The chickens had been growing, and the weather had been improving. The brooder in the milk house, once more than large enough, had become inadequate, as several of the chicks had managed to flutter out of it. Most of all, it had started smelling rank.
When we spent several days moving truckloads of wood that Ed had spent years squirreling away - 2x4s he'd taken from construction dumpsters, the remains of the trellis that had stood outside our childhood home, old barn beams - I wondered if it was worth the effort. I admit that a small part of me even felt like we were simply cluttering up the barns we were finally getting clean.
But the usefulness of random piles of wood was driven home when we decided to build a chicken tractor. There was no going to Home Depot, no making a materials list and then halting the project because we forgot something. Instead we could just grab an armload of wood and start building.
The difference between a chicken coop and a chicken tractor is that a chicken tractor has an open bottom. This allows the birds to scratch around for insects and clover and other things they love to eat, and since they have fresh ground every day, their manure doesn't build up, and they consequently have fewer parasite problems.
All of this is contingent on portability, and while the tractor turned out beautifully, we may have gotten a little carried away. The cedar shake looks great, as do the double doors on the front, the built in nesting boxes and the siding with a built in hatch to access the boxes. But the result is a structure that, while mobile, is emphatically not easy to move.
My friend Kristian and I fabricated a dolly that should make it easier, but I still need to put wheels on it. We'll see.
I titled this post "Chicken Tractor #1" because we anticipate having several of these. Though all the birds are in it right now, this opulent one will be for Ed's prized Silver Penciled Plymouth Rocks. We will build a far simpler one for the meat birds, and some sort of larger chicken coop for our larger flock of layers, the first installment of which arrives in about two weeks.
As for the chickens themselves, they are doing well, though wellness is a relative term in this case. The Cornish Crosses are growing at a terrifying rate, they have such thin feathers that considerable swaths of raw pink skin are visible, and they mostly lie around until they feel like waddling over to the food.
The plumage of the Dark Cornishes and the Silver Penciled Rocks is diverging, but they are still about the same size (about a third that of the Cornish Crosses), and they seem more interested in scratching around.
The picture above is shortly after they had been moved out and were still a bit confused about their new surroundings. The one below shows some of the differences, though does not adequately convey the disparity in size.