Thursday, 2 February 2017

Planning poultry pens

 Mr J and I are so pleased with how well the chicken walkway has worked for us (and the chickens) that we have decided to build further runs in the chickens' fields and to that end I have ordered some more of the roofing battens like those that we used for the walkway.
 Rather than runs that use a building as one wall, the new runs will be freestanding, well not exactly freestanding as they will be anchored into the ground, but they will have four sides made from posts and netting.

Our thinking is that we could create a series of large runs that, during lockdown, will provide covered areas that the chickens can use and for the rest of the year we can leave the doors open for them to access the runs or remainder of the field.

The runs would allow us to keep family groups together which would be especially useful when we want to ensure that a set of females are breeding with a particular cockerel. The downside to this plan is that I will be back to cleaning out several small houses instead of using a deep litter bedding system in the chicken shed. But that seems a small price to pay for being able to ensure that the correct male is with the girls that we want to collect eggs from.

When we made the walkway it was very much a hit and miss affair, we didn't have a firm plan of how we'd do it and just felt our way through it. For the next pen or two, we will have a clearer idea of how to put the wood uprights and cross piece together to make the structure that we want.

The only part that we really struggled with, when making the walkway, was making a door or gate that fitted the allotted space. Making it the correct size was simple enough, but to stop it from twisting out of shape was more tricky, not helped I think, by the uprights each side of the door not being a) completely perpendicular and b) not being completely in line with each other. It's something we will work on for the next pens.

Once the new pens are completed I will section off an area inside each one that the chickens will not have access to and I will grow some vegetables in it. Then when lockdown happens next year, there will be some cabbages or other green leafy vegetables that I can feed to the birds by opening the restricted area a little at a time. And of course, even if there is no prevention zone order next year, the chickens still will be fed the leafy green vegetables during the winter months.

We haven't decided as yet whether the new pens will have a gently sloping roof like the chicken's walkway or a pitched roof like the duck run (above). I think the gently sloping roof option will be easier to build and as neither Mr J or I have advanced construction skills, the simplest option may well be the best.

The other design of run that I will build from this wood is a mobile run about four metres (13 feet) long and one metre (just over 3 feet) wide with handles at each end to help carry it. It will be a low run about 90cms (3 feet) high. This will fit on top of the raised beds in the annual vegetable garden and once lockdown is over, will allow me to put the chickens to work on the raised beds. They can eat the weeds and any crops left in the bed, till the soil and add manure to it. A few chickens should be able to make light work of the bed preparation in a couple of days and each evening they will be allowed to return to their usual house for the night. 

This was fairly successful last year when I made a makeshift run and now we have the opportunity to make sturdier and mobile raised bed chicken runs I am keen to have them ready for the chickens to go into once the lockdown ends.

The raised bed chicken runs will then be used to cover brassica crops to protect them from cabbage white butterflies and cabbage moths, both of which did substantial damage to the January King cabbages and red curly kale. Having dual purpose mobile runs means that we won't need to find a place to store the runs when the chickens are not in them.

The local builder's merchant have just delivered the wood and I'm heading out into the chicken field to do some measuring up. Although, I'll have to walk past the kettle on my way, so perhaps first of all, I should have a cuppa!
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