Friday, June 17, 2011

#35 - Backyard Chickens and Traumatized Tomatoes

We bought our first chickens in March. Seven of them. Two turned out to be roosters. My husband nor I have ever raised chickens before, and we don't have anyone in our immediate family who can give us needed details about raising chickens. Thank God for the Internet and helpful blog friends! But learning first-hand about chickens has been an eye-opening experience.

Chicken Tractor - Coop section is well underway.
First, my husband decided to build a chicken tractor that would work nicely in our backyard. His construction techniques can get rather complicated, but he ended up building an awesome contraption that serves as both a coop with a mobile connection that provides protection while still letting the chickens "free-range"

Roofing tarp going down before the spacers with metal sheeting as the roof.
The chicken tractor is much to heavy for me to move, but my husband easily moves it weekly by slipping a dolly under one edge and he replants it in a fresh grass zone.

All the details coming together nicely. This is the very heavy part of the chicken tractor.
The chickens and two roosters are happy. Well, they're more than happy; they're plump and feisty and fun to be around.

SMILES! Lyla and Howdy both have big smiles. They are entertained by the chicks.
The chicks are in a tub that is placed inside our bathtub.

Howdy has stayed so long watching the chicks, he's falling sleep while
standing up. He won't walk away. He's gone into herding/observing mode.

As Deputy Dave builds the Chicken Tractor, the chicks sleep in our
bathroom. The "grow" light is held and adjusted by our camera
tripod, which works quite nicely. This is a temporary city chick coop.
The only bad thing as of today is that the seven chickens are damaging my tomato garden. I usually pick tomatoes daily, but the birds are pecking and scratching at the vines with the growing tomatoes and this constant action is ruining the plants and robbing me of precious red, juicy jewels that should be on my plate.

These birds never stop. Peck, scratch and peck some more.
My large beef-master tomatoes that I had been looking forward to eating for months...well...the chickens peck them on the vine until they're gone or pulverized and this means that I've had exactly ONE beef-master tomato this season, so far.

Little cuties, before they got big enough to do real damage.
At first, when we bought the chickens, we believed the chickens would be SO GREAT for our garden. Well, I've learned, as many blog friends have tried to tell me, that the chickens grow up to be destructive to your garden, ESPECIALLY TOMATOES. We've hit the destructive phase.

Using chicken poop to fertilize the garden is great, as long as there are tomato plants left to fertilize. What's the point of having chicken poop in the garden if the chickens are the only ones enjoying the harvest? That doesn't make much sense to me. Our small vegie garden cannot hold up to the beating that seven big birds dish out most every day. The garden is screaming to be rescued. And the long drought is not helping.

This is when a mobile chicken tractor is valuable, it can give your chickens the chance to get some free-range enjoyment while allowing your garden to remain intact with ripening tomatoes.

Shaye, our niece, is helping with seedlings as her Uncle David works on
building the chicken tractor. At least she will be able to say that she's
been around chickens and knows a thing or two about them, personally.
So, the lesson we've both learned with actually having chickens in the backyard is to make sure your chicken tractor is light enough to move every 2-3 days, yet large enough to allow the chickens enough room to enjoy the protective confines of the chicken-wired walls.

I can somewhat lift the cumbersome chicken "tractor" portion; I could at
least move one end, then the other, then the other and so on, until I
positioned it where needed. But, I can forget trying to move the coop portion.
I love the chicken tractor, the chickens are somewhat confined, yet the yard still gets to be fertilized and pecked for bug control.

Another important aspect of a chicken tractor is that it helps keep the roosters loud crowing under control and this is great for city roosters who benefit by retaining their backyard address. When our roosters have free-range of the backyard, their aggressiveness increases, so they crow more loudly throughout the entire, long day. However, when they are in the chicken tractor, it's sort of like they are on a leash, and their aggressive attitude is also on a leash.

He builds and I paint. Then, I REALLY paint.
I love our chicken tractor. It is a beautiful piece of construction. I wish I were stronger so I could also play a part in the rotating the location for the tractor, but my husband must be content to do it himself. I remain frustrated because I am not muscular enough to do the heavy lifting needing for the coop. My manly-strength is just not manly enough. I think Deputy Dave might like that aspect of his wife.

I'm thinking, the next chicken tractor should be a chicken tractor robot. I have it all planned could have a hydraulic lift system with wheels similar to those on a jet...they come out at the press of a button and then retract when the moving around is finished; and I could have a joy stick to move the tractor with a one-finger control, then I could really have fun. Another back-up plan is to build a chicken tractor that can be somehow attached to the lawn tractor or a four-wheeler and moved about without it toppling over, maybe a low-profile design that can be dragged a bit. I think the birds better hang on for the ride. Hmmmm..thinking.

Here is the frame of the chicken tractor during construction. Very cool.
Once we're on our land, we'll have a completely different set-up. After our experiences with backyard chickens, I have no idea how we'll deal with chickens on our land. There are so many issues to think about, especially after reading Rina's blog today and seeing the dead rooster and chick from an attack by a fox, in spite of  having chicken wire at the floor of the chicken house, I am at a loss as to what we would need to build for the chickens once we move to our farm land full-time. After all, our acreage is in the midst of dense wilderness. Our land has prey galore that is ready to snatch a fresh chicken.

Wrapping the chicken tractor with chicken wire.
But, Deputy Dave will find a way to adapt from using a backyard chicken tractor to some kind of housing for the chickens on our land. He can pretty much build anything. Although, you can't completely avoid the cunning ways of prey, such as the fox that got Rina's little sweeties, we can try to make our birds comfortable and as safe as possible. Not an easy task for any chicken owner. If you want to see Rina's sad episode, go visit her at

The good thing about Deputy Dave is...he builds and builds and builds and always finds ways to improve what he's already done with near perfection and if he can't protect his chickens with shelter, he'll probably set up for a few nights of sniper duty. But, what do you do when a fox is sneaking around? I don't know how we'll manage to protect our birds while living in the midst of wilderness on our land. It will definitely be a challenge. But, I'm up for it.

Staying near our land so we can get in some good fishing.
My youngest daughter walking the dogs.
For now, I am only dealing with ruined tomatoes, patio poop, the infrequent mouse (I hope) and loud crowing. Soon enough, I'll be battling snakes, bobcats, raccoons, wild boars, hawks and I don't even want to think about what else is lurking in the dark out there in the Big Thicket because it will soon be my home, permanently.

I love it out there and have been partially living in the Big Thicket since I was a small child.
I'll be fine in the wilderness as we start our farm, as long as Big Foot keeps his big feet off my property.

On that note, today I am super happy to be a backyard farmer in the city as I think about defending my tomatoes!


LindaG said...

I've read they like tomatoes. Many people suggest putting a fence around the garden.

I've also read on chicken forums that chicken wire is not sufficient. Nothing bigger than... half an inch, if I remember correctly. So you put hardware cloth over chicken wire. And, if I remember correctly, you bury the chicken wire to a depth of 7 or 8 inches to keep things from hopefully digging under.

Maybe Deputy Dave could put some wheels on the heavy coop end, and attach some 'wheelbarrow' handles to the run end to enable you to move it when you want to in the meantime.

And if you don't know already, have Deputy Dave teach you how to shoot. My hubby is slowly teaching me. I get frustrated, but I blame my bifocals. ;)

Rae said...

We've avoided predator problems through hotwire, electric netting, "watch geese", and closing the girls up every night in the coop (with a securely latched door). Or maybe we have a lack of predators... Nah, where we live, I find that hard to believe. :)

We'll probably end up losing a couple to hawks, despite shiny tape and ample cover for the girls, but we do know the fence works... The dogs tested it for us... Lol.

A good gun (or two or three) is also a great thing to have around. :)

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

Linda --- my husband did put up chicken wire around my beef-master tomatoes. But, the drought it taking an effect on our garden. I've not heard of hardware cloth, but will check it out. Once we move to our land, we'll have to definitely bury some of the chicken wire or have a chicken wire bottom to their shelter. There are way too many predators in the Big Thicket. Deputy Dave has thought about attaching some kind of wheels, but the coop is so heavy that it'd probably sink, especially once we get rain. He does ok moving it around with a dolly, but I cannot help with this task. As for shooting, I've lived with a professional marksman my entire life, but I am going to have to learn how to use different guns so that I can be ready to shoot on our land, if necessary. I probably need to be most aware of the wild boars and big cats.

Rae --- You are very brave to have geese! I bet they are like watch-dogs. In the country, we also would have to use a secure door on the chicken coop with a latch, every night because the racoons are brilliant. I've not heard about shiny tape as a hawk deterent. Linda let me know last week that a blue painted porch ceiling helps deter wasp nests, I had thought it was just for aesthetic purposes...but I'd like to know about shiny tape - what kind? Would shiny ribbons, such as the kind you wrap gifts with, be helpful? This is interesting. As for your bifocals, I can understand! I think my husband wants me to shoot a 410 Snake Charmer???? We shall see...we try to not walk around the land, unless we are armed with something that would help us protect ourselves. But, I'll definitely need more shooting practice. Having dogs with us does help, they also alert us to something moving in the woods.

Rae said...

I can't remember just what it is called, but I say "shiny tape". It's sort of metallic flagging tape. It flutters and reflects light, and is supposed to startle and confuse birds. I've seen people use it over their berry patches too. We got it at the local farm store.

I don't wear bifocals, yet, and after reading again, I see that was a response to Linda's comment. :)

I've never shot a 410, but I'd think it would do just fine for
most varmints. Hogs, though. Yikes! Maybe something a bit bigger for them? :)

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

Got the bifocals mixed up - but I will look for that tape when we are at Tractor Supply. As for the wild boars, supposedly they are hard to kill in a rush because their head area is protected by a plate that is likened to a steel plate, difficult to penetrate with a weapon. So, those are my main concern.