Okay, so… my chickens are currently in a deluxe San Diego summer unmovable chicken tractor. The tractor is too heavy for me to move, and the wheels (reused) have literally crumbled apart. Now it is November and the nights are becoming chilly, and we’re on the weekend rain schedule, unlike our other dry years. (Normally it rains the weekend after Thanksgiving when all the holiday events are happening, which gives the weeds time to grow so that everyone is mowing just before New Years.) My hens are cold. I know, it isn’t Minnesota; the nights are in the 40’s, but that is nippy to Southern California-bred chickens. I’ve been pondering what to do for some time now, and my Libra self has vacillated so much that now I’m up against it. Yesterday I devoted to trying to build a warm place for the chickens. I ended up with a go-kart.
I am not one to cut wood. I go out of my way to find matching pieces of wood in my huge and glorious scrap pile just so that I don’t have to measure and cut wood, because invariably I will cut it the wrong length. Fabric, too, (I have some interesting curtains). Determined to make a warm, cozy hen structure that was safe from predators (a coyote jumped the fence and killed Kakapo and took Linnet on Saturday. I was and am heartbroken and angry. I have three hens left. Oh, and Emerson.) I found a huge wooden crate that was used for a sculpture of a rodeo rider, which belonged to my parents. This thing has been taking up space for maybe twenty years in various locations. It looked the perfect size for three hens. I dragged it down the hill to the newly-straw-covered area in front of my new two sheds.
Fifteen years ago, at another house, in another life, I built a movable chicken coop that was gosh-darn good. I didn’t cut any wood for that one, either. Anyway, I still had the casters left. Pulling two long and two short pieces of 2×4 (notice I don’t give a length) out of the wood pile, I hammered them together and attached the casters, although not in that order, which made the hammering together more difficult. I purposefully didn’t use screws: I wanted to bang away with something hard on something yielding. I attached the crate after scraping out the spider webs. Now I wanted a caged area for the hens to be able to graze and get some sun. I still wasn’t completely sure where I was headed with all of this, but I was driving anyway. I dragged down an old large animal cage, which used to support a heat lamp for my African Spur Thigh tortoise until he outgrew it and tore the door off. I could fit it onto the front part of the… thing… and the casters would go through the holes in the bottom with a little help from a PVC hacksaw. (Cutting PVC is NOT the same as cutting wood, by the way, and I have oodles of experience with it. Red Hot Blue Glue nearly runs in my veins.)
I found some brackety-gizmos that made an L shape, and attached them to the bottom so that the cage hung down closer to the ground so that the hens could get at the grass.
I attached two pieces of wood in a ‘T’ as a handle (trying to hammer it onto the frame through the cage), and then found an old dog choke collar with some lead still attached, and wrapped that around to help pull.
So, what if it rained? It needed a roof. There happened to be three of these triangular things left from the shed removal. I’m glad they were put to use. They had been a failed attempt to put up cat fencing (to keep them in the yard) on top of the shed roof by a friend who was a contractor. (He’s also the reason why the 8-foot wooden fence I asked for turned into a 5-foot fence up on bricks with a teal slanted cap running along the top… which makes a nice foothold for the cats.)
I nailed these suckers on the crate, (ever try to nail something triangular?),
then pulled out a piece of corrugated aluminum that wasn’t too sharp (and was also conveniently on top of the pile). It was too long, and not wide enough, so I grabbed some big scissor things I’ve had in the shed for years and cut the aluminum in half (they were tin snips!). Roughly. On purpose. Of course, the piece I cut didn’t fit, so I had to bend it in half, stepping on it, and drape it over the triangles then nail it on. The larger of the two I used towards the front, to give a little shade. The sun was going down and I had to hurry.
Then stuffing straw in the gap for insulation, adding a milk crate and straw inside for eggs, I stepped back to enjoy my creation.
Well, it wasn’t quite a chicken tractor, and it wasn’t quite a warm and cozy house. It was a go-kart.
I had thought to move it and the hens up into the relative safety of the tortoise and cat yard, since the cats were not allowed into the yard right now because two naughty individuals escape (so everyone else has to suffer, just like in school). With much pulling and pushing, I managed to get the kart around to the front of the hen house, and there it stayed overnight. I couldn’t get it any farther. The casters would work fine if the mulch wasn’t so thick, and if I didn’t have to pull it uphill. There was no way I was going to be able to get the kart uphill through the mulch into the tortoise yard.
Today I managed to move the kart over some grass, and one by one brought the hens over and popped them in. I got some very curious looks back from them. The chickens thought it was pretty fun, and enjoyed pulling at the tops of the grass sticking up through the cage, but after awhile they set up a chorus that couldn’t be ignored. And I still hadn’t solved the problem of their being cold at night! It was again about to be dark.
Grabbing a rather stinky dog blanket, an old flowery sheet and a pillowcase (they were there, all right?) and the staple gun, I went to work. I stapled the blanket all across the back of their regular hen house loft, across the roof and let it dangle down in front of where they roost at night. Sticking my head in there (and holding my breath…. very doggie-smelling) I noticed a slight breeze still, so I stapled up the sheet and pillowcase. Emerson was quite baffled as to what I was doing next door.
Then I brought the hens back, and figured it would have to do until after the holiday. A day and a half’s work and I have a heavy fowl go-kart and taudry drapings around the hen house, but I think the hens are warmer tonight. And, I must say, I think the kart is pretty cool-looking.