Tag Archives: chicken tractor

Unexpected Chicks! Part Two: The Bad and the Ugly

At the end of my last post, I had seven adult chickens in my chicken tractor, and nine new chicks in a temporary brooder.  The brooder is literally just a storage container with a heat lamp hovering above it in my garage – because 1) I’m busy and 2) I’m cheap.  Cheep cheep.

I’ve been planning for some time now to build a glorious permanent coop and spacious chicken run that is split into four quadrants.  I’ll rotate the chickens through each of the run quadrants, so that they’ll eat everything in sight in one section, then move through the others while vegetation grows back.  At the same time, my plan is to allow one quadrant to double as my garden (or a portion of it) because the chickens will fertilize it and because I plant to cover it with netting to keep birds out of the run anyways.  The garden would move through each quadrant as well, so the the chickens could eat the old plants and scratch at the dirt, basically tilling the soil, composting and fertilizing it for me.

But that’s the future plan.  Immediately, I had nine chicks crawling on top of each other with nowhere to go.  To make matters worse, I was out of town here and there, so I was constantly just figuring out what to do with them immediately, rather than long term.

They were ok for a while.  Early on, they need to stay warm anyways, so they would be fairly cuddled up even when they didn’t have to be due to space.  It didn’t take long for them to simply have nowhere to go, though.  And a couple of them figured out how to get out of the brooder (which had some chicken wire laid on top to give the false sense of a ceiling), so I’d sometime find a chick on the outside looking in.  They’re extremely territorial, so even when they escaped, they really just wanted to get back in, which was prevented because of the chicken wire.

My first bright idea was to put them back in the chicken tractor with the adult chickens, since they were a little older and I thought they might be able to fend for themselves.  Not a good idea.

I came back in the evening and two of them were gone.  I assume they ventured too far away from the flock (or technically, the clutch of chicks) and were a predator’s dinner.  But even worse, two of the chicks had been shown who was boss in the chicken tractor…

bald-chick

Yes – you’re looking at that right.  One (or more) of the other chickens took the skin right off of it’s head.  I’d like to think they were just getting a jump on preparing a boneless, skinless chicken breast, but the reality is that they were simply laying down the law.  I found that one balled up in a corner under the ‘stairs’ up to the coop, terrified.  The pecking order is real, folks.

I felt terrible, and wondered if the little guy (or girl – I can’t tell) would make it through the night.  Luckily, it did!  By the next day, its head was fairly scabbed up and healing well.  I frantically searched for another broody box so I could separate the two wounded birds so that they didn’t get sick, then infect the other healthy chicks.

chick-segregation

I found a shelf that I had taken down from the garage, threw some newspaper down, and laid the shelf on the ground.  It gave them probably ten times the space, but they were just chirping at each other, hoping to be reunited.

As they grew, I knew that my temporary pen was still…  temporary…  I kept putting off the eventual permanent coop, and trying to figure out what to do in the immediate timeframe.  I even tried to let them outside again – not necessarily into the chicken tractor with the others, but just outside to roam free.  Unfortunately, the same scalping occurred, and I knew i couldn’t do that again.  But, man, were they stinking up my garage.

disgusting-chicks

I ended up building a step between the brooder and the chicken tractor, which was pretty much just a fenced in run without a coop.  It was a simple frame with chicken where stapled around it, with a piece of wood laid across the top to give them a little shelter.

temp-run

Apparently, I didn’t staple the chicken wire enough, though…  After the first night in their new outdoor home, I found remains of two of them where a predator had pulled them through the spaces between the wire and wood.  Well – one of them had been mostly dragged through the spaces, while the other laid decapitated in the corner.  That’ll teach me to think “close enough.”

I stapled every inch of the chicken wire to the wooden frame, and assumed all was well for the remaining five chicks.

The next morning, however, I came back out to the same sight – the only variation being that two had been pretty much eaten through the chicken wire.  Whatever had done it (I think a raccoon or a possum, because of opposable thumbs.  I’m betting on raccoon.) had grabbed them in the corner and probably munched one what they could, even with the wire separating them.

If I were a chick in this redneck run, I’d be terrified to close my eyes.

I assumed the reason the predator got the chicks is because the chicks gather in the corners of the frame, so it had to be easy for them to reach in their hand for their dinner.  The other chicks would have basically blocked in the victim – and chickens are surprisingly calm at night.  I’ve had very skittish birds allow me grab them with no trouble after the sun went down.

