Introduction: The Eggstream Trailer
Chickens are the ultimate farm machine. These fully autonomous pieces of equipment remove weeds and eliminate bugs such as fly larvae, beetles and locusts. They turn waste into neatly packaged protein parcels in recycled packaging while producing and applying a premium organic fertiliser. They are light weight so as not to compact the soil, they use farm byproducts such as crushed grain as fuel and rainwater as a lubricant and are fully scaleable into small or large fleets. The chicken is an efficient implement for turning compost, costs very little (often free) and unlike most other farm machines is good to hug. And did I mention they are very tasty too.
However, they are not perfect. Their autonomous programming still needs work and they can become lost in the vege patch or garden where they use their compost turning implements to turn the garden mulch onto the path, their weed sensors are often mistake a prize garden plant for a weed that must removed and they need a patch to outfox their security vulnerabilities. In the meantime, the EggStream Trailer provides a good work around for these minor deficiencies.
The Eggstream Trailer features wheels and tow hitch for easy mobility, laying boxes with convenient external egg collection hatches, rear fold down ramp which doubles as a door for night time security, perchs to accomodate 20 to 30 birds and an integrated solar powered electric fence unit. You could buy a chicken commercial chicken caravan or you could convert an old caravan to chicken housing but the EggStream Trailer is economical, a bit of fun to make and most importantly looks cool.
This instructable outlines the following stages of construction to assist you to build your own 'EggStream Trailer'
Solar electric fence
The tools used to make the EggStream Trailer are:
Compound mitre saw
Bandsaw (for cutting curved roof beams)
Nailgun (could use a hammer instead but a nailgun is faster)
Battery Drill (drill with a cord is ok, but a brushless battery drill is better)
Impact driver (not essential, can use the battery drill as a driver)
Welder (if making a metal draw bar)
Various hand tools such as sockets, hammer, measuring and marking tools.
Step 1: Chassis
The chassis of the EggStream Trailer is made from 200mm x 50mm (8"x2") treated pine sleepers. These are solid and strong, reasonably light to work with, easy to drill and nail, long lasting and the cheapest large timber section available from my local hardware.
The chassis is made from 2 x 3m (10ft) long beams that run lengthwise along each edge of the chassis and 6 x 1.2m (4ft) long cross members, screwed together like a ladder.
Tip: Sleepers are generally not supplied exactly cut to length so you need to trim them to size so that all the cross members match. I was able to buy 1.2m long sleepers at my hardware store, but I saved a few dollars by buying 2.4m sleepers and cutting them in half.
Cross members are screwed to the long beams using 2 x 150mm bugles each end. I like bugles because they are high tensile, can be put in rapidly with a battery drill or impact driver and have a neat flush finish and are economical to buy in larger box quantities. Coach screws are also ideal.
Tip: When putting in long screws (bugles or coach screws) predrill the side beam and dip the tip of the screw in a little grease.
The drawbar was made from 75mm x 40mm (3" x 1½") RHS (rectagular hollow section), in my case some left over patio tubing and extends 1.2m (4ft) forward of the timber chassis. Ideally it would have been a bit more heavy duty, say 100mm x 50mm but the patio tubing does the job and was a left over that didn't cost me anything. The drawbar is bolted to the chassis with 10mm (3/8") bolts and overlapping the steel at least 0.5m along the chassis spreads the load on the timber chassis.
I used a steel drawbar because it was convenient to have a joint that was strong in bending made from steel where the drawbar attaches to the trailer, but it would also be possible (but not quite as elegant looking) to use a couple of long sleepers running under the chassis for the drawbar.
The towhitch is a regular 50mm / 2" trailer towball that is bolted to drawbar.
An adjustable jockey wheel makes putting the trailer on and off a vehicle a breeze and is also very helpful for levelling the trailer on sloping ground.
Step 2: Suspension
The springs, axle, hubs and wheels came from an old trailer. They were removed from the trailer by cutting off two front U brackets (one each end of the leaf springs) which were welded to the trailer chassis.
Because we are using a timber frame, it is best to spread the load from the suspension mounts over a larger area so I welded the front U bracket to a couple of lengths of flat bar 300mm long that were bolted either side of the chassis. The rear mounting point just slides inside a U bracket made from an offcut of RHS (rectangular hollow section) that is about the same width as the original U bracket by cutting off one side and bolting / screwing to the underside of the chassis through the bracket.
