Several years ago I was living and working at Dalpura Farm in Moriac,Victoria a 100 or so acre silvapastoral project. The client, George Howson, was interested in implementing an aquaponics system so we all went for a day and a half trip to Melbourne to attend a seminar on the subject.
Leading up to this I had started gathering chickens and roosters from the local area, from people giving them away for one reason or another, to start using as workers on the farm. At that time I had sourced 21 birds, a third being roosters. The plan was to eventually separate them into tractoring groups to reduce the competition and fighting between roosters. Long term they would go into a set of 4 cell grazing areas and rotate with crop systems. Even longer term the roosters would be our meat source and hens kept for egg production. (I have always been an avid poultry enthusiast and had raised a good flock in past years in Humpty Doo, NT. I always loved to just sit and watch new chicks making their way and learning from their parents. The breed I had were ‘Old English Game Fowl’ and the hen (Ruby) and rooster (Rudy) were a fantastic pair for parenting and protection of their young.)
We had always been present on the farm during the day and the chooks would free range after being let out of their house in the mornings. Everything was great and eggs were coming daily and the animals seemed happy. Unbeknownst to us though, there was a menace lurking.
On the day we left for the seminar our next door neighbour Carley was asked to close the door on the chooks in the evenings around 6pm on her way past the property. We set off and didn’t give the farm another thought. Everything was in good hands.
On returning to the farm from Melbourne I found chicken feathers everywhere. Carley was on hand and explained that when she came to close the chicken house door the previous evening there was one rooster running around scared and the rest had been attacked by a fox(s). She was clearly upset as she felt responsible for the event but she was not to blame. I was devastated as the flock I was rearing was now gone. A huge feedback loop. The fox had obviously been casing the joint and the first opportunity of no action on the farm and he took his chance.
So with this I had to redesign the system to still do the same function as before but to include fox proofing as well. For one, the old cattle race being used would need to be made secure as this is where the 4-cell grazing pens were. More importantly, the chicken house needed to be located somewhere a bit more user friendly to reduce the amount of time it took us as workers to put the chickens to work. I considered a chicken tractor within the cell grazing pens but this would have meant a lot of moving so I went back to the drawing board.
Ralph our next door neighbour is a collector of all things from the rubbish dump and I found an old trailer with a very rusted floor in amongst his collection and asked if I could have it. Ralph being a great bloke brought it over to our workshop. I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do with it yet.
One day when driving home from the store I noticed an old water tank rusting away on another property and went and asked the owner if I could salvage it. She was ever so pleased to have it taken away as it was no longer serving its purpose of keeping firewood dry. It had been turned on its side with the roof cut out and fire wood stacked inside. The entire bottom side was rusting out but I could use it for something. When I got it back to the farm I unloaded it from the trailer and for the moment just set it atop the old trailer Ralph has dropped off in front of the workshop till I figured out where I would put it long term.
It’s funny how some things just click. The next day I walked past the workshop and a creative light came on in my head as I noticed the tank and the trailer sitting there. The rusted part of the tank was about the same size as the dimensions as the floor space of the trailer. What if I set the tank on the trailer and put a door on it,would this keep the chickens safe and be mobile? I went about putting my idea into action. No design or sketches, just a vision in my mind.
I cut the rusty floor out of the trailer and it revealed that the rest of the body was in not too bad shape. Not good enough for highway use but good enough for the farm. I then cut the rust out of the tank and inserted some 2m garden stakes to prop the tank from collapse.
There was about 60mm surplus length on the tank and when it sat atop the trailer that 60mm was panel beaten to sit inside the trailer body.
The site gets a lot of weather from the west so the back of the trailer would be placed against the weather. Some ventilation will be needed in the tank so a couple of flaps were cut into the metal and bent out. It is amazing what you can do with a 6 inch angle grinder.
Some old roofing iron was sourced from an old hay barn due for demolition on site and again the 6 inch grinder came in handy. The roofing iron was exactly the same width as the trailer as well, so it was a no brainer when fitting it. Everything was secured by metal roofing screws as they have the tip that screws into steel and made all connections even stronger.
Next came the doorway. As I have seen with so many chicken houses, it is always a struggle to get in or out as access points are always too small for most people. They seem to be designed for kids as the kids always want to collect the eggs. After a while the novelty wears off for the kids and the adults end up doing it. Thus the door is too small. I always over design what I do to make it easy for anyone who follows after me. So I took some 50mm poly pipe to use as the door jam, but it is hard to keep straight. I remedied this by taking two 2m garden stakes (1 inch x 1 inch) and slid them into the poly pipe. It took some hammering but they went. This made the door jam very straight and strong. The poly was cut in a way that the ends were a tag so they could be secured to the trailer and the top of the tank. Chicken wire was cut and secured to all openings and an old screen door was sourced from Ralph and screwed to the door frame.
Some perches were added using some off-cuts of silver oak from a recent coppicing harvest. They were sourced for the size that a chicken can get their claw around easily as well as to fit into the 50mm poly.The poly is cut to fit over the branch with a tag left on the end that is folded back and screwed to the tank. Very strong and secure. All up there can be 30 chickens housed in this structure and the perches have been placed so they assist the birds to get elevation.
Some 25 liter containers were placed on the floor for nesting boxes and straw place inside.
I was so happy with this construction and it only took me a day to build entirely by myself. It is to date my most creative construction. It was handy to have all the tools available in the workshop as well. One handy tip though. "When in doubt, tech screw it." Tech screws are an amazing invention. Even better than sticky tape. When recalling the cost of this construction it was less than $50 for materials as the tank and trailer were free. I think we had to put a tube in one of the tyres, a small amount of chicken wire (leftovers from wiring the cattle race), screws, 4m poly pipe, a cutting disc and a day’s labour.
So the chicken house went into the cell grazing system which will eventually become a walled garden of fruit trees and vegetables.
Parts of the old cattle race will be disassembled to allow access to each pen as a pathway and the chicken house will move on to develop other cropping areas. These last pics are at present state 3 years on.
Looks like happy chooks and healthy veg and fruit.