So – I stapled feed bags all around half of the frame, so that the chicks could gather in a safe, covered portion.  No way anything would happen now!

temp-run-closed

Wrong.  The predator returned and literally peeled back the corner of a feedbag as if it were tupperware, keeping his leftovers fresh from the evening before.

temp-run-escape

I was down to two chicks.  I then thought I was losing them because chickens generally roost at night to avoid predators, and I had no roost.  I figured I could add a roost so that they would stay away from the corners, and the predator wouldn’t be able to reach them.

temp-run-roost

Nope.  The next morning I was down to one chick.  For some reason, the newly deceased chick was drawn to the edge of the frame instead of the safe metal pipe in the middle of their covered shelter.

I decided I need to completely rethink my temporary run.  And for the time being, because the other chickens had been around the chicks for the last few days and had gotten used to them, I figured it was time to put the last remaining chick in the chicken tractor.

This worked.  It was obvious that he was an outcast, but there were no blood-drawing fights. Anytime I went out to check on them, the others were out and about, enjoying the cage-free, free-range, non-GMO bugs that were available to them.  The chick, however, would be pacing inside the coop, wondering when the monster’s claws would find  him.

A few days into him integrating into the coop, I thought I would help nudge him outside to enjoy the benefits that the others already knew.

That was the last I saw him.

But hey – I’ve got a couple chicks going broody again!

day-in-the-life

A Day in the Life of a Hen

Sorry for the silence!  I’ve been busy with Christmas and lots of activities – most of which have been very on grid.  So, I figured I’d just post these notes (along with some pictures for context) that I found scratched inside of my chicken coop:


Day 149

I don’t like our new house.  You can barely even call it that – it’s bwaksicly a couple of boards that don’t do a very good job of stopping the wind.  My boyfriend, Roo, says he’ll keep me warm when it gets cold outside, but he says the same thing to Henrietta.  Heck, he said the same thing to that other chick that magically turned into a pile of feathers last week, and he didn’t seem too concerned for her.  He scratched at the ground near her feathers for a little while, and I thought it was some sort of memorial service for her – but it turns out he was just digging up a stubborn bug.  Kind of makes me wonder if he’d miss me if I turned into a pile of feathers?  Oh well – he says he’ll protect me, and why should I doubt him?

Farmer covered the sky up with something ugly.  I can’t see the big glowing thing that Roo always crows at anymore, but it must still be there because he continues to crow.  All.  The.  Time.  To be honest, he’s kind of annoying, and it seems like he’s trying to flirt to the other hens that showed up last week and took over our old house.  But – I don’t have many other options here…

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 153

Stupid farmer woke us up last night, throwing food at us like animals.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like the food.  But why not give it to us before we’ve perched for the night?  A strange white and gray cat that was in our playground and he ran around after it like an idiot.  It ran under the fence, and he hit it with a broken tree.  The white/gray cat ran off, and then Farmer made lots of noise putting stuff around the edges of the fence.  I don’t know if that will keep the white cat out, but I think it just made him feel useful.  I don’t think he has any purpose besides giving us food, so I’ll try to patient with him.  I didn’t sleep very well after that.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 155

Haven’t seen Farmer in a couple of days.  Roo’s been planning on “breaking out of this prison,” and has been urging Henrietta and me to come along.  I don’t think it’s so bad here, but I guess I’ll follow him.  It’s not so easy, though, since Farmer and those other giants clipped our feathers.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 157

Well, we broke out of our ‘prison’ yesterday.  Roo ended up just circling around our old house the whole time we were out, flirting with the hens and pecking at the other guys.  It was a fairly depressing day, because I already felt like old news.  We perched on top of the old house, and at some point in the night I remember Farmer picking me up and throwing me back in the new house.  I woke up on my old (new) perch, barely remembering how I got there.  

Roo convinced us both to break out again this morning…  It didn’t take Farmer long to find us because we were circling around the old house again.  He ran after all of us for quite a while, until someone put up a magical wall, and we were cornered.  Whatever – it’s not that bad here.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

It's just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.

It’s just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.


Day 160

Roo is obsessed with getting out of our new house.  Every day we get out, and every day Farmer puts us back in with his magic wall.  The thing over the sky keeps falling into our playground, and Farmer keeps hammering it into the fence posts.  I guess guys just like to do the same thing over and over.  (Assuming Farmer is a male)

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 165

I guess Roo finally took it too far with ‘breaking out’ every day…  Yesterday, he decided it would be funny to poop on Farmer’s big red machine.  I told him he shouldn’t, and he kept saying “don’t call me a chicken.”  I didn’t know what he meant – of course he’s a chicken.

