This project and the calf pens took up most of my time in April. After three summers worth of use the old economy mobile chicken run was coming apart. It was constructed as cheaply as possible just to see if we would use it that much. Having passed the test for use it was time for an upgrade.
This is the simple frame I started with for the new chicken tractor. I used wood that I had sitting around for years. Here’s a fact not everyone knows about: Walnut is extremely rot resistant even when in contact with the ground. So this was what the frame on the ground is made of. For most people pressure treated two by fours would be much cheaper. The rest consists of pine, fir, and aspen. Even the sheet of plywood, metal roofing, and wheels had been around for several years not getting used. I estimated the cost of this to be about $150, if we had to buy everything.
Frame size is 3.5 feet wide, 8 feet long by 3.5 feet tall at the peak of the roof. The center rails are 10 feet long and extend out from the run to form the handle. With the wheels at the other end it operates like a wheel barrow. The feeding box is made of walnut and is directly under the nesting boxes. The access door to this is large and can be used for chicken entry or removal. We place water in a 18 inch by 4 inch deep pan that sits on the ground. With the water unattached it doesn’t add weight to the trailer and will not slosh into the food and spoil it. I made the food trough large so if we leave for a weekend they will have plenty till we get back.
Four nesting boxes and a hallway gives them twice as much room to nest in and hopefully will reduce the chance of egg eating. The hole at the end of the hall is a clean out access, and it’s just wide enough to get a hoe in to shove hay and whatever out.
If you like the round holes this simple jig that you can make for any router is the way to get perfect circles every time. The circle size is determined by where the nail is placed on the jig. This distance from the nail to the straight bit in the router is the radius of the circle. With a hole of the same size as the nail drilled into the wood you are cutting, the nail is fitted into it through the jig and becomes the pivot point for the whole router.
Perfect circles every time. There is the one small drill hole at the center but that doesn’t matter. So, why all of the round holes for access to the nesting boxes and clean out port? The reason for this is two fold. With only one screw in the top edge of one of your circles you can have a door to your nesting boxe that closes itself, and doesn’t need hinges. Auto closing doors is a big thing when you have little kids gathering eggs. Having used hinges and latches before, I have noticed that screws get loose and latches stop working so well. Circles are functional and add an interesting design element.
The arched gables were a little harder to do than the circles and involved a pencil on a string used like a giant compass. If you think of the arch as being cut off of a giant circle and use the string compass on a large table with the gable board laying on it you can eventually get it. I wanted the arch to not be any more than about fifty inches, so that my roof metal would still cover it and overlap at the center. I knew how wide the arch had to span, and had to make an educated guess and measurement to determine the height of the arch. With the jig saw and the sander I was able to get one that looked even and used it to trace out the next two.
In trying to keep it light, I used an old piece of poplar that was 3 inches thick for a roosting bar. I got a little fancy with this and hung the whole thing from chains on both ends. It turns out that chickens are not like parrots and really despise swinging perches. Every effort they made to keep their balance on it only made it swing harder, and if there were two, it made it even worse till they both fell off. When I quit laughing I added a stabilizer bar, and that seemed to fix it for them.
There is nothing fancy about the chicken wire attachment except that I attached the wire over the roof and down the front and then added the metal roofing. This insured there were no possible gap points between the two.
We liked the first chicken tractor so much I built another. This one was a little bigger and heavier but between the two we can house fifteen chickens comfortably.