Chickens aren’t just for meat and eggs.
If you’re used to buying bland, factory-farmed eggs squeezed out of sick, de-beaked chickens in tiny cages, the price of good eggs can be a bit startling.
If you’re used to buying big, gross bags of cheap Tyson bird parts from Walmart, the price of good pastured chicken meat is definitely startling.
There are many reasons why homesteaders raise their own birds. In some cases it’s for the superior eggs and meat, in other cases it’s to ensure food security in case of a crisis, and in still other cases, it’s because there’s a simply satisfaction in raising your own food.
Of course, if you run the numbers on what it costs to water, feed, house and care for a flock, the economics don’t always line up. In some cases you’ll be paying MORE for your eggs than if you bought them from a local farmer.
That’s okay with me, though. I’m not just raising chickens for omelets and wings: I’m raising them for their tertiary benefits.
How about fertilizing, composting, insect control, ground clearing and tilling?
All those benefits more than make up for the cost of chickens.
My problem in the past is that I wasn’t managing my birds as well as I could have. I actually gave my previous flock to a friend when I got overwhelmed with predator issues and the time involved with my writing and my nursery business.
Then I got talking with Chet about chicken tractors and went back to the drawing board.
My previous chicken tractor designs were too bulky, so I’d ditched them and put chickens in a run with a closed-in coop. I was also dealing with too many chickens at that point, making it difficult to have them mobile.
I knew, however, that incorporating birds into my food forest would greatly help the soil fertility, particularly in the lousy sandy area where nothing has wanted to grow well.
I mused on chickens for a time… then got an offer I couldn’t refuse. A friend of mine raises and sells livestock of all kinds. I stopped by her booth at the local farmer’s market to ask a few hypothetical questions about raising Muscovy ducks and then she popped the question.
“Do you want some chickens?”
“Chickens? I replied. “I got rid of my chickens a while back… but… how old are they…?
“Six or seven months. They just started laying. Look, I got seven hens. I can trade you for fruit trees…”
“I’m low on fruit trees right now. What if I just buy them?”
I looked at the birds. They were beautiful and healthy.
“How much each?” I asked.
“$10 work?” she replied.
“I’ll take them.”
The funny thing is, when I went to the farmer’s market that afternoon, my wife told me to come home with eggs. So, in a way, I did. They were just inside the hens. This is why it’s really important for you ladies to be completely specific when you send your husband shopping. Hehhehhehheh.
Now that I had the birds, it was time to house them. I had disassembled my previous run and turned the space into a
junkyard spare materials repository for the homestead. I had also pulled apart the clunky chicken tractors I used to drag painfully around the yard.
It was time to build a new chicken tractor. A simple chicken tractor.
Rather than wood, I decided to make the frame with PVC. For the sides I used various repurposed wire from around the homestead. It took me about three hours to construct and about $60.00 in materials (thanks to my scavenging).
Here it is (without the tarp I use to cover one side):
Problem: PVC doesn’t come from the hardware store in the proper joint configurations for making a rectangle. I had to drill 3/4 holes in the sides of the corner pieces and then jam the uprights into them. It worked well but I really nailed my thumb when a piece got grabbed too hard by the drill press.
If the nail falls off, I guess I can always compost it.
Not shown in the picture above is the additional PVC joint feeder I made and hung from the side. That looks kind of like this guy’s but different. I’m also working on a waterer that will hang from the side and have a couple of nipples on the bottom. The tray waterer in the cage is a total pain.
One other thing I did differently with this tractor: I made it shorter. Chickens don’t need 4′ of headroom like I had included in my previous tractor.
With a tarp over one side, the chickens are protected from the rain. They also are doing a great job tearing up and manuring the yard as I move them from day to day. As they pass, I’m chopping the soil further with my grub hoe, then throwing down a mix of seeds. Mung beans, southern peas, flax, mustard and whatever else I find in the panty – thrown! The tractor has only been in the yard for a few weeks so far and the amount of deep green plants left in its wake is impressive. We’re also throwing most of our kitchen scraps to the birds and letting them work them right into the soil, as some sprouting watermelon seeds can attest.
As I continue this experiment, I’ll let you know more on how this design does long term. (One of these days we’re going to get a better look at Chet’s chicken tractor design… then mine will probably just look silly). I’ve already been told that the fencing on the sides is too open and makes the chickens vulnerable to hawks and raccoons (or Ozzy?) ripping their heads off.
We shall see. Thus far I’m quite satisfied with my little workers. And with the eggs!
Chickens aren’t just for meat and eggs.