Anyhow, Farmer has separated us.  He put Henrietta and me back into the old house when it was dark outside, but left Roo in the new house.  We didn’t find out until the next morning, when Roo started his maniacal crowing at the glowing thing in the sky (which I can see again!).  I already miss him – kind of – but there are two guys in the old house that are kind of cute.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

red-truck-poop

Most people only have to deal with normal bird poop.


Day 167

Ugh – I hate it here!  Everybody here is a bully, even though Henrietta and I are older than all of them.  They call us names, peck at us, and chase us around the old playground.  And there’s not a lot of room to get away.  Henrietta and I usually just go inside the house while the others are outside, and then when they come inside we go outside.  It’s a lot easier to eat and drink without beaks constantly poking you.  When we are together, we usually just hide under the feeder.  Even the guys are being jerks.  At least when the other girls are around.  When I’m alone with one of them, they make me feel special.  But I hear them say the same things to all the girls.  And, bwaukbagok…  Roo is just crowing his head off.  Even more than usual.

There’s one little hen with really ugly hair that we’ve been bullying, just to show them that we’re not pushovers.  Yeah – I said hair.  It’s so strange – she doesn’t have many feathers.  She must be from out east.  Weirdo.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

hairy-chicken


Day 172

Roo stopped crowing today…  It was weird.  I heard him all morning, and then Farmer and a bunch of other giants went into the new house where Roo was.  Some of the giants were miniature, but they were definitely still giants.  They had all these shiny things with them and gathered around Roo for a while.  A little later, they walked back to Farmer’s house with what looked like Roo – but he was completely naked so I looked away out of respect.  I should have looked, though, because Roo didn’t crow when the glowing thing fell out of the sky, and now I’m wondering if he’s still there or not.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

williams

Some of my fellow giants. (Lane and Tomi were there, too)


Day 180

I haven’t heard from Roo, and I wonder where he went, but I don’t care much anymore…  I think Henrietta and I are finding our place.  These two guys are super sweet to me (like they are to all of us), and they don’t crow nearly as much.  I guess I do have options after all.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

roo-dinner

Where Roo went.

coop-detat

Coop d’etat: How to Build a Chicken Tractor. Sort of.

My chicks were starting to not be chick-ish anymore, and were long overdue for a home renovation. And I know all about home renovations.

wood

I have a good amount of scrap wood leftover from our house, but not a lot of good clean 2×4’s (or studs, as those of us in the know call them; my constant joke when trying to find a stud is to simply say “I’m right here.” Always a crowd pleaser, amiright?), so I picked up a handful from Lowe’s. I also picked up some 2×3’s because I thought it would be more efficient to make the run out of those to keep it light. Looking back, I should have gotten only one or the other – not both.

Getting Started

I kind of drew up a plan – to the point that I could figure out about how many studs I would need.  I didn’t follow that plan very long, because of the following reasons:

  • I was not building a house, so I didn’t need to have studs every 16 inches
  • My plan was not very good, and I left out just about everything I actually needed

One thing I thought I knew for sure is that I needed 4 square feet per chicken in the coop, and 8 square feet per chicken in the run.  (My brother informed me that I actually needed 10 sq ft in the run, but I was close!)  I decided to go a little tight on those numbers, though, because I want to build a stationary coop and run big enough for 20 or more feathered friends – so this is simply another step along the way.  The main reason for keeping it tight is because since I was building a chicken tractor – meaning I would move it around as they eat everything in the patch of grass it contained – I didn’t want it to be huge and hard to move.  It’s still pretty huge and hard to move even at its current measurements.

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Probably not the right way to add a roof – but again, these are chickens, people.  I decided on a run at 8’x4′, and a coop that would sit on top of half that – that way I could keep it fairly compact while not sacrificing the space on the ground.  You might or might not be able to see the differences in the 2×4’s and 2×3’s, but I started getting nervous when I got to joints that were made with the two types of wood.  It ended up being fine, but I had to finagle them a bit.

Hopefully you won’t see from the pictures that it’s definitely not squared up.  Almost none of the angles.  But I blame it on working on an uneven surface.  And also on the fact of never checking to make sure my angles were square.  Lesson learned.

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There’s a better picture of the ramp, which is braced by a couple 2×4’s nailed into the coop floor and the corner board.  It’s mostly made from scrap, but they don’t seem to mind.

