Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Lady Tractor

19 posts in March and 2 in June, I must not have much to say these days.

Actually, I've felt like ranting quite a bit but the thoughts have not been cohesive or they have been a little more personal than I am really comfortable spreading around (even though I still blog fairly anonymously). Plus I have been trying to keep myself pretty busy at my folks' farm.

Mom's chicks are here now. 207 baby buff orpingtons (as I recall) are now down to 203 but those remaining seem fairly strong. If we only lose 4 it will be a minor miracle. I would share a picture or two but it seems the pictures mom said she took, did not actually make it onto my camera (that she used to take them). Ah well, no cute pictures of me on hands and knees with baby chicks all around and on and under me for you all to see.

Getting their first home ready wasn't a ton of work but it did take some time. They are beginning their lives with us in a 8 X 8 shed that has housed mom's few hens for the past 7 or 8 years. Bit of a hint for people here....USB sheathing SUCKS. Don't use it if you can help and certainly don't use it anywhere that gets wet. The stuff just falls apart. I have nearly ranted about the looming USB failure in North America a few different times but don't want to get too off track here. So yes, the shed's floor was USB. As such, this mean years of having damp from food and water soaking into the floor through wood shavings, which left a floor that had many patched over holes. No amount of cleaning was going to make this an acceptable surface for chicks so I ripped out that old crumbling mess, hosed out the whole inside of the shed, scraped the walls down some (they weren't too bad but still gross), and put in a new 3/4" plywood floor. I likely should have painted inside with linseed oil or something but I just didn't get to it in time. Either way, the babies had a lovely clean shed to move into upon their arrival (after a 3.5 hour drive in the truck with my parents). Ill post about this again soon, when I actually have pictures to share.

The fact that this shed is full of chicks now means that I also got the chicken tractor finished and into operation. The 4 old ladies weren't too happy with their new digs to begin with, and my sister's puppy rushing up to the screen to say hello to them didn't exactly help either. 2 of the old dears flew right through the meshing and ran off! They finally made their way back into their old shed where I caught them and put them back into their mobile home.

The next day, I was worried about one of the escapees. She was puffed up and laying down a lot, so I was worried that she had hurt herself while escaping and might die. But then I was looking into the nests and noticed that some of the chicken shite laying around was very little other than stringy grass. Obviously this was very suspicious and I then noticed that the poorly looking hen, also looked bulgy in the chest. I got to wondering if her gizzard was perhaps not working properly, so I gave them a container of grit which was attacked hungrily. They went through a good half litre of grit that same night (although a lot will have been scattered about the ground too). Two days later all 4 hens were their normal selves, and one looking very grateful. It was completely our fault in the first place but its awful nice to figure out what is wrong before its too late.

To give a quick idea of the building of their mobile home, here are some more pictures:

There is a 2X4 sticking out each end for a reason. It was my original plan to move the tractor by lifting at opposing corners, but the one end was much too heavy for this plan to work. 4 of us hefted it into it's first position (don't ask me why I didn't just build it there...), which was quite a lot of work, but I used a two wheel dolly at the heavy end for the next small move at the end of the first week. This was so much easier that I think my parents could do it by themselves. Thankfully the little old ladies weren't too upset by the process.

Chickens need shade so the tarp provides that. The bales are in place as wind shelter because we get some incredibly windy days here. A little extra work on each move keeps the old ladies comfortable. I am thinking of building full bale walls all around the tractor over the winter, including a simple peaked ceiling. This will provide them with more space to wander, scratch and leave their shite, while keeping them protected from our nasty -45 C (often with heavy wind) days.

Overall, I am happy with how this thing turned out, even though the carpentry should be a lot better. These skills need work or they get rusty and it has been a few years now since I did much in the way of carpentry. The next one I build will include a larger nesting/roosting box that may take up the whole upper space instead of just at one end. I can also make the unit a full 16' long which should keep about 12 or so hens, complete with an upper nesting loft for them. I doubt this design would work well for solely meat birds as they might struggle with the ramp but it should be fine for dual purpose birds.

Anyway, tha..tha..tha...that's all for now folks. Peace and comfort to all.


linda said...

Nice work again. It interests me that you are so observant when it comes to your hens health. I am pretty sure you would say that observation is a key skill. One more thing to work on here!

Liz said...

Hi SBT. We have tractors for our meat chickens and hubby put lawn mower wheels (found on Kijiji) on one end. Might help.

SoapBoxTech said...

Linda, Thanks! It's not so hard to observe when there are only 4 hens.

Thanks too Liz. I thought about wheels but figured they would add complications in construction and maintenance. I'm pretty happy with how the two wheel dolly works. Thanks for the suggestion tho. I will probably look at them again with future models.