We all know the traditional method of keeping backyard chickens. Build a coop with an enclosed run and fill it with birds. However there are many problems with this method of keeping chickens. The biggest one is cleanliness. In order to keep everything clean enough for the chickens, you have to use a lot of carbon bedding material (wood chips, straw, leaves, etc.) to keep everything from becoming a muck of chicken droppings and mud. Case in point, I had the chicks on one patch of grass for 4 days. I didn’t think they could do much damage to the grass. Yesterday, we completed the mobile run for the chicks, which I will show later, so I started dismantling their temporary run. As you can see in the picture below, they ate away most of the grass and excavated quite a large hole in the dirt.
In order to keep the living environment of the chickens clean in a static living situation requires a LOT of work. So, we’ve come to the conclusion that mobile chicken containment solutions are the way to go moving forward.
So to replace the temporary run for the chicks, we built a 5′ by 5′ PVC frame and wrapped it in half inch wire poultry netting on the sides, 2 inch wire poultry netting and a tarp on the lid.
The lid is held in place with 3 zip ties and can be easily propped up for access to the entire run.
We intentionally chose this method of construction so the run would be light and easily movable by one person. The downside of this is that the run is vunerable to being blown away with a strong wind because of the tarp used as a rain shelter. To weigh the run down, we tied wire across opposing corners and paving stones are laid across the wire.
Within the next week or so, this run will become too small for all 26 chicks. At that time, we will build a second run. However, because we need to move them from the brooding coop to the run by hand, we need access to the entire run to catch the chicks. In the future, I hope that the Buffs will be able to be contained by an electric poultry fence.
Because our laying hens have proven themselves to be excellent at jumping fences and they were causing problems while free ranging (pooping EVERYWHERE, raiding the neighbors bird feeder, eating the styrofoam insulation on the house) as well as being in danger of being gobbled by predators, we built a 10′ by 8′ PVC run for them. Why 8′ and not 10′? it simply boiled down to the width of wire we had on hand. We previously bought 4′ wide 2 inch wire mesh that we intended to use as an open top chicken fence. As that idea proved to be ineffective it was lying around, waiting to be used.
We built it with 1/4th of the top as a lid, so we can access their feed trays, water and the chickens themselves if necessary. We hung their water from the PVC frame to keep it clean and so we could put their run on a slope if needed. The plastic bucket you see in the center of the run is full of water to prevent the run from blowing away. When we initially cobbled the run together a VERY strong gust blew through the hollow and sent the run tumbling into a stream 50 yards from where it started.We haven’t had a similar gust since, but we hope this would help prevent such a occurrence from happening again.
Because the run needs to have some shelter , we added a 1′ upright bar to suspend the tarp over. Unintentionally, this design leaves part of the frame exposed and allows the hens to perch on it to get their feet out of the mud on rainy days. As you can tell, it is a popular hangout spot.
We initially were moving the hens between the stationary coop (now the brooding house) and the PVC run by luring them with food. However, the further away from the house we placed the run, the harder it was to lure the chickens into it. It became and exercise in frustration to move them twice daily. So we build a mobile chickshaw to attach to the run. We made a downsized version (5′ by 5′, instead of 6′ by 6′) of Justin Rhodes’ chickshaw. We made it so the coop door acts as a ramp into the PVC run. To keep the hens from escaping, we slide a piece of scrap siding under the ramp as there is a little gap between the ground and the bottom of the chickshaw.
To save money, we ordered 16″ wheels instead of the 26″ wheels recommended in the plans. It takes a little more muscling, but it still rolls well over uneven ground and is lower to the ground, making it easier to but up against the run. We also put the handles on the nest box side of the chickshaw instead of the door side. The reason we did this is because it would make butting the chickshaw up to the run impossible if the handle were on the other side. We also used a large dowel rod for the handle as suggested in the plans.
We did make one change to the plans for the dowel, because it takes more muscle to move the chickshaw around with the smaller wheels, we found the that dowel was slipping through the holes so we drilled holes in the dowels on the outside of the handle arms and put a spring catch pin through the hole.
Another thing that is nice about the removable dowel handle, is it can be used as a lid prop so you can work inside the chickshaw without having to worry about dropping it on your head.
Another nice feature of the chickshaw is the milk crate nest boxes. With the lid shut, the chickens can’t perch on top of them and poop all over them. Also note, that the bottom of the coop is made up of one 1′ hardware cloth and 2’x 2’s. This gives the chickens a place to perch at night while allowing their droppings to fall to the ground. No cleanup necessary!!!
The nest boxes are accessible from the back of the coop. We added a PVC pipe threaded through eye bolts to keep the boxes from being pushed out the back from the inside or pulled out by a predator.
After you move the PVC pipe, the nest boxes can be pulled out easily for access to the eggs
The chicks are now 3.5 weeks old and they are getting really big. Some of them are now showing definite signs of being roosters. It was a shame they couldn’t test out their new run on the fresh grass, but it was so cold and rainy today. So they stayed inside with their brooder heating plate to keep them warm and dry. It appears as though the 60-70 degree weather is not here to stay, but if we get another sunny day, but it is cold, I will move the heating plate out to the run with them so they get sunshine and grass, but are able to keep themselves warm.