If you don't have a welder to weld on side plates to the original U bracket, side plates, make a long U bracket from an offcut of RHS (rectangular hollow section) similar to the rear U bracket.
Tip: Mount the suspension so that the axle is about 75mm (3") behind the centre of the chassis so that there is more weight toward the front of the trailer and there is some weight on the drawbar. If you put the axle central, the trailer will tip up when you walk up the ramp at the rear.
Built from treated pine, the trailer is reasonably light and the springs that I have used are much more heavy duty than required. Using an underslung axle (axle sits on top of the springs) helps reduce the height of the floor of the trailer. If you have obtained springs from an old trailer that are not underslung, you should be able to easily change it to underslung by removing the U bolts which attache the axle to the springs, repositioning the axle then replacing the U bolts.
Step 3: Housing Box
The box that houses the chickens in the EggStream Trailer is framed from treated pine sleepers and clad in treated pine fence palings. Treated pine is cheap, light, long lived and easy to work with and the fence palings can be installed rapidly with a nail gun but are also easy to nail on with a hammer.
Fence palings are laid along the chassis and nailed down for the floor. I have also laid a sheet of 4.5mm thick cement fibreboard sheet over the floor to give a smooth surface for cleaning out the bedding and so that the chickens were not in direct contact with the treated pine floor.
The side framing has been ripped down from 1.8m (6ft) long sleepers from 200 x 50mm to 100 x 50mm to save cost. Sleepers were ripped them down as this was cheaper than buying framing timber although using framing timber is not expensive and would save some time.
The walls are tapered both for appearance (to make the EggStream Trailer look a bit like a chicken gypsy caravan) and because it works well with staggering the perches inside the trailer.
The wall frames are screwed down to the chassis using long skew screwed bugle screws. Predrilling the wall frames before screwing makes it easier to put a screw in on the skew.
Curved roof beams continue the chicken gypsy looks and are cut with a bandsaw from 1.8m long (6ft) 200 x 50mm sleepers. A thin, flexible strip of wood was used to mark the curve on the first beam and then this was used as a template for the other beams. The ends of the roof beams are screwed down onto the wall frames
The longitudinal roof beam is another 3m (10ft) sleeper that is screwed to the top of the wall framing extending the full length of the trailer. The strong grip of the bugle screws gives the framing enough stability to be self supporting, but full strength is not achieved until the cladding is installed.
Tip: Assemble two wall members to the curved roof member on the ground. Screw a temporary cross brace to the frame to help stabilise. Have someone assist lifting the frame vertically into place and have some clamps and long lengths of timber on hand to prop the frames up.
Note that the framing at the end of the trailer where the ramp will be fitted should be setback from the edge by a distance equivalent to the width of the ramp beams to assist with mounting the ramp.
Wall cladding is 120mm / 5" treated pine fence palings nailed direct to the wall framing. Use a nail gun with flat head nails to greatly speed up installation of the wall cladding. Any light weight cladding can be used, even recycled pallets to save cost.
Roofing is a combination of a 3.6m length of corrugated iron placed centrally along the roof and lengths of polycarbonate either side. The central corrugated iron provides a bit more strength than the polycarbonate (which is very flexible) and comes far enough down the curved roof beam to seal the roof from rain, The polycarbonate sections or the roof are important because the day length influences chicken's egg laying behaviour, so it is important to make sure plenty of light enters the trailer as soon as the sun comes up to maximise the egg laying period.
Note that the length of the roof ing sheets is 3.6m which provides an overhang to the trailer which is only 3m long, ie a 300mm (1ft) overhang each end. A 300mm extension of the roof beam which was only 3m long was added to support the roof overhang and adds to the gypsy chicken wagon looks.
A large opening with a ramp provides access to the EggStream trailer both for the chickens and for maintenance, with the ramp folding up to close off the trailer at night. The opening is squared up with a couple of additional wall framing members and filled in with paling offcuts.
The ramp is made from two 75 x 40mm (3" x 1½ " ) beams that are notched out along their length to suit the size of the fence palings. Fence palings are then screwed into the notches along the length of the beams. If the fence palings seem too flexible when you walk up the ramp, screw another fence paling or beam lengthwise along the centre of the ramp. This helps by spreading a point load from your foot across several palings.
