As I became a hen fancier, I discovered that most of my favorite breeds had certain qualities in common. Calm, personable, even temperament certainly, but more specifically I came to discover that I prefer hens that are fluffy and British. The sort of chickens that are reminiscent of Dame Judi Dench in Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown or Julie Walters as Molly Weasley.
With six girls, whom hatchery catalogs and poultry books dub “heavy,” Fowlsom Prison has proven potentially inadequate. The yard will be enough, but the coop and roost spaces are limited. When we built Fowlsom Prison there were no Orpingtons to speak of yet; they weren’t even being considered. Then came the now infamous egg discussion, followed by the chicken calculus discussed in previous installments. The Fella and I weighed the options and decided that we need to build new accommodations for the ladies.
Deciding to build a new chicken shelter was the easy choice. The choices that followed were a bit more complicated and difficult. We had several criteria that we wanted to follow.
First: It has to be mobile. We decided that we want to bring our chickens into our yard. Currently our yard is a dirt patch, but it is our intention to put in new grass this fall and pasture our chickens. However, we don’t want this grass to die, so being able to move the chickens around to allow the grass to recover is paramount.
Second: It has to be self contained, with both shelter and a yard of sorts. It has to have a big enough enough foot print that it can accommodate six fluffy British hens. The other kind of chicken math indicates that I’m only going to be happy with about 60 square feet. I also want it to be big enough to fit me, because I miss going and sitting with my girls and interacting with them.
Third: Structurally speaking, it has to provide shelter from heat; cold isn’t so much of an issue for us here. Torrential rain is also an issue. Great ventilation is a must. It must contain enough roost space for the girls, ample nesting boxes, and feeding stations that are all sheltered from the aforementioned torrential rain.
Fourth: It has to be attractive. I’m a stickler for aesthetics. Neighbors are less freaked out by the presence of barnyard animals if they are kept in cute little coops and hutches. And importantly, pretty things make me happy. I like my stuff to be pretty and I will go the extra mile to make sure of it because I want to be filled with joy every time I go outside.
After much deliberation, the Fella and I decided to go with the “Stress-Free Chicken Tractor” developed by John Suscovich; we call it the JSCT for short. We decided that the JSCT was a great candidate because it is met the first and second criteria right out of the gate. It left something to be desired in the third and fourth areas.
It is my understanding that because it was intended for meat poultry, the JSCT is not an all weather, all season chicken shelter; in one of his videos John talks about putting them away for winter. It also lacks the roost and nesting boxes the hens require because it’s made for Cornish Cross meat birds. We are going to alter the plan to accommodate a T1-11 siding skirt and a poly-carbonate roof on the back four feet of the tractor (I refer to the area with the door as the front.) We are constructing the feeder from rain gutter sections attached to the frame, including a roost made from a closet rod, and re-purposing Tidy Cat Litter buckets (of which we have many) for the nesting boxes. The Fella is using his new Kreg Jig Pocket Hole Master System to build the Eggmobile a swanky door.
The swanky door will be the first step in classing up the Eggmobile. Rather than using treated lumber, I’m giving the whole thing a few coats of exterior paint. We are also adding a few pieces of non functional, purely pretty trim to the skirting.
I’m admittedly a little nervous about the project, which leads me to one of the other reason we decided to go with a variation on the JSCT; the resources are endless. This is one of the most popular chicken tractor plans on the market and so many people of built and tweaked them to suit their needs. John Suscovich even encourages this sort of “hacking” culture. Hopefully the Fella and I won’t kill one another on this undertaking, because it is one of the most complex endeavors we’ve undertaken. We’ll see what happens, because everything is getting delivered Tuesday. It’s almost go time.