Currently all of our ladies are housed in a beautiful chicken tractor built by my husband and painted my favorite color:
This chicken tractor is a vast improvement over our first coop. Eight years ago our first batch of hens lived in a non-movable coop and run, that quickly became a no-grow zone. Lot’s of mulch was required in order to adequately cover the poopy fly haven and associated stink. We quickly felt bad and let the girls out which meant poop all over the porch – and everything else. It did mean that they were truly “cage free” and grazed on a variety of yummy stuff. Due to this their eggs were excellent and they rarely needed additional feed. It also meant they were quickly eaten (neighbor dog, and maybe a racoon?). When we moved to our new home my husband made our first tractor – good design but very heavy and hard to move.. once again the chickens were let out to poop all over – who wants to eat eggs from chickens standing in poo all day.
Based on all of our experience, this past summer he designed and crafted our best chicken house yet. This tractor is “almost” perfect. The doors shut and latch; thus the chickens and their feed are completely protected from predators. The eggs are easy to access from the back hatch, it is lightweight, easy to move, and aesthetic. The interior has two roost bars that the chickens sleep on; underneath this is an old drawer. We remove this for easy cleaning as the majority of the poop ends up in this drawer. I love everything about this new coop except one thing has become clear and Paul Wheaton says it best at Permies.com
“The moment you put an animal in a cage or behind a fence, you are taking responsibility for the welfare of that animal.” (Paul Wheaton’s Chicken Article)
The problem with a tractor is that I need to move the thing – at the very least daily. In addition their “pasture” is small and thus they exist mostly on feed. And because I delay and do not move the tractor as often as I should, the run becomes a poopy fly mecca. After moving them I often rake the poop from the ground to place in an area that I really want the poop, but cannot get the tractor into.
What to do.
After reading through Paul Wheaton’s post at Permies.com (which I highly recommend – Paul Wheaton’s Chicken Article) I had a duh moment that I should have had some time ago (perhaps after I read Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin!?). I need to rig up a movable pasture that will travel with the tractor. Something easy, lightweight, not too expensive, and durable (cheap throw away stuff defeats the whole concept of permaculture).
Am currently thinking along the lines of heavy duty hardware wire with stakes somehow rigged every few feet. Perhaps I could thread rebar through and use this for staking and to support the fencing? Thinking of ideas…