Going Mobile at the Small End of the Scale
Even “flocksters” with only a very few hens are “going mobile” with their birds along with the bigger players in the pastured poultry movement. Such flock owners find that even extremely small pasture shelters are adequate to their needs, that they are easiest of all to move, and that, if well-designed, they resist predation.
Tina Essert in North Carolina fashioned a tiny shelter which is adequate for two or three full-sized hens. In the ever-present trade-off between mobility and stability in the wind, Tina has adopted a minimalist design with little cover to shade the interior from sun and rain (though as a result it offers little “sail” to catch the wind). She has deployed three such units. Tina prefers multiple units that are easy to move, to a larger, less mobile unit that would house the number of hens needed to supply her family.
Tina reports: “We made a box with 2x3s, covered them with chicken wire, put a platform in the back about 2 feet wide, and put a Rubbermaid box screwed onto the platform for a nest box. Generally, our chickens roost on the roof of the nest box and we haven’t provided roosts for them. The wire provides enough airflow and the frame enough weight to anchor them, we’ve never had one budge in the wind.” Tina’s hens shelter under a small hinged plywood access lid if the weather is unusually hot or rainy, even taking shelter in the nest box if the weather is severe. However, they seem to have no problem getting a bit wet, so long is the weather is warm. She believes her simple design would be ideal for suburban homeowners who want to keep just enough hens to ensure a small supply of eggs for the family.
She has never had a loss to predation from her “chicken tractors”, but speculates that she would add a 2×4 welded wire floor if needed, to protect from digging predators while still allowing the birds access to the grass. She would use .½-inch “hardware cloth” (welded wire mesh) in lieu of poultry wire to block the paws of raccoons if they were a problem in her area.
Deborah and John
Materials on hand and a bit of whimsy may be all that are needed for a shelter that houses the flock and serves as a conversation piece in the neighborhood. Jon Kinnard made a delightful “mobile home” for the flock of half a dozen Cuckoo Marans that supply him and Deborah Moore (and some of their Hume, Virginia neighbors) with matchless pastured eggs. The project used scrap plywood; wheels, pneumatic tires, and axle from a defunct tractor; and scrap window sash and metal roofing. The shelter is entirely self-contained, including storage space for feed, grit, and equipment.
Cody Leeser of Orlean, Virginia designed an ingenious pasture shelter which “docks” with a portable pasture pen. Each is moved independently, but they fit together to exclude predators.
Most of the materials for the project were available scrap or found objects. For example, the 2-.½ x 3-.½ shelter rides atop a landscaper”s wagon which had been on Cody’s place since she moved in. The metal roofing was rescued from the county dump.
The pasture pen itself is 8×8 ft, and 4 ft high, wood framing with poultry wire (including over the top). The frame includes both a door for a person, and a narrow opening to which the shelter itself docks when moved into place. The pen has two small wheels permanently mounted on the rear of the bottom frame, to move it (which she does daily), Cody simply lifts the frame from the other end and pushes. She makes the move in the morning, when her four laying hens are still shut up in the shelter. After moving the pen, she moves the shelter, easy to pull or push on its wagon chassis, docks it with a narrow opening in the pen’s framing, and lowers a plank “drawbridge” type ramp. It’s that ramp which is the key to defeating predators, when closed up at night, the shelter is impervious to attack.