Ma here. On the OKA, we seem to always have a long list of things to try to accomplish. Between planting, tending, building and whatever else, our list seems it will never be complete. As soon as we finish a project, there is always at least one or more added to the list, this all in addition to our daily chores. The land and animals don’t care if we don’t feel 100%, or we have an early heatwave. They all expect the be checked off each day. Some days are harder for me than others, especially if it is a warm sunny day. Stupid tick bourne illness. Pa does his best to keep me in the shade, since the medication causes me to blister up in no time flat when in direct sunlight. I do my best, which often I feel isn’t good enough. It’s a hard pill to swallow, watching Pa work so hard doing things I should be doing, but just can’t. Staying properly hydrated is huge, and I have to take rest breaks often.
A while back, we were lucky enough to score this crate that was originally used to ship a zero turn mower in. As far as riding mowers go, we still rely on old Yertl, my vintage Snapper. We were however, thrilled to have the shipping crate. Immediately upon seeing it, both Pa and I thought it would make a fine chicken tractor. Pa moved it into the shade of the pavillion so that I could try to make progress on it while he planted the garden beds (yeah, I should have been doing that).
First off, Pa took all the random nails out of the pieces of wood that were taken off the crate to get the mower out, and we went to Orscheln Farm & Home and bought some nice heavy wire to cover the tractor with. We plan to also utilize it as a brooder when needed, so wanted something the babies can’t stick their head through. Sometimes a baby chick head sticking out of chicken wire is too great a temptation for our resident cats.
First, I tried using staples, but there was no way I was going to trust them to hold this wire in place and protect my precious birds. So I went on a search for some fender washers and grabbed my cup o’ screws and went to town. I probably went a bit overboard, but after seeing what a racoon can do to chicken wire sandwiched between 1x2s I wanted to make sure this tractor was as secure as possible.
Being’s I am a huge klutz, and can injur myself simply walking near something, I grabbed the hammer and pounded each edge on around the corner. Hopefully that will prevent me from scratches and cuts when I get within 10 feet of the thing. No guarantees, tho, jus’ sayin.
After spending entirely too much time and taking way too many breaks, I finally had 3 sides completely covered. While the crate was pretty sturdy to begin with, it still had a bit of sway to it. I was happy to see that the addition of the heavier wire made it much more solid. At this point, I had done all I could by myself. I was pretty worn out, but proud of my results.
Next was to add some nest boxes, and a place for the chickens to get out of adverse weather if needed. We have some old metal commercial nesting boxes that we got a couple years ago sitting out by the goat pen. Pa used the measurements as a template for making ours. We planned two nest boxes on either side, and then a ramp going up the middle for entry. I grabbed some of the mesh bottoms from the commercial boxes for reuse in our tractor. Pa made them fit perfectly and used screws and fender washers to affix them in place. The mesh was a bit short, but it worked out perfectly to add a ripped 2×4 on the front of the box to act as a skirt to prevent any eggs from rolling out.
I tell ya, we may or may not overthink things at times, but once Pa goes to work it is the rare occasion he makes a mistake. He created the front and back of the nest boxes in such a manner to fit together much like a puzzle. He ripped a 2×4 in half and used random particle board we had laying around. Once he got them in place, the pondering began on the angle for the top rail on the back where the hinges were to be placed. Hrmmm….
We put our heads together and came up with an easy way to obtain the angle with the help of a large T-square. we held the ripped 2×4 up in the proper position and then Pa marked it by laying the T-square from front to back along the side. As you can see, the angle is perfect. We then cut and attached the sides. For the divider on the nesting boxes, we used more particle board, notched to fit. We held them in place with scrap 1×2’s we had laying around. They’re just dividers, and will pull out completely for easy cleaning. As the birds come up the ramp, they can choose which box they prefer and enter through the open front.
Not much happens on the OKA that Giselle isn’t in the middle of. She decided we needed help with the tractor. She of course needed to see if it was tasty… The verdict was it was not delicious, but the particle board made a great scratcher that fit right between her horns.
We then cut the piece for the roof. We allowed five inches of overhang on all sides. We had a tub of used door hinges, so grabbed a couple to use for the roof. This way the entire roof opens for easy egg removal and nest box cleaning. We were now ready to put doors on the open end.
We opted for sliding doors for our tractor. We created a track at the top and bottom in which the doors could be slid open or completely removed if necessary. We used ripped 2×4’s for the front and back of the track, leaving a space for the door in the middle.
As you can see, we left ourselves plenty of room in the door track. This will allow for swelling of the wood in changing seasons. I plan to paint the particle board, but until I can get it done, this will just have to be good enough… It’s just a chicken tractor, right?
For the ramp, we used an old 1×6 we had left over from building gates and random chunks of 1×1 that we saved from other projects. Pops says he wouldn’t keep every little scrap of wood like we do… This just shows that sometimes even the smallest pieces will come in handy on a later project. Ya just never know. We attached the ramp to the frame of the crate at the bottom and under the opening at the top so the chickens had a nice size opening to walk though. This way, we do not have to worry about the ramp when moving the tractor.
For easy moving, we wanted tires on one end. We chose to scavenge the tires off of our old broke down lawn mower. This way, we can adjust the height as needed to move the tractor without raising it so much a bird can escape. Pa worked hard getting them and off the old mower and correctly positioned on the tractor. It was originally my suggestion to use them, but his thinking that made it happen. The man’s a genius, I tell ya!
What’s goin in there, you ask? Well, I gotta tell ya, Pa kept tellin me what he had planned, and for the life of me I just couldn’t see in my head what he was talking about. You see, this is where the feeder and waterer are going to go. I’ll be honest, I was thinking to myself, there’s no way it’ll work. At first I thought he meant to mount them entirely inside the tractor and thought “Now how the heck does he expect me to fill the silly things”. Then I thought he meant to put part of it on top of the piece of wood and I thought “No way, man, I’ll never be able to get the lid open.” I actually voiced the latter, and he gave me “that look” and basically said just wait to see.
Well, for the feeder, we decided to use a piece of 4″ pvc pipe we had leftover and laying around the place for years. We did, however have to purchase a couple of caps and a T fitting. We stood in TH Rogers looking at all the choices on PVC fittings like kids in a candy store. They have some new employees in there who obviously haven’t figured us out yet. When one asked Pa if they could help us figure out what was required for our project, I almost laughed out loud at his answer, “We’re building a chicken feeder. You will find when I come in I am rarely purchasing items for their intended use.” The look on the guy’s face was priceless, his answer if “It’s all good” did not at all match the look of bewilderment on his face. We paid for the fitting, and a couple of caps (We got a larger cap that fit the T perfectly at the bottom). Needless to say, we got distracted by the new guy, and accidently picked up a 90 degree angle instead of a 45 and Pa didn’t even realize it until he had already glued it to the pipe. Pa told me the feed would all just spill out. I must have had my Doubting Thomas shoes on, because I actually made him show me, he was right, feed poured right out. So I thought of a butter tub lid, it looked to me like it’d fit, and it did. Pa cut it leaving a lip to hold the feed in and glued it on there, then cut a piece of the leftover pipe in half and glued it on top to serve as a rain guard.
There it is all mounted up… See the hole in the roof? Ohhhh, now it makes sense! AND I can fill it from the top. Pa used plumbers tape to hold it in place at the top and bottom. He then filled the very bottom of the feeder with small smooth river rock so that we aren’t wasting feed the chickens can never reach. The butter tub lid worked out perfect for holding the feed in.
The larger hole was for the waterer. The waterer is comprised of a 5 gallon bucket, 1″ PVC pipe and chicken nipples. I don’t have any other pics, as Fish Taco and I were busy finishing up the top. Pa drilled a hole in the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket and added a T. He then used silicone to seal it all off good around the T. He capped off one side of the T, and brought the pipe out the other and into an elbow. He added a piece of pipe to the height he wanted, then another elbow and a 24″ piece of pipe with a cap on the end. He drilled holes for the nipples to fit into (no idea on size, you’ll have to ask him, ha). He then wrapped each nipple good with teflon tape on the threads and screwed them right in to the pipe. On the first fill a couple leaked at the pipe, so he added more teflon tape and put them back in and that fixed the problem. He mounted the pipe inside with more plumbers tape. Because the bucket is sitting in the hole on the roof, it is easy to remove the lid and fill from outside the tractor. Did I mention the man’s a genius?
While Pa finished up the waterer, Fish Taco and I used leftover chicken wire from the duck pen to cover the top. We used the fender washers and screws that I attached the wire with on the bottom and folded the chicken wire up (again because I’m a klutz) and attached it all together. It was pretty straightforward, and as usual chicken wire is not exactly fun to work with in my opinion. I personally think that Pa leaves all the wire covering work to me for a reason, but that’s ok, because there’s a lot I can’t do. I can handle the chicken wire work.
Pa added a full 2×4 stud to the front of the tractor with which to lift it and walk it forward. Here you can see the doors slid open and the feeder inside. Yes, it is taller on one side than the other, we realized that when we went to measure for the doors. I personally blame whoever built the crate, but at the same time it is what it is… A little Off-Kilter!
Now the real test, moving the thing. We tried our best to keep the weight down while still providing enough to hold it in place when we get those high winds. I was able to lift t and go a few feet, then heard Pa say, “OK, Fish Taco’s turn.” I gotta admit I’m a wussy. I’m also very glad that Pa and Fish Taco are strong. Yes it’s heavy, but definitely moveable. The wheels work as intended and it actually moved pretty smoothly.
What’s left, you ask?
Chickens of course! I decided to put my Polish Crested in the tractor. To date, the Polish Crested variety are one of my favorites, I have had three in the past, and they all just disappeared, never even found a feather. I now have 2 hens, Muppet is the light colored one, and Popeye is the black with white hat & one black eye, and a rooster, which Pa named Julio George. This way, I figure these three won’t disappear. It took them less than an hour to discover the feed and use the feeder without any qualms. The waterer took until the next morning, but they are sure liking it. No more spilled or dirtied water for these birds.
Remember those resident cats I mentioned? Well, as soon as we got the birds settled in Marty Mustache and Coalie had to perform the final inspection. I am glad to report that the chicken tractor is 100% feline approved. There you have it, our Off-Kilter Acres version of a chicken tractor. Completely enclosed and every single thing self contained. I like the idea of moving it a few feet at a time and not having to deal with the feeder, waterer or ramp every time we go to move it.
And, with that, I’m out!