Attach the ramp directly to the end of the timber chassis using two or three heavy duty gate hinges and some heavy duty screws such as bugle screws.
Step 4: Fitout
To make finishing touches ready to accomodate the birds, the EggStream Trailer needs some perches and laying boxes.
There is a plethora of information on Backyardchickens.com about what makes an ideal perch. Essentially a wider, perch with rounded edges is better than a small perch such as broom handle which is too small for a chicken's foot to grip well. I suggest using something like a small bullnose timber skirting board molding (not MDF), or make your own by routing or planing off the edges of a 2"x1" or a 3"x1". Use timber offcuts to attach the perches to the wall framing and set you perches far enough apart so that the birds are not right up against the wall and stagger them so that poop from birds on the top perch clears the birds on the lower perches. I made my perches 280mm min from the wall measured to the centre of the perch and a vertical distance of approx 400mm between perches.
Again there is alot of discussion about the size and number of laying boxes for chickens on Backyardchickens.com and other websites. I provided 6 boxes for a maximum of about 30 birds which is more than the minimum needed, but it can come in handy if there are a couple of clucky chooks. The laying boxes are cut out of 12mm ply, glued and screwed with dividers. I won't go into great detail on these as I figure that it is easy enough to work out how to make a simple plywood box.
A neat feature that makes it easier to collect the eggs and discourages egg eaters (chooks that eat eggs) is a roll away egg box with an external hatch. You can do this by extending the floor of the laying boxes on one side by about 250mm and cutting a slot in the trailer wall for the floor to extend through to give a gap of about 45mm for the egg to roll through. Note that the slot needs to be larger than this to allow for any foam padding on the floor of the box, ie if you are using 15mm thick foam padding (helps avoid cracked eggs which are still soft as they drop out of the chook) make the total gap 60mm.
The boxes also need to have a slope on the floor so the eggs roll out. If you have angled walls like the EggStream Trailer, just make the boxes square and mount them in line with the walls and they will have a reasonable angle on them.
Sometimes the chickens will start sleeping in their nesting boxes, usually a problem when you introduce new chickens that haven't been trained yet. To simplify training the chickens not to use the laying boxes for sleeping, fold down flaps on the laying boxes can be installed. Cut a piece of ply that matches the opening of the laying boxes and fix it to the boxes with a hinge at the top of the ply. To simplify opening and closing the flaps, run a rope from the flap through an eyelet on a roof beam then out through the wall. Adjust the length of the rope so that it can be looped over a hook to open the flaps after the chickens have roosted at night and taken off the hook in the afternoon to close the flaps and stop the chickens entering the laying boxes to sleep.
Step 5: Solar Electric Fence
To complete the package, you need an electric fence to help contain the chickens and discourage predators. The fences come in 50m lengths and are made from plastic netting with stainless steel strands woven into the netting. They come with plastic or fibreglass poles with metal prongs that push into the ground.
A 50m length of fencing seems ideal to contain an area suitable for 20 - 30 chickens. The fence and trailer needs moving about every 2 weeks when the chickens have finished weeding and fertilising their temporary yard.
50m of electric chicken netting including poles costs about $330 and is available from your local rural produce store or online and is the most expensive part of the exercise.
Solar Fence Energiser
Solar fence energisers with inbuilt batteries are also available and are the simplest way of energising the electric fence. If however like us, you have an old electric fence unit that was used on a stock paddock, it could save a few dollars to make use of what you have. This old unit did not have solar cells or a battery built in, but a cheap 12V solar battery charger from the local electronics shop and an old 12v lead acid battery mounted on the EggStream Trailer made a cheap solar electric fence energiser.
Photographs above include an earth stake (required to connect the negative terminal of the energiser to the ground) and mounting details showing the solar charger mounted under the polycarbonate roof inside the trailer.
Step 6: Operation
Now all that is required is to add chickens, open the ramp in the morning, close the ramp at night (the chickens find and roost on the perches in the evening themselves) and to collect the eggs from the egg hatch.
The usual requirements for keeping chickens such as water, feed, clean bedding still apply, with the regular supply of fresh pasture helping to keep the chickens happy and healthy and to reduce feed requirements while the chickens move around your orchard, field or yard doing the weeding and fertilising while they process waste, bugs and provide eggs.