived the winter well, so we're keeping it as a back-up for now!
To make that tractor better, I'd put hardware cloth around it inside of chicken wire - no predator can rip through hardware cloth (but it's expensive)! And instead of heavy wood, I'd use light plastic panels - then I'd be able to move it around :)
After realizing how heavy the first tractor was, Tractor v2.0 was made out of PVC pipe as a frame (super light), poultry netting to cover it (easily ripped apart by predators), and a tarp for shade/rain protection. The whole thing was really light and easy for me to move around myself. It was still at the awkward 3' height. And it turned out to be *really* flimsy! We had a huge rainstorm, and the tarp gathered about a billion pounds of rain on it, and the whole thing collapsed. Blerg. Because of all the PVC pipe and fittings, plus a big new tarp, this tractor probably cost over $200. *nauseous*
To make that tractor better, I'd do hardware cloth and make the roof at an angle - I think that'd work really well! But it's still not exactly the most cost-effective design.
This year, we're building 2 new tractors - hoop houses! The frame is light 1x4s and 2x4s, and 2 cattle panels made of woven wire are bend to make the hoop. Then it's covered in poultry netting. Each one has cost under $100.
So far, I'm in love! Relatively cheap, attractive, durable, and I can walk right in without bending over! We're going to put a tarp over the top for shade/rain protection, and we'll attach a pull rope to the front so I can pull it around. *love* Only thing that would improve it would (once again) be hardware cloth insead of poultry netting.
For our first year of sugaring, we ended up with just under 1,000 taps, and our woods now look like something out of the Matrix:
It'd be almost creepy if it wasn't so delicious...
In other news, the chickens are pretty pissed about the snow. After such a strangely un-white winter, we got about a foot of snow last week, and the ladies have been refusing to venture outside since. Remember when you were a kid and you pretended something on the ground was hot lava, so you and your friends couldn't step on it or YOU WOULD DIE *arms flailing*?! That is how chickens feel about snow:
Thankfully, part of their run has a roof over it and can protect them from a molten fiery death.
I don't have anything to say about this picture, except that I love the weathervane on our barn:
Jen & Dave Paul, owners & operators of Old Post Farm