Since the tomatoes are done for the season and have been ripped out, I was inspired by some recent reading (Kate’s Hoop House at Living the Frugal Life ) to build a hoop house. It’s a good deal for everybody – the chickens get a little bit of new territory to scratch around in. It’s a field trip! They can look for bugs, weeds, and seeds. And – they do a little light tilling and ‘fertilizing’ at the same time.
We’re not quite ready for them to be completely free range because we still have basil, peppers, and chard going strong. So some kind of chicken tractor was in order.
The main issue with whatever I built was – where would we store it when it’s not being used, so the key to this design is that it folds flat. It’s still pretty long if we just collapse it, but if one side of the fencing is popped off (it’s only attached with zip ties) and the conduit is slipped out of the clips on the 2×4, then it’s only eight feet long and a few inches thick. It would be easy to tuck in along a wall somewhere.
The basic construction was fairly simple. Of course, every project seems to require the purchase of one new tool. In this case the new tool was a conduit bender. (If you’re in the neighborhood and want to borrow this, please ask!)
The 5 conduit ribs were bent into shape and attached to a 2×4. This was my first experience bending conduit, and I can see that it’s quite an art if you really care about precision. Fortunately, my beginner skills were good enough to get all the ribs bent into just about the same shape.
After they were attached to the wood, I covered the sides with some fencing I had left over from the raspberry project. I just used zip ties to secure it – the main thing here is to keep the chickens in – not to keep predators out. The top is an old sheet – primarily for shade and to keep the girls from thinking that they can fly out.
The girls quite enjoyed their foray into the garden bed. Goldie, the Rhode Island Red, can really fling the dirt aside as she’s scratching around looking for bugs. The others are a little more mellow.
I can also envision covering the hoop house with row cover or some plastic to make one of the beds into a green house for winter salads and earlier starts for the spring plantings.
What about you – do your chickens range free in the garden? Do they eat everything in sight? Can you suggest any design improvements to the hoop house I built?