It seemed like a good idea at the time
When I moved here at the end of January, it was another of my ark moves. First the movers took the furniture and household items. Then I went back for another load and one set of the furry ones. The dogs were squished into the car with as much stuff as I could safely fit and still see to drive. After a long, exhausting day, I had the first stage done. The next day I made two or three trips. One carload was the three cats, unhappy in their carriers, the turtles, stoic in their glass home, and the budgies, shrouded in the front seat in their cage. It was a week before I got the chickens out of there, and I had to pinch hit for housing for them. I scoured Craigslist and found an ad for a chicken tractor. It said it was large enough for 10 birds, was a reasonable price, and the seller agreed to deliver it to my house. Sweet! Even after the hens were in a coop, a chicken tractor would be a great item to have, and would work until I got a coop and pen built. (A chicken tractor is a portable chicken run and coop; if you’ve ever had a few hens out in your newly planted flower bed or vegetable garden you know why it’s called a chicken tractor – they’re little dirt moving machines!)
I should have had a clue when he brought it by on a flatbed truck and unloaded it with a bit of effort. It is well built – treated 2 x 4’s and good plywood, the chicken wire well attached and the coop portion with two nice roosts and some nest boxes. It was a little smaller than I would have liked for them, but heck, they’d be getting new ground every day.
I thanked Sonny (a great guy – check out www.premiumbarns.com for his products and services) and after he left, I went and got the hens from my former home. They packed up pretty easy – maybe they’re getting old, or maybe I’m getting wiser, but catching the nine of them went quickly and easily. I stuffed them into two large dog crates in the car, packed up their food and waterers, and zoomed back to the new home.
They did well and took to the new place with a minimum of stress. The only problem is they stood around in the tractor looking like they didn’t know what to do. I had about twice as many birds in there as would be ideal (sq. ft. to bird ratio), but it was only temporary. And I could move them to a fresh patch of grass every day. It was all good in theory until I tried to move the chicken tractor.
I’ve already mentioned how well built the tractor is – solid and sturdy and guaranteed to keep the hens safe from potential predators. It also weighs a ton. Especially when it’s been out in the rain for a few days. And I think I’ve mentioned that the property is on a hillside. There are level areas, and there are more sloped areas. The chicken tractor was on a gentle slope in the front, by the fruit trees. The ground is uneven and soft (lots of mole action), and the grass is thick and overgrown. And I can barely lift the front up to roll it – if it would roll (there are wheels on the back) on this soft, uneven ground. So I’ve been doing a lot of pivoting. And the whole thing is slowly working it’s way down the hill, since I can’t pull it uphill. I put a 2 x 4 across the front (stripped out all the phillips tip wood screws with my power drill as I did so – someday I hope I’ll be able to do this without stripping every one out) which helped, as I’m not tall enough (long enough arms) to reach the two side handles and pull.
Lately I’ve been crouching under the handle and standing up, using my back to lift it. This works nicely to put a 5 gallon bucket under the front, and the hens can run around the property while I’m home. Until I lifted it one day and staggered to the side, the tractor coming down with a whump! I steadied myself and looked over to see one of the hens pinned under the side. She was too surprised to squawk, and I hoped I hadn’t just killed her.
I lifted it up again, this time securing the bucket under the front. She got up gingerly and wasn’t using one leg well. She hobbled to the coop door and struggled up into the dark safety (the rest of the hens had run out to freedom gleefully once I got the bucket in place). I checked on her throughout the day, praying she’d be okay. I’m happy to report that after about 24 hours she seemed fine, a little sore for a few days, but back to running with the flock.
So I’ve learned to put stops behind the wheels so that when I lift it it doesn’t roll back or move too much. The hens oblige nicely by going back into the little box at dusk, and I lower the whole thing back down so they are secure for the night and the next day. Due to concern for predators (coyotes and stray dogs) I only let them out when I’m home and not going anywhere before dusk – some weekend days they get out almost the whole day. They’re doing well, and I’m even getting a few eggs now. April is egg month – usually the most prolific month of the year for these old gals (the youngest are five years old now). A new coop is in the works, though, and I can hardly wait to move them to a full sized coop and pen.