Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Pasture Chicks

I moved the chicks out to pasture yesterday to make room in the brooder for ducklings this week. They were unhappy about the chicken crate and the travel, but it didn't take long for them to settle into their new home. Speaking of which, I don't think I ever blogged about the construction of my pasture pen.

Joel Salatin builds his out of lumber, chicken wire, and aluminum roofing. Each pen is 10' X 12' and holds approximately 90 broilers. I tried to build one of these, but I didn't get very far. In order to get 12' long boards to our property, we would have to have them delivered, which is far too expensive. I tried putting together half-length sections, but it just wasn't sturdy enough. Plus, the thing is very heavy and requires a special handcart to help move it. So I started looking for other options.

I found plans for a pasture pen built out of PVC pipe and specialized fittings (warning: the fittings are the most expensive part of the pen). With some modifications, I used this plan.

First of all, the plans don't really say what that smaller square in the middle is supposed to be. Supposedly it's a "feeder support," but it's completely useless for the feeders and waterers I use, so I just omitted it. I shrunk the dimensions from 10' X 10' to 8' X 8', giving me approximately half the area of Salatin's pens. For the time being, batches of 50 broilers are more manageable than 90 broilers, so that's fine. I wanted the height to be more than 2' to accomodate turkeys as well as chickens. It turned out that 26" was the most cost effective, because that's what was left in a 10' pipe after cutting out two 47" sections. So the turkeys get an extra 2" of headroom.

The instructions say not to glue any joints, but I found that it was absolutely necessary to glue them. Just be sure that everything is set up properly, first. I also found that simply gluing the hinges and latches was not enough given the amount of stress on them, so I further attached them with small screws (I just noticed on re-reading the instructions that it says to do that as needed. I'm observant).

I used 4' poultry fence to cover it. First I wrapped around the sides, bending the excess in on the top and bottom. Once that was secure, I covered the top and door. Be sure you do the gluing before putting the fence on, because it's a pain afterwards.

My watering system is the same as Salatin's, with an automatic bell waterer attached to a five gallon bucket resevoir. The chicken wire roof alone is not strong enough to support a full bucket, so I angled a 1X6 board across a corner next to the tarp peak for support. I used wire to attach the bucket to the peak so that it won't fall off during moves. The tarp goes over both the peak and the bucket, to protect the water from debris that could clog the tubing.

The pen is light enough to be moved by one person, but with the waterer installed and a full bucket, too heavy to blow away. I still stake down the edges with guy lines, just in case some unusual wind comes through.

I'll probably continue to make small modifications, but I intend to use this plan for the rest of the pasture pens that I make. Somewhere, I should still have the notes I scrawled to myself about quantities, prices, and lengths. If I find it, I'll post more detailed instructions.

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