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I pretty quickly realized that even though I planned on having nesting boxes that were accessible from the outside, I hadn’t planned on it.  I had to add the braces because they were sagging pretty badly – and I figured that adding the weight of birds and eggs and bedding would not somehow lighten the load.  I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, though, after calling my brother a couple times and doing some research on the interwebs.

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Some of the “finishing touches.”  Kind of looks like a fort – like the ones that my brothers and I used to build in my parents’ basement when we would launch empty plastic bottles at each other.  If I had this fort, I would’ve been unstoppable.  Which is not to say I wasn’t unstoppable without it.  (Ok, I was not unstoppable.)

IMG_0634

It’s really ugly and probably dangerous, but I have a lot of metal flashing leftover, and wanted to make sure my nesting boxes were super weatherproof.  Just don’t touch the edges.  Or if you do, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.  It took a long time, because most of these pieces were cut off after they were formed together, so I had to pretty much unform the edges to form them again.  And because I’d never done this before.

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I added some 6 inch lawnmower wheels to be able to move it around.  However (spoiler alert), I ended up replacing them with 7 inchers, because the smaller ones weren’t easy to work with on uneven ground.  The larger ones lifted everything off the ground just enough to keep me moving, but not enough to worry about leaving enough space to let them shimmy out.

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Here ’tis with all the chicken wire on the run – which was a very tedious and laborious process.  I had to cut each individual wire, and then staple almost every individual wire.  If someone knows of a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments – because I feel like the way I did it can’t be the most efficient way.  This is also a peek at the new waterer and feeder, because…

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I just couldn’t let my birds sit in a cramped box when I basically had a finished run for them.  I screwed a piece of wood over the coop entrance and put them inside.  After a time of obvious confusion (they had only ever seen a roof above them and sand/paper towel below them – never the sky nor grass), they were super excited to run around.  As were my cats.

I was nervous that the cats would get aggressive with them (one of my cats, while pregnant, chased down a squirrel and ate it), but they seemed to simply be curious.  I kept my eyes on them for a while, but they apparently like to watch the fowls just as much as I do.

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Almost done!  Added a door, walls, and a roof.  I also added a few more 2×4’s to brace those things (but did it after I had much of the plywood on, so they’re not included in the ‘skeleton’ pictures.  I sealed up the roof pretty well with caulk (the contractor’s version of duct tape), but later added some roofing paper to make sure and keep the leaks out.

IMG_0664

There’s another thing I forgot – roosts!  It’s a chicken’s natural instinct to sleep off the ground to keep away form predators, so this was another thing that I was planning on, but didn’t include in my plans.  I ended up adding some more 2×4 braces – which is much more difficult when all of the walls are on.  Then I just cut some 45° angles on some roost-ish wood I had and drove some awkward nails.

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I added some bedding, and voila!  One by one, they started figuring out that their home had doubled in size.  The first to find it (a rooster, I think) wanted to see just how high he could get.  Luckily, as soon as he got to the highest point of the coop, he pooped.  Thanks for the commentary on the craftsmanship, big guy.

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I also added some chains to the waterer and feeder so that I wouldn’t have to take them out to move the tractor, and also to try to get them to stop pooping in both.  Because they do that constantly.  That can’t be healthy.

Funny story about the bedding: I went to Tractor Supply for the waterer and feeder, and told the checkout guy that I wanted to buy some pine shavings (which were outside the entrance).  He asked me if I wanted flake or fine shavings, and I just randomly said fine.  A guy who walked in, but had paused to watch me check out (creepy…) said “You want the flake.”

I simply said “Oh?” with a surprised look on my face.  “For chickens?”

“Yes,” he said.  “The fine stuff will fall out of every crack in your coop, and you’ll have to add more all the time.  The flakes will last longer.  I noticed your feeder, so I figured I’d help you out.  This is my third year.”

Ah – not so creepy now.  I said thanks and told the checkout guy “Flakes, please.”  I definitely see how flakes are better now – especially because I’m still losing a lot of it through the hole by the ramp.  I think I’m going to build a small ‘fence’ around it so that it won’t fall out so easily.

Now that I’m a farmer I feel like I’m in a club.  A club where, when I’m at Tractor Supply, random people – who are passionate about some of the same stuff – will gladly look awkward for a moment to help a brother out.  Same for bee keepers…  Every single one that I’ve talked to has been super excited to help out and show me anything I want to know.  Reminds me of a simpler time, growing up in Cairo, Ky, when everybody considered you to be a neighbor even if you were a 20 minute bike ride away.  Hopefully, I’ll have some awkward wisdom to give to someone at Tractor Supply before too long.

Here’s a mini tour of the Coop d’etat: