Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Solar non-freezing chicken waterer – Best design yet

frozen water previewProviding unfrozen water in the winter can be a challenge and time consuming.  Since we pasture the chickens “tractor” style with the portable coop, power to heat the water is the issue.  I believe I’ve finally figured it out.

First year we started with multiple plastic waterers that we swapped out multiple times a day.  This works decently, but the water still freezes, it’s labor intensive, and someone needs to be around during the day to swap waterers.

The next year we steped it up by heating the waterers with a light bulb.  This worked pretty good, but required us to keep the coop within extension cord distance of an outlet and periodically water would freeze in the top  of the waterer.

I did not do a post on the tire waterer.  It was disappointing and it was easy to find info on it.  However, I still had the tire and pan laying around so I threw together a quick pic for reference.

Last year I built a tire waterer to try and keep the chicken water from freezing.   I put a board inside the tire on the bottom side, stuffed the inside of the tire with old tarps for insulation, and fitted a plastic pan in the tire.  My experience with that was poor and I do not recommend it.  The biggest issue was that the chickens would stand on the tire and mess in their water all day.  By the time I got home to change it, it was pretty bad.  It did help slow down the freezing process; however, being open air, it still allowed the water to eventually freeze solid, especially overnight.

I’ve been playing with an idea of an enclosed PVC and nipple system.  Basically building an insulated box and filling it with 3″ tubes of PVC, shown in the graphic.  There would be a cutout of  frame and insulation in one top corner to allow access to add water. One bottom corner would have a smaller PVC tube that protruded through the box with a water nipple on the end.  The front would be Twinwall Polycarbonate glazing to let the sun in and the inside would be painted black to absorb as much heat as possible.

It was getting cold this year and I needed to get a waterer made for the chickens so I decided to not build the PVC waterer for the following reason.  One,  my chickens are not trained to a nipple system yet.  I’m having trouble figuring out how to attach the PVC box to the ‘Pequod’ chicken coop, especially since it’s going to be heavy and need decent support.  The 3″ PVC fittings are expensive and I have concerns the metal part of the nipple would still freeze and cause issue.

I was basing the PVC system on principals I learned from this solar horse tank.   Then it hit me, how about trying to replicate the horse tank at a chicken waterer size!  Since the amount of water would be significantly less, I wouldn’t want to leave the top exposed, but chicken heads are small, so I took a gamble that they’d stick their heads through a hole instead.

 

My first thoughts were to use a bucket, but I didn’t like the clearances nor dealing with bending and attaching the polycarbonate glazing.  So I decided to use a tote, black obviously  so it will absorb the heat from the sun.

Using similar principals as the solar horse tank. I first put 2″ foam on the bottom to have an insulated base to sit the water on.   I measured from the top of the foam to the bottom of the lid and subtracted 2 inches for the foam that would be attached to the lid.  This gave me the height for the foam sides and Twinwall Polycarbonat glazing

Next I added the 2″ foam to the sides.  I looked at the shape of the tote and measured across the end where I could fit a straight piece of foam.  The bottom of the tote is narrower than the top, measured top and bottom and cut sloped pieces of foam.

I measured from the floor to top and between the insides of the sides to cut a rectangle out of the front of the tote for the window.  I cut a piece of polycarbonate glazing slightly larger, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, than the hole on the sides and bottom so that the foam could help hold it in place.  I used duct to hold and seal the polycarbonate glazing in place; this also sealed the tubes.  I put the scrap piece of plastic from the side on the floor in front of the window to try and suck in more heat.

On the other side, I placed the water bowl in the tote and used the top of the bowl to mark the bottom of the drinking opening.  Using a hole saw, I cut two overlapping circles to make the oval shaped opening for the chickens to sick their head in to drink, cleaning up the oval edges with a utility knife.

I thought it would be better to use a thinner foam where the hens stick their heads in, so I cut a piece of 1/2 inch foam, from scrap I had, to cover this side, removing the same oval.  I used duct tape to hold the foam pieces together and seal the seams.  I also used several pieces of duct tape to secure the foam to the hole and prevent the chickens from rubbing the foam.

Next I cut the 2″ foam for the lid making it fit snug when placed in the tote, but not too snug as it’ll need to be opened and shut frequently.  With the foam in the tote and the lid on, I drilled 4 sets of 2 holes so I could use zip ties to secure the foam to the lid.   I also cut some small squares of plastic from something in the recycling to prevent the zip ties from digging into the foam and pulling through.

From the drinking hole, I wanted to minimize  the surface area of the incoming air over the bowl.  I used 2″ foam to make a bridge over the bowl, then added 1/2 foam on either side of the hole to create a smaller cavity where the outside air had direct contact with the water.

At this point I put the waterer into action; however, I forgot chicken peck.  I’m not sure why I thought they wouldn’t peck the foam bridge, but I did and they did, effectively destroying the bridge.

So… I redid the bridge.  I used corrugated plastic from an old ‘For Sale’ sign I had on all the pecking sides of the bridge and plenty of duct tape to hold it in place.  The 2″ foam was replace with 1/2″ foam over the bowl.  I didn’t account for needing to remove the bowl to clean it and the 2″ foam made it so I had to tip the bowl to get it out.  Now I don’t have to.

How well does it work?  Great.  Basically, overnight at 15-19 degrees Fahrenheit I had about 1/8 inch of ice frozen on the top of the bowl.  Down in the teens is a bit thicker.   In the morning if the bowl was full of water, pull the bowl out and bang it upside down on the ground to remove the ice.  If it’s half or less, then fill it with warm water from the tap and melt the ice that way.

During the day, in the teens and twenties the water stays unfrozen, especially if there is sun, but even on overcast days, there should be enough solar to keep it unfrozen.  Unfortunately, we only had a few days this winter where it stayed below freezing night and day for 2 or more days, so I cannot give accurate results for long cold spells; however, given what I’ve seen so far it should work great.  The heat from the warm water in the morning in conjunction with the passive solar heat should keep the water from refreezing during the day.

With all my scraps, this was a pretty cheap build and worth every penny.  $6 for the tote and $10 for the rubber bowl, and $20 for the polycarbonate glazing. (the link isn’t the one I purchased, but this is a similar 5 pack)   I had 2″  and 1/2″ foam left over from insulating the basement and other projects.

Back to main Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor page

 

-Jason

Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Main Page

The goal is to create a portable chicken coop to pasture our egg layers.  I’ve seen a lot of ‘the best coops’; however, I believe the best coop is matched to the individuals needs/wants.  I’ve not seen any coop that does exactly what I want to do.   So my Best Coop is going to be unique to me.  Here’s the attempt to make MY best coop.

I started this project late in the year and winter was approaching.   I wanted to get the layers in to a new home and not be building outside in sub freezing weather.  So wanting to get something workable quickly, I’m building this project in phases.  How quickly all the phases get done depends on the weather, but I’m expecting late spring/summer before I get it all done and the kinks worked out.

There will be several blogs in this series, so this will be a jump page to get to all the blog posts from one spot.  Posts will be linked once they are written.

Desired results:

For me, the result should provide a coop that’s easy to move and requires minimal effort to care for a flock of 7-20 birds.  It will be like a chicken tractor and include an enclosed aviary.   Every touch-point of caring for chickens will be examined to determine the best solution for the birds that also fits our principles and lifestyle.

Here are the details on the areas of the build that I’ll use as the jump page

  • Phase I
  • Phase II
    • Electronics
      • Solar Panel, Charger, and battery
      • Automated Door and Light
    • Solar heated waterer
    • Window Screens
    • Revisiting the floor and enclosing underneath the coop
    • Permanent Food and water
      • Tube nipple waterer and Front Awning
      • Outside feeders?
    • Aviary revisited
  • Phase III
    • Rain Catchment system (possibility)

Chicken Tractor – for layers and broilers

As I’ve mentioned in my Chicken Tractor Guide, you can use the chicken tractor design for layers.  So this summer and fall we’ve used our idle chicken tractors to house the new flock of layers while the old layers are in the A-frame coop and being phasing out.

Layer Boxes

Since this was temporary, I did not fasten the layer box to the back wall, but you could easily make a light weight set of 2-3 boxes to hang off the back wall.  Instead we used a double box I made out of scrap 2x wood for another project.  It’s heavy but works good.

 

Tractoring

Optimal moving depends on the stocking density.  For our 8 birds I’d say about every 3-5 days.  We’ve gone as longer during busy spells, leaving the ground looking like a post-apocalyptic movie scene.  I reconciled staying in one place so long with the fact that using good feed and the pasture has plenty of time to recover before next year.

Their foraging area is much smaller than the A-frame; however, that can be mitigated with more frequent moving.  Also, I’ve already experienced that this lighter breed can fly over the chicken wire fence we use for the A-frame.

A final note. This ISA Brown flock really dug into the soil much more than my previous breeds leaving many deep holes when we removed the tractor.  I say deep, but the deepest was about 4-5 inches.  They seem to digging shallower holes as time passed, which may be a factor of us moving them more frequently or just age.

 

Supplemental roofing for the tractor

 

Since we have roosting poles already in our tractors, we only had one real issue, the tarps.  The tarps are medium duty and will typically last until the fall, sometimes longer, unless you have birds resting on them as we do.  Last year it was the crows that tore up the tarps.  This year it’s our flock of Guinea fowl.  Check out what a week of roosting can do to a tarp.

 

Fortunately I had an old piece of roofing laying around that I could attach to the top.  The boys just held some scrap pieces of wood on the inside of the coop that I fasten the roof to with screws.  This will protect the tarp and ensure a dry area underneath for the food dispensers.

 

Winter

October came and I decided not to move the chickens to the A-frame.  A chicken escaped the tractor during feeding and we caught her that night perched on the fence that keeps my Rainbow flock contained around the A-frame.  It’s really nice having them in the tractor, not needing to open and shut the coop each day and not worrying about them flying over the fence or aerial predation.

The cold of winter is my biggest concern.  I would want some better protection than the tarp and windbreak.  These are hearty birds and I’m think I could design a suitable shelter area in the tractor; however, snow is problematic for moving and requires some more thought.

 

The future of the layer flock

This experiment got me thinking about building a new chicken coup on a trailer frame and incorporating the best feathers of the A-frame, chicken tractor, and more.   Something very portable, versatile, and low maintenance.

Keep an eye out for the results of my new coop idea.  I’ll add a link to the new post here when it’s ready.  Until then, here’s a teaser.

-Jason

Brothers M. Mondays – Family

Brothers M. Mondays – A new post each Monday until the 2018 market season starts on 5/26.

We are family.   Samantha fractured her ankle, but the chickens don’t care if you’re sick or hurt, they still need care multiple times a day.  So family kicks in.  Dad, Joseph and even a cousin or two have been helping Matthew while he’s the lone wolf.

Since Samantha couldn’t help, we put her to work taking some video.  And the youngest did her part by taking a few pictures and an unintentional  video of Sam and the boys with her new camera she got for her birthday.

Enjoy the video we’ve put together.

 

Brothers M. Poultry – Out to Pasture

Brothers M. Mondays – A new post each Monday until the 2018 market season starts on 5/26.

Pasturing is an important part of producing such high quality, good tasking chicken.  We get them onto pasture as early is safe for the chickens to maximize their naturally grown experience. Enjoy the video of the kids moving the chickens from the brooder into the pasture.

Brothers M. Mondays – Tarps

Brothers M. Mondays – A new post each Monday until the 2018 market season starts on 5/26.

Each year the chicken tractor tarps need to be replaced.   These are an important part of the tractor providing shelter from rain and storms as well as shade. Therefore they need to be in good shape each year.

 

Chicken Tractor Plans – Part 3

Last year I had to add detail to my parts list, which lead me to create the below outline and part list.  If you’re familiar with carpentry,  you should be able to take this blog and build a very sturdy and versatile chicken tractor.   Add this post to the basic diagrams in my earlier two posts, part 1 and part 2, and enjoy.

That’s not all.  This outline inspired me to write a 75+ page step by step how-to guide with illustrations, additional information, and personal experiences.  If you would like this detailed how-to guide, CLICK HERE.

As always, thank you for checking us out and all your support by liking and  sharing.

 

Supply List with  details.

Main Items

      • 3 – 16’x50” cattle/feedlot panels
        • Form the “hoop” structure Slightly overlapped
        • May want to cut one rung off end to shorten it so tarp can be stapled wood base easier.   Tarps come a little short because the measurements are raw not finished.
      • 5 – 2x4x12 treated
        • 2 – 12′ base sides
        • 2  – Cut 10′ base ends – 2′ extras become door diagonal supports
        • 1 – Cut 43″ for door frame top & cut 2 – 50″ sections  for back diagonals
      • 1 – 2x4x10
        • 1 – Cut 2 – 59″ door frame sides
      • 4 – 2x4x8 treated (3 if using 2×2 back upright)
        • 1 –  cut into 2′ lengths for corner braces for bottom frame
        • 2 – Rip in half to use for door
          • Or use 4 2x2x8 furring strips, but should stain them if not treated
          • Gives 4 2x2x8
            • 1 –  cut into 55″ and 31.5″ for side and top of door
            • 1 –  cut into 55″ and 31.5″ for side and bottom of door
            • 1 –  cut into 31.5 for middle brace on door
            • 1 – (optional) cut 61″ for back upright instead of using a 2×4
        • 1 – Cut 61″ for back upright
      • 75’ – 4’ Chicken wire
        • 50′ for 3 passes over the cattle pannels
        • 20′ for the ends
      • 50’ – 2′  hardware cloth, ¼” mesh
        • Perimeter of entire house.  Critter protection.
      • 20’ – 3’ 2×4 wire fence
        • Put over ends of coop for K-9 protection
      • 2 ½ – 3′ x  5-7′ scrap for back end weather board to give extra shelter
        • Should be fairly light
          • Thin pallet wood, what I used.
          • Sheet of tin roof
          • 1/4-1/2″ plywood or OSB
      • 12×16′ medium duty tarp, or heavy duty if you prefer.  Note the extra gets wrapped around the ends
      • 2 – 3” hinges
      • 2 – bolt latches
      • 1 – handle
      • 1 – large bag of zip ties. Used to fasten all the chicken wire, hardware cloth, fence, and cattle panels together.  So you want plenty.

Misc. Hardware

      • 2 – 3” hinges
      • 2 – bolt latches
      • 1 – handle
      • 24 – 3-3.5″ Lag screws. To assemble base, including corner supports
      • ~26 – 3″ deck screws.  To assemble door & frame and back upright and diagonals
      • 1/2-3/4″ Staples for staple gun
      • ~32 – 1 3/4″ Galvanized Fence staples.  To attach the cattle panels to the base and anchor the door and back upright.
      • Fasteners to attach the back weather break that won’t penetrate the 2×4 it’s going into.
        • 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 16GA staples (pneumatic stapler)
        • 1 1/2 – 1 3/4″ screw (Better than hand nails)
        • 3d-4d nail (d=penny)
      • 12’x16′ medium or heavy duty tarp.

Optional Apron

      • Ends
        • 25’ – 2′  ¼” hardware cloth
          • Will actually use approximately 12′, 1′ overlap on the ends.
        • 2 – 1 1/4″ x 10′ PVC pipe
        • For front and rear aprons
      • Sides
        • 25’ – 2′  ¼” hardware cloth (Can us e leftover from front and back apron if only 12′ was used for ends)
          • Will use approximately 13-14′.  Thirteen feet will give a 6″ overlap of the front and back apron while using just 1- 25′ roll of hardware cloth.
        • 3 – 1 1/4″ x 10′ PVC pipe
        • 2 – 1 1/4 PVC coupling

 

How I build the chicken tractors. 

    1. Start with the 10×12′ frame.  The 10′ end pieces should be raised about an inch to help pull the tractor over clumps of grass.
    1. Add diagonal corner braces.
    1. Hoop 3 sections of cattle panels.  They will overlap slightly. Nail them to the base and wire tie hoop sections together
    1. Assemble the door.
    1. Cut the door frame and attach to base and hoop with screws and fence nails.
    1. Cut and assemble the door.  I wait to attach it after I’ve stapled the chicken wire to the door.
    1. Put in rear vertical attaching the top to the hoop with fence nails.  Attach the diagonal supports.
      1. Add your end material for additional shelter.  Note: This side of the tractor will go to the most windward side, west for me.  The upper section is just covered by the tarp and can be raised for additional air flow. (don’t attach tarp yet)
    1. Cover the hoop with chicken wire, 3 passes of 4′.  Overlap slightly. Staple to wood frame and zip tie together and to the hoop.  I use a pneumatic staple gun with 5/8 staples, but a hand stapler should work fine, especially if you use a hammer afterwards to ensure they are tight.
      1. Note: If you don’t have a continuous 75′, such as two rolls of  50′ and 25′, plan it out first.  Cover the hoop, then back.  Save the front (door end) for last as it uses  3 smaller pieces.
    1. Cover the back and front sections and door with chicken wire.
      1. Note: the bottom 2′ will be hardware cloth and the upper section will be chicken wire.
        1. If you purchased 75′ you should be able to piece together the entire door and sides if you prefer.  I do the front and rear end across bottom with hardware cloth,  then the piece in the tops with the chicken wire.
    1. Surround the perimeter with 2′ hardware cloth.  I added this to stop predators from reaching in through the chicken wire and grabbing birds sleeping near the edge.
      1. Cover the back bottom 2′ that isn’t protected by your end material with  Hardware cloth.  Optionally you can cover the entire back for extra protection depending on what back end material you used.
      1. Start from the back and move to the front.
      1. Note:  If you don’t have 50′ continuous role, plan you’re cuts accordingly. IE, for 2 25′ roles, start in the back and wrap up to the door using one role for each side.  Then do the door.
    1. Add 2×4 fencing to ends.  This is added for K-9/coyote protection.  Three foot  doesn’t make it impossible for a K-9 to get over it, but that height with the chicken wire too makes for pretty good protection.  So far we’ve survived 2 K-9 attacks.
      1. Note:  Use a type/size predators cannot force through.  I use 2×4 3′ 14 gauge welded wire.
    1. Attach door with hinges and add latches and handle.
    1. Cover 2/3 of the hoop with the tarp, wrap extra around back.  Staple the tarp to the wood base and wire tie the eyelets to the hoop.
      1. Note:  My medium duty tarps last one season.  I remove and re-add each season.
    1. BONUS: Add an apron to the front and back for added protection.  You can also do the sides.
      1. Staple 12-14′ of 2′ hardware cloth to the front and back base, leaving 1-2′ of overlap past the tractor.  I try to leave it a little loose so it has a little “hinge” to it.   I don’t know that it’s required.
      1. Wire tie a PVC  pipe to opposite end of the hardware cloth for weight.
        1. Note:  If you cut the PVC end of the hardware cloth and bend the points down, it’s more of a deterrent for critters that might burrow under.

-Jason

 

Copyright © 2018 by Jason Maples