The Chickens Have Landed!

runamuk chicken tractors

Just over 2 weeks since Closing and I was finally able to bring the chicken flock to the Hive House. There was an unexpected kink in my moving plans that delayed their arrival and sent me prematurely into a construction project that I hadn’t entirely prepared for. The ending result was a pair of twin chicken tractors and the Runamuk flock set up on the garden at our new #foreverfarm location.

chicken tractors on pasture
The finished product: twin chicken tractors housing a total of 55 birds on the garden site.

Change in Plans

It was the nature of this particular real estate transaction that I did not have the opportunity to walk the property at leisure with an analytical eye before I bought it. Up until the day I came to the Hive House as it’s new owner, all I had to go by to prepare Runamuk and my family for the move were the pictures from the real estate listing, and Google Earth images. It wasn’t until I could tour the facilities and the land on my own that I could really take stock of the property’s assets and weaknesses.

Originally the plan had been to convert one of the barn stalls into a winter coop-space that would house the flock until after the dust settled on the #GreatFarmMove when I could then construct moveable chicken tractors to get the birds out on pasture. I had hoped to just put up a few roosts and cut a pop-hole in the back wall of the barn that would lead the chickens into a fenced yard. This space would house them through the winter, with the addition of a hoop-house off the back of the building. However, when I surveyed the barn at length for the first time I realized that was not going to work.

What I found in that back corner stall were the remnants of a dairy trough, and above that-on three walls were broad shelves where the previous owners had housed various sporting gear. It would have been challenging for me to try to take down the shelving to put up roosts and nesting boxes, but the real clincher was what lay on the outside of the back corner of the barn.

The first issue was that the entire back wall of the barn had been sheathed in sheet metal; I would have to cut into it if I intended to have a pop-hole. Secondly, the bug shack is right off that corner of the barn, with a very lovely spruce tree growing alongside it─directly in the path of my would-be hoop-house. And 3rd: there’s a pop-up garage sitting flush alongside the back of the barn.

Looking around for a more suitable spot, I decided upon the lean-to on the garage as winter coop housing for the chickens. It’s not completely enclosed, but there’s a back wall and a good roof, with solid posts and beams supporting it. Formerly this space had housed the previous owner’s snowblower and yard equipment. That would be a bigger project than the chicken tractors however, and since I want to be able to house the chickens on pasture through the remainder of the season anyway, I opted to focus on those first so I could get the birds moved over as soon as possible.

The Chicken Tractor Project

There are many different styles of chicken tractor out there; Joel Salatin has had great success with his set up, and I really like the chicksaw concept, but with my preference to use PVC in construction John Suscovich’s system was easier to adapt to meet Runamuk’s needs. With that in mind I set out to create a chicken tractor that would be small and light enough that I could move it across the pasture on my own, provides a minimum of 50-feet of roost space for Runamuk’s 50 birds, which would also offer maximum amount of nesting space without weighing the overall structure down too much.

chicken tractor twin construction
To have a moveable coop that was both small enough that I could move it alone, and could also house the entire flock comfortably, I needed not one, but TWO coops.

Striving to keep the overall structure as light as possible, I used 2x4s for the frame, 2x3s for the vertical roost supports, and 1x3s for the horizontal roosts as well as for the framing on the nesting boxes.

Half-inch schedule 40 grey PVC (which I prefer because it is UV resistant and does not degrade in the sun as quickly as the white PCV) made up my hoops, and I covered the exterior with chick-wire that was fastened to the hoops with zip-ties or stapled to the wooden frame with a light-duty staple gun.

chicken tractor nesting boxes
Nesting boxes along the length of the coop on either side allows 14 feet of nesting space per coop.

The nesting boxes hang off the sides of the coop, made up of quarter-inch exterior sheathing and this lightweight but weather-resistant material I found in the garden and cut up to serve as a flap for easy egg-collection.

chicken tractor backside
I’m using one set of wheels between the 2 coops.

The ending result was a pair of twin hoop-coop style moveable chicken tractors, each with 14 feet of nesting space and 35 feet of roost space. With tires on the back end I can use my utility dolly to hook onto the front and roll the coop forward to a new location.

Lessons in Preparation

Normally I’m extremely fastidious about preparation when it comes to construction projects, dedicating plenty of time to designing a plan and supply list. This time I was caught by surprise. When I realized I was going to have to stop everything two-thirds of the way through my #GreatFarmMove to construct housing for the flock, I merely put a sketch on paper with some dimensions and jotted down a supply list along the side of the page.

As a result of my lack of planning, there were a couple things I had overlooked and when I had to run for more supplies it was a bit of a trek from my new location in New Portland to the nearest lumber yard or hardware store in Madison. Having to run for materials or parts eats up a lot of time when living so remotely, and the chicken tractor project was a valuable lesson in preparation for life at the Hive House.

learning to use a power saw
I am now proficient with my Ryobi power saw!

I also had to learn how to use a power saw. I’ve traditionally used a simple handsaw for most construction, and asked the man in my life to do any bigger cuts that required the use of power saws. Big whirling blades of death frighten me and I’ve avoided confronting those fears, preferring smaller power tools like my drill, and my weed-whacker. However this was a bigger project with a lot of cuts and I am the man in my life now, so I decided it was time to learn this skill. I started small, with a battery-powered ryobi circular saw─it’s probably the smallest and cutest circular saw out there lol─so it was less threatening than most saws.

The Chickens Have Landed at the Hive House!

The chicken tractors are finished now, and the chickens have landed at the hive house. I have just a few more car loads this week to finish up the moving and then I think I can start unpacking lol. It feels really great to have the work-spaces that Runamuk needs─so far I’ve assembled bee equipment in the barn, wrapped soap in the upstairs craft room, and celebrated with friends in the Bug Shack. I wake up each day eager to get to the work that this farm provides me, and I go to bed each night sore, but happy. I am focused on the task at hand: growing this farm and ensuring it’s longevity. Every day is an adventure, and life is good.

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Tufflite greenhouse film: tuff stuff!

using-tufflite-greenhouse-film
hoop-house-in-snow
Tufflite film on my new multi-purpose hoop-house structure, currently in use as a chicken coop.

Two years ago I bought my first roll of Tufflite IV greenhouse film and have since used it in a variety of ways around the Runamuk farm and homestead. As I’ve progressed along my journey towards a sustainable life I’ve looked for ways to extend my growing season, ways to improve upon the things I am already doing, and methods for stacking systems on my farm. The Tufflite plastic has served as a multipurpose and rugged piece of equipment that has allowed me to do just that.

For years I used the clear 4mil or 6mil contractor’s plastic so widely available at local hardware and garden centers. I learned the hard way the limits of that type of plastic when I used it to cover my first-attempt at a small hoop-house during the winter of 2013-14. The plastic became brittle and one careless swipe with the shovel was all it took to shatter the covering; I was picking up bits of plastic by hand come spring. Not fun.

Enter the Tufflite IV greenhouse film available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

What is Tufflite IV?

diy-high-tunnel
Here are some of the high-tunnels at the Johnny’s Selected Seeds research farm in Albion, Maine.

A broad range of farmers and gardeners are using this plastic on their greenhouses and in the construction of their high-tunnels. It provides protection for crops and seedlings from rain, wind, and frost, enables them to extend their growing season and allows for improved production of heat-loving crops in northern climates.

Tufflite Advantages:

  • 6mil plastic is heavy duty and durable.
  • UV-resistant
  • Light transmission is comparable to glass
  • Won’t discolor over time
  • Lasts a minimum of 4 years
  • Protects crops/seedlings from increment weather
  • Allows for season extension
  • Versatile

Tufflite Disadvantages:

  • Expensive stuff!
  • Used with PVC voids warranty.*
  • Not a tarp! It can rip if not used correctly.
  • Hard to find very small pieces.**

My experience with Tufflite

tufflite-greenhouse
High-tunnel at Sidehill Farm in Madison, Maine.Photo credit: Jessica Paul.

The Tufflite was a bit of an investment for Runamuk, but when used properly it lasts for years and it’s versatile enough that I’ve been able to use it in a wide variety of applications: mini hoop-houses, cold-frames, my new hoop-coop, and even the windows of the barn at our former location in Starks. I’ve also seen it in action on the high-tunnels of friends and at the Johnny’s research farm; it’s always a marvelous experience to step inside a high-tunnel to see the variety of crops that can be grown in those conditions.

*Johnny’s actually doesn’t recommend or even warranty this greenhouse film for use with PVC because they’re not sure how the polyethylene that the plastic is made from will react with the polyvinyl chloride that the PVC piping is made of. That being said, I have been using this plastic on PVC for the last 2 years and have had good luck with it.

**You can find the Tufflite film available from greenhouse supply companies including Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It comes in a range of sizes, though if you’re a home gardener with a small plot you may be disappointed that it’s difficult to find a very small piece. And forget getting a piece of scrap material─typically if there’s anything left over employees are quick to snatch that stuff up. My best recommendation if you’re looking for a small section is to go in on a roll with other gardening friends, or invest in the smallest roll you can get and then look for alternative uses for the plastic as I have done.

Tufflite does degrade over time and at some point it’s no longer suitable for seedling or crop production. However, often when farmers replace the film on their high-tunnels or greenhouses there’s still a lot of life left in the plastic. If you’re intending to use the greenhouse film for a project other than growing crops (such as on a chicken coop) you may be able to score a second-hand piece if you are friendly with local farmers.

Two thumbs up!

The Tufflite IV greenhouse film has opened up a number of opportunities for my farm: from production of seedlings and season extension in my garden, to portable livestock shelters that allow me to rotate my chickens on pasture. It may cost more, but the Tufflite is superior to the contractor’s plastic and has proven it’s worth here at Runamuk. I would highly recommend this plastic to anyone who is looking to extend their growing season or who is looking to create systems on their homestead or farm that allow for stackable functions. I give the Tufflite an emphatic two thumbs up!

Have you ever used greenhouse film? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below for others to learn from.

Quick Hoops Benders – Check out this video from Johnny’s Selected Seeds to learn how to bend your own EMT to construct a high tunnel for your farm or homestead!

Winter Growing Guide – Here is another great resource from Johnny’s which helps you schedule planting that allow you to extend your growing season into the winter months.

High Tunnels – A pdf from the University of Vermont about growing in high tunnels.

High Tunnel Management Pointers for Vegetable Growers – Worthwhile article with insights and tips from GrowingProduce.com.

Extending the Garden Season with High Tunnels – Detailed resource from the Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension.