Anyway, after researching chicken tractors in-depth online, I finally decided on the "hoop house" type design and am very pleased with how it came out. I think this is a good project for someone with little to no building skills, and it's easy to get your friends to help because they want to know what it is!
I enlisted the help of some girlfriends and my carpenter husband, who offered lots of advice for my project and helped us end up with a perfectly square frame and very solid final structure. For example, I probably would have used galvanized nails, but he said pre-drilling and using screws is the way to go, which now makes sense, but I would have never thought of that myself. Additionally, I'm pretty sure you could get away with a structure that was not perfectly square, but it certainly made it easier to align the PVC.
I wanted something relatively heavy to deter predators from trying to move/lift it, so 2" x 4"s were used (and because we had some on hand). A smaller dimension of wood could be used if you think predators are not as much of a problem. We have raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions (rare, but chickens might attract them!), and dogs and cats (including my own) that freely roam the neighborhood.
My barrow is based on this guy's design, with some slight modifications: http://www.nhlife.org/2008/06/23/chicken-tractor. His is 4' x 10', but we already had a 3' x 6' sheet of plywood in the garage as well as some 8-foot 2" x 4"s, so we decided to make mine 3'W x 3'H x 8'L to minimize waste.
A few things still need to be added:
- On one end, we will use a jigsaw to cut out a door (and attach it with simple hinges) as well as two wheels.
- The wheel bolts I bought to attach the 6" ball-bearing wheels are not long enough to attach to the 2" x 4"s, so I will need to find longer bolts at the hardware store, which is why we did not attach them yet.
- On the other end of the barrow, we will add a nesting box with a hinged lid (for egg gathering) made out of plywood as well as two handles for maneuvering the barrow. The handles will also act as extra support for the nesting box.
- I will attach two 4-foot 2" x 4"s to the ends of a piece of tarp to provide the chickies with shade in the summer and wind protection in the winter.
- Both the hinged door and the hinged lid of the nesting box will be secured with padlocks to deter the opposable thumbs of determined raccoons.
I plan to get four chicks. I think they will be quite comfortable! I will post more pictures when these last items are added and the tractor is painted and finished...
- six 8-foot 2" x 4"s (three to be used uncut for long pieces, and three to be cut down into smaller cross braces and diagonal braces)
- one 3' x 6' piece of 3/4" plywood (can fit into a non full-size truck!)
- twelve 1/2" pipe straps
- six 1/2" pieces of PVC cut into 8' lengths by your local hardware store
- about 20 feet of welded wire (you will have some left over - use it for garden cages)
- about 20 feet of chicken wire (ditto)
- lots of galvanized 2 1/2" deck screws
- cordless drill gun
- cordless screw gun
- circular saw (optional)
- at least an afternoon's worth of time!
Step 1: Cut The Plywood Ends
Then, using screws as a guide, we carefully bent the PVC, following the edges of the plywood, and then fastened the ends with two pipe straps for safety. We used a pencil to trace the the shape of the PVC.
We removed the guide screws (but not the screws holding the two pieces together) and cut through both pieces of plywood with the jigsaw.
We then unfastened the remaining screws and set the two pieces aside.
Note: we ended with a flat portion at the top of the curve of the plywood, which ended up being useful later.