The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Tag: chicken coop (page 1 of 2)

Tastes like happy

Chickens grazing in the garden

It wasn’t until mid-summer that I made up my mind to try raising meat chickens this year.  Our good friends Jen and Ben were visiting from Montana and I was laying out my case.  We have the freezer space, and we certainly have the land. But the garden, raised beds, apple trees, and blueberry patches were already spreading me thin. Could I handle the extra work? At the end of the conversation I decided yes. We live in Minnesota, after all, where Summer lasts about two months. If I didn’t do it now, I’d have to wait 8 months before I could try again.

So I called a hatchery and placed my order. The chickens arrived in the mail a few weeks later.

The chickens arrive

Before they arrived, however, I had to build a coop to house them overnight. Not locking your birds up at night is the fastest way to lose your chickens (and feed the local wildlife).

Mobile chicken coop

“How do you get them to go into the coop at night?” is one of the most common questions I get about raising chickens. Actually, I don’t do anything. As soon as the sun sets, they instinctively seek out the shelter of their coop. I just shut the door around 9pm each night and open it again in the morning.

Happy chickens

Caring for the meat chickens was a lot more work than our laying hens. There were a lot more of them for one thing–30 compared to 6. And this breed in particular, Cornish Cross, eats a ton and grows like crazy. By the last week they were eating 20 lbs of feed and drinking 5 gallons of water every day. As they got bigger, they made quite the “mess” in their coop each night. So I also spread a layer of clean pine shavings daily. It’s not a ton of work, maybe about 15 minutes a day. But it gets repetitive after 10 weeks.

Mushrooms sprout in dirty chicken coop

One particularly hot and humid day I opened the coop to find that mushrooms had sprouted from the now-composting wood shavings.

The real chore was moving the coop. I decided to build a mobile chicken coop so I could move the birds around to different parts of the yard and garden. Leaving them in one place too long reduces the vegetation to dirt and is generally unclean. I wanted them to have fresh food but also be protected from predators inside a fence. I also wanted them to scratch and fertilize my garden plot after I finished harvesting (which they did). So hitching my riding lawnmower to the coop, I dragged it to a new location about once a week. Then I coiled up the welded wire fence and repositioned it around the coop.

Moving the chicken coop

We started out buying feed from Mills Fleet Farm but found it cheaper at a feed supply store. We ended up buying about 12 50# bags of feed over the 10 weeks we raised the birds. It would have been less but there was a 2-week wait at the place we had them butchered. All told, however, the cost for buying the chicks, feeding, and butchering came to around $9 per bird. For the weight, that’s cheaper than grocery store chicken. But for free-range organic chickens, it’s a steal. Try googling “free range organic chicken prices” and see what you find. Prices start around $20 per bird and go up from there. One farm is selling organic breast meat for $11.69 per pound!

But the value goes far beyond the money. It’s about the experience. To have raised the food that feeds our family and know they were well-cared for… that’s hard to put a price on.

Free-range chickens in the garden

Our last morning together was dreary. Not in the sentimental way, more in the literal sense. It was down pouring and I had to get 30 chickens out of a coop and into my covered truck bed.

Loading the chickens into the pickup truck

Chicken flapping wings

Last goodbye

With Becca’s help I managed to get ahold of each one and load them into the pickup. Then I dropped them off at a meat locker in the next town where they were butchered. We picked them up bagged and frozen the next afternoon.

We have enough chicken now in our freezer to last the winter. We ought to be expert poultry cooks by Spring. So far we have made pan-friend chicken and oven-roasted chicken with garden veggies. Both delicious meals.

Pan-fried chicken dinner

Oven-roasted chicken dinner with garden veggies

Our neighbor stopped over tonight while we were enjoying our roasted chicken. She had watched the birds grow week by week from infancy to gold’n’plump. “So… how does it taste?” she asked. “Happy.” I said. While it can be a bit disturbing to eat something raised by your own hands, it helps to know they lived a good life, were treated well, and as best we can tell, were very happy birds.

Building a mobile chicken coop, step-by-step

Finished chicken tracktor

Chickens do two things with stunning regularity: eat and poop. The idea of a mobile chicken coop, or “chicken tractor” as it is sometimes called, is to keep the chickens from overgrazing a single patch of yard while spreading the free fertilizer as thin as possible. This has olfactory benefits as well.

Many people with chicken tractors will rotate them into garden beds after harvesting vegetables. The chickens scratch up the soil, picking out all the unfavorable bugs and grubs and leave behind a high-nitrogen boost for next year’s planting.

Chicken tractors come in all shapes and sizes. But they all have wheels. I wanted something very simple to build, but also easy to clean. So I built mine in two parts.

On the bottom is the wheeled base, 8-feet long by 6-feet wide. It resembles a trailer without sides.

Base and wheel wells of the mobile chicken coop

On top of the base, I built an A-frame structure and covered it with plywood. This is a very easy design and went together quickly with the help of my friend and fellow chicken aficionado, Brenton.

Mobile chicken coop basic frame

Plywood sheathing on chicken tractor

A view inside the chicken tractor

After the frame was built and plywood attached, I cut out window and door flaps and installed hardware cloth inside the windows to prevent critters from getting in.

Installing hardware cloth over the window hatches on our mobile chicken coop

Nailgunning some trim onto the chicken tractor

After it was all assembled, I of course had to paint it our favorite combo of barn-red with white trim. Ivar helped me out.

Painting the mobile chicken coop

Baby chicks need very controlled temperatures the first week of life, so I hung a heat lamp inside before moving the chicks out.

Heatlamp hung inside the mobile chicken coop to keep the baby chicks warm

We kept the coop and baby chickens inside the garage for the first several days but finally, it was time to move the coop outside.

The final piece of this setup was a perimeter fence. This lets the chickens roam outside the coop but confines them to the space where I want them. It also keeps other animals, like our cats, out.

Our cats were particularly interested in the new coop

So far, it’s been a successful build. There’s plenty of space for our 30+ chicks. I have moved the fence and coop a few times and it works as it’s supposed to.

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