Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Building the Chicken Tractor part 1 of 2

It’s unbelievable the rate at which the meat chickens are growing.  They will have to go out of the brooder in a few more days, and I’ve been busy building a movable pen (chicken tractor) for their new home.
I sketched out a design for the pen that should be lightweight but strong enough to withstand being moved around the yard every day.   The pen can be dismantled to the lid and four sides by removing some screws.  In this post I’ll show the construction of the basic frame.   The first pic shows the pen after I stopped for the day.

Now for the construction.  The two long sides, which are mirror images of each other, were built first.  Most of the pen is made from 2x2’s ripped from 2x4’s, except for the bottom rails and the corner posts which are 2x4’s.  The bottom 2x4 rail is red cedar, since it is rot resistant and will be in contact with the ground.  The remaining wood is made from premium eight foot 2x4, which cost about $2.50 apiece at the local lumberyard.  They look like Douglas Fir, and should be stronger than spruce.  The side panel is about 7’ long.  The bottom rail is extended on one side about 5 inches.  A wheel will go there.

The corner posts of the side walls are notched with a circular saw at the top and bottom to fit the horizontal frame members.  Fastening the horizontals into the notch makes for a very strong attachment.  Mostly the frame members are fastened with screws, although I used a few nails the first day after I ran out of 3” screws.   The pics below show the notched endpost. 

I was planning to square the sides with the metal siding, but since the siding is put on last I thought it best to get the long sides at least close to square before assembling.   This is where using screws instead of nails is really handy.  I cut a short diagonal 2x2 with 45 degree bevels using the miter saw, put a framing square into the corner of the wall,got the wall close to square, and screwed the diagonal into the corner post with a cordless driver.  Then I checked the wall for square again and screwed the other end of the diagonal into the top rail.  Good enough for a chicken coop although a larger structure would require more careful squaring.

Next the ends were built.  For these a 2x2 corner is fine since it will be attached to the 2x4 corner post of the long side.  One of the ends has a second 2x2 a few inches below the top rail.  The purpose of this is to leave an opening at the top of the wall for venting, while the rest of this wall will get siding.   

The walls were laid out on the driveway for assembly.

The sides were then screwed together.  This was the easy part and took about 10 minutes.

I’ll point out here that I made a mistake.  The corner post in the pictures above and below should have been fastened 1 ½ inches in from the end of the bottom and top rails.  That way the bottom rail on the long side could be fastened directly to the bottom short side rail.  At this point I wasn’t about to change it, and I think the attachment will be plenty strong anyway.  I had to check and see if I had designed the inset in the plans, and yes I did.  So the plans were OK, the execution not so much.

The lid, which will be attached with hinges, was built from 2x2’s and set aside.  It will get metal roofing that was left over when the pole barn was built. 

At that point a thunderstorm was moving in fast, so I put away my tools for the day.  Today I finished up the framing for the chicken door, stapled the rest of the chicken wire on, and attached the wheels.  The wheels are below the level of the frame, but I couldn’t justify moving them any higher or there would not be enough wood above the axle to support the weight.  Note that the 2x4’s in the wheel area were angle cut.  I found the pen can still be dragged quite easily with the wheels off because of this taper.  I’ll probably put the wheels on when the pen has to be pulled over rough ground some distance.

Tomorrow I’ll take the pen off the horses and finish it. I’m reposting the picture at the top of the post to help the viewer picture how it got from A to B.  I’m a little concerned about how much it will weigh once the metal siding is on, but at this point the weight is very manageable.  I’ll have to come up with some raccoon proof latches for the chicken door but it’s close to being finished.     

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