PoultryYardWe decided to do a major switcheroo in how we are housing our poultry. Thus far, I had been letting them run loose during the day. At night they’d naturally roost in their A-frame houses, and I’d just close the doors and open them back up in the morning. They had about four acres on which to range, and they made full use of it.

One advantage to this system is that there are fewer equipment costs. Just some night structures, and one set of community food and water dispensers. Not having food and water in their night houses keeps the mess down in there, requiring less bedding expenses. Letting them free range all day tends to lead them away from the food bin, so they harvest m ore of their own food and consume less purchased feed. And it spreads their manure out all over the place.

But the biggest downside is also: it spreads their manure out all over the place!

Our chickens tended to enjoy standing on the porches a lot, I think they just enjoyed the view from a little higher up. Chicken poop is surprisingly large, as big as a small dog poop, and it is slow to break down. Duck poop is better, more liquid, but still, its messy. We’ve had varying numbers of poultry, I think up to fifty head, right now we have a couple dozen birds. And we are just not liking all of the manure up around the house and yard where we like to sit on summer evenings.

And it wasn’t just poop. Predators have been snagging birds now and then. Our chickens are pretty wily and don’t get taken too often, despite their habits of foraging very close to the edge of the forest on the neighboring vacant property. But, we lose ducks now and then. So there is some overhead of loss associated with letting poultry truly free range in unfenced areas.

Another big annoyance that has cropped up this year is more birds getting broody, and hiding their eggs from me out in the yard. Often I can’t find these. And even if I do, I don’t know how old they are, so they usually become dog food. I certainly can’t sell them. Not to mention, it’s dangerous for the birds to stay out all night sitting on eggs, and I’m certain I have lost a couple due to that. I don’t want my birds setting at all, I think it is a waste of their time and in feed input, as they stop laying eggs for several months when they raise a small batch of babies.

A further downside of our old system was that I had to be sure to let the birds out first thing in the morning, so they had access to water. Poultry don’t have bladders, so they can’t go long without water before suffering from dehydration. I hated that on the weekends, if I wanted to sleep in, I had to get up and let the birds out, then go back to bed. And this is also a problem for when we want to go out of town, it’s more work for our animal sitter (often my mom) to do this twice daily ritual of letting the birds in and out, which must be done at such specific times.

dollySo, we moved the bird houses down to our lower field near the gardens, and we are fencing them with Electronet. I have the charger on order. The electric part will be more for keeping coyotes out, as the birds seem to respect the 4’ fence by itself. Once I have that set up, then I can permanently leave their A-frame house doors open, and let the birds self- shelter as they please.

Moving the A-frame houses was some work, as I hadn’t designed them with the idea in mind that we’d ever be moving them very far. They have handles, but they are heavy, and walking with your arms outstretched and carrying a big load is tough. So, I made them a custom dolly. I had some spare 2×10 and 2×8 boards, and I used these big dolly tires Kirk found at Harbor Freight. These worked awesome, the two of us easily moved the houses all the way down the tractor road and across the first pasture.

Catching all the birds and moving them into the yard is a story for another day, however!