I am so happy to share this guest post written by Kevin Meyer from The Adventure Bite where he and his wife Dani share life from their backyard homestead where they raise rabbits, ducks and chickens. I've seen dozens of chicken tractors over the years but this is one of the best designs I've seen, plus it's super cute (which is always important!) and Kevin's step-by-step instructions make this an easy weekend project.
Guest Blogger: The Adventure Bite Shares How to Build a Chicken Tractor
Kevin from The Adventure Bite:
After spending a few minutes browsing the internet for ideas on how to house your backyard birds, you'll probably find that there are an unlimited number of options. Our backyard homestead is just half an acre, and we are very mindful of the fact that it would be easy to mismanage the space to the point of destroying our little ecosystem. So we had a few important features we wanted to build into our chicken/duck tractors:
1) We didn't want a permanent location for our birds. The area inside the pen would become a muddy, poop covered space, and we would constantly have to muck it out, not to mention the smell!
2) I had built a few rabbit tractors the year before, and although we loved the design of those pens for other reasons, they were really too heavy for Dani to easily move every few days, so since she is the primary care-taker during the week, we needed our bird tractors to be light.
3) If we had unlimited resources, we would probably have a full blown farm. Since we have a pretty tight budget, we needed the material expense to be reasonable, and we didn't want to have to go out and buy any special tools to build it either. In addition, the pen needed to last a long time.
4) Finally, we are always having people over for barbeques and other outside activities, so we didn't need any eyesores littering our tiny space.
The design we came up with fits all these specifications, and the first one we built has been serving us perfectly for almost two years now! Let me show you how easy they are to build.
Step one, build the base. All of our materials are standard sizes you can easily find at a Home Depot, or even better, a local hardware store. Since our little town couldn't support both, we had to source all of our supplies at The Home Depot. Fortunately they do have everything you'll need.
These are 2 x 3's. They are a bit less expensive than 2 x 4's and once they are properly protected with a solid coat of paint, are quite durable. Our pens are rectangular in shape. The front and back are cut down to six feet. The sides are eight feet long.
I like to work with a cordless drill and wood screws, so that's what everything is connected with.
Building the bulk of the pen out of wood, would have meant more long term maintenance, and as I had learned with the rabbit tractors, it would have weighed a lot more too. So we decided to use PVC arches instead. We were inspired by the PVC row covers we had been using for several years already.
We eliminated the need for clamps and other extra hardware for attaching the arches by drilling holes into the wooden base that we could simply insert the ends of the pipe into. Remember to cut the bell end off if you happen to use PVC with male and female ends.
I used schedule 40 electrical conduit because it was less expensive than the water line schedule 40. You will only need three ten foot pieces; an arch on both ends and one in the middle of the base frame. The holes were drilled with a paddle drill bit.
There is one very important reason why the arches aren't closer to the ends of the frame. Do you see how deep my wood screws penetrate the joint?
Put a screw right through the base of the PVC arch to secure it to the wooden frame. You will probably find it difficult to simply drive a screw though PVC. I pre-drill every screw attachment anyway, but it will be especially important where ever you are attaching the PVC to the wooden frame.
Chicken wire is too flimsy to hang over the arches, so we used welded wire instead. The welded wire we have access to is 4 feet wide. If you are careful to line everything up so that the wire begins an inch or so inside the length of the wooden frame end to end, you will be able to cover the whole pen with two lengths. They overlap just a little bit in the center so that you can stitch the two pieces together to form an impenetrable pen.
I couldn't get my camera to focus on the wire all that well, but we stitched the two pieces together using scraps of the same welded wire. The bottom of the wire is attached to the wooden frame using little U-nails. We then used medium weight, nylon zip ties to secure the wire to the PVC arches. The wire does not follow the arch of the PVC exactly near the base, so I could only use the zip ties up higher. I secured the wire to each arch in three places; one at the top, and one a few feet down on either side.
The back wire panel was secured to the wood base in the same way. Secure the base of the panel first before cutting it to fit the arch. Make sure to leave enough wire to be able to twist the panel together with the arched wire at the top and sides.
Next I installed the door frame. I used 1 x 1 sticks of wood for this. They can be found in eight foot lengths at The Home Depot of course. My door frame is two feet wide. This is plenty wide to fit a kiddie pool into the pen turned diagonally, or even for me to pass through on the occasional errand.
That's me posing for a picture and demonstrating how easy it is to square up the sides of the frame. The braces are two feet long. Attach the brace to the door frame first so you can make any minor adjustment before securing it to the base frame.
The top of the door frame is cut at a diagonal to fit snugly under the wire arch. I then cut a block of wood off the end of a 1 x 1 scrap to fill the gap between the PVC and the squared off position of the door frame. One screw through the PVC and one through the front of the door frame is all that's needed to make a very solid structure.
This kind of work doesn't require blue prints. Your arch will probably sit a little different than mine did, but cutting your door to size is simple if you use the wire as a stencil. I know my door will fit top to bottom because I have the bottom of the door resting in place on top of a couple of thicker paint stir sticks to ensure a little bit of wiggle room.
A jigsaw is about as specialized a tool as you're going to need for the whole project. You will need it to cut your door out. This is a scrap of 'be inch plywood. This is one of my favorite innovations. By using a thicker piece of plywood, I didn't have to build a frame to stretch wire across. A frame would have been a pain to square up, and over time, would have probably shifted a little, making the whole door stick inside the doorway awkwardly. The only thing to keep in mind is that plywood will expand and contract based on its moisture content. One good rain could ruin this design if it isn't painted right away. I put 3 coats of paint on it, and focused especially on the exposed cut ends. Since this door was put into service, Georgia has had the wettest summer in 20 years. I'm happy to say that the door fits as well today as it did when I installed it!
Yes, this door is a nod to the best spicy chicken sandwich ever, and why not? Truett Cathy's ranch is just 20 minutes down the road from us. The door I made for the first pen was cut out much more like a screen door so that there was as little plywood as possible to weight the front of the pen down. This one is a bit heavier, but I think the end result was worth it.
Our first pen is just the welded wire. That works great because all we are trying to do with it is keep adult ducks in at night. We put our young meat chickens in that pen for one day earlier this year, and we found four of them stuck through the wire with their heads shredded by some predator. Since this pen is specifically for our meat chickens, I wired a two foot tall stretch of chicken wire around the outside base of the welded wire. The end result looks spectacular, but it was the most tedious step in the whole project. The good news is that I won't have to do it again any time soon!
Using more zip ties, we stretched an 8 x 10, medium weight tarp over the back half of the pen, covered wagon style. It gives the birds a place to retreat in the monsoon like rain and unforgiving heat we have here. It works great. We stick their food bowl back underneath it, and it's never wet after the frequent storms that roll through.
The whole project took just a little more than a weekend to complete. If someone wanted to, it would be simple to add a set of training wheels to the back side to make the pen easier to move around, but I have found that both Dani and I can easily pick it up from either end and drag it to a new location. We hardly break a sweat, and the pen has held up perfectly in spite of the extra abuse dragging it across the ground causes. It is so light that with the duck pen, I have gotten into the habit of simply lifting up the back side to move the food dish in and out and to grab the eggs every morning. Some of our good friends, Kelsey and Ale, took our basic plan and made some modifications to it including adding some wheels:
And a great little nesting box for their girls!
If you're looking for a simple, well built, light, and portable pen for your backyard flock, build one of these. I'm confident you will be as happy as we are with its performance!
Materials List & Price Breakdown:4 2 x 3 x 8 foot studs - 4 @ $2.16 = $8.64
3 3/4 x 10 foot pieces Schedule 40 Electrical Conduit 3 @ $1.88 = $5.64
1 Roll 14 Gauge Welded Wire $37.47
1 Small Roll Hardware Cloth $9.77
1 Roll Poultry Netting (For Small Birds) $18.97
1 Box U Nails $3.46
2 Tee-Hinges 2 @ $3.67 = $7.34
1 Pack #75 lb Zip Ties $4.97
1 Barrel Bolt $2.97
3/4 x 2 ft x 4 ft Pine Plywood Panel We already had some leftover plywood. $15.97 New.
Box of assorted wood screws $8-10
Total Cost To Build- $125.20
1 Gallon BEHR Premium Plus Ultra Semi Gloss Enamel Exterior Paint- $39.98
Total Cost To Build And Paint: $165.18
I am so happy to share this guest post with you all and hope you'll head over to tell Kevin and Dani how much you enjoyed it!Kevin and Dani Meyer write at The Adventure Bite where they share recipes and stories from their backyard homestead. They keep themselves busy caring for their two little boys, 5 Welsh Harlequin ducks, lots of meat rabbits, and the occasional batch of meat chickens. They have a passion for cooking delicious food on a budget and brewing tasty homebrew.
BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST BETTER WITH CHICKENS!
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