central maine

lazy gardener

Crossing the Road
7 Years
Nov 7, 2012
Hi. I'm in central maine, doing homework for spring project: 4 x 8 tractor, 2 storey with windowed coop on top, full run under, with plan for an other 4 x 8 run to attach as needed or use free standing over 4 x 8 garden beds. I'm going to insulate top, will close in bottom during the winter and attach a hoop style green house run during the winter. (that's an other experiment that i'm working on this winter. Any of you out there have experience with chickens/tractors in zone 4? I plan to start 6 chicks in spring, looking at Dominiques, Ameraucanas, Australorpes. Any one local to me have these breeds, with possibly eggs or chicks available in spring??
I'm in zone 4 in Vermont and I would recommend against insulating the coop and closing the bottom during the winter. Put a thick layer of straw down to keep out strong drafts, but the air circulation is very necessary. One of many reasons moisture is bad--especially in cold areas--is that in a moist coop/tractor, combs are MORE likely to get frostbitten. There's also respiratory problems and many more. If chickadees can do well through the winter, chickens can do well without insulation, a heat lamp, and a tightly closed house. Just keep drafts out and they'll do just fine.
Thanks. Would you recommend that I make the bottom run 2' or 3' high? I was planning on 2' to keep the entire structure from being too tall and awkward. When parked for the winter, I can place bottom up on an extra 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 (x 4'W x 8' L) frame to accommodate deep litter. What works for you and other readers re: 2 story tractors? Wire bottom in the top vs. solid floor? I've been toying with the idea of using solid floor at least for the winter. I don't have the option of building a separate winter coop, so want to make the tractor predator proof and sufficient with modifications as needed to withstand the winter, realizing of course that the more I put into it, the heavier it will be and then more difficult to move. Am toying with the idea of making the top unit removeable to allow easier set up when I settle it in one location for the winter freeze up. Any of you readers use a dropping pit with deep litter in your coop set ups? If so, what size wire do you use and how nasty does it get?
I think I can picture what you mean. Here's what I've done/am doing--maybe you can apply some of it to your project.

Our old coop looks basically like an outhouse. The floor of it is suspended about 3 feet off the ground and is all hardware cloth. The nesting boxes hung off the back with a hinged lid. On the floor I would pile straw (also a thick layer in the nesting boxes) and as the straw became dirty, I would just put more on top. It took about 1 "flake" of straw each time for the 4x4 floor. The cold kept it from getting nasty--it never smelled.

In the spring, I would pull all the straw out, clean the house, and put fresh straw in. I also would have to pull the heap out from under the house with a rake--as the straw was scratched at and broke down, it falls through the hardware cloth, along with the powder from the food pellets.

We had a water warmer in there and a lightbulb on a timer, but no heater. Sometimes, even with the water heater, the water froze. That was only on the very coldest of nights, though, and didn't happen often. Despite the cold's effect on the water, my birds never suffered frostbite of any kind.

As far as critter prevention, well, the hardware cloth effectively kept them out when their door was closed. The first year, we made a tiny yard by rigging up chicken wire just around the entrance. That became a bit of a farce, however, with deep snow drifting, etc. It was hard for people to get in there, too. So after that, I would just open their door for a few hours a day during a time I was going to be home to keep an eye on things. We have all the same predators I'm sure you have.

This summer I built an 8x8 hoop coop so we retired the old "out house". It's situated right on the grass out in pasture and I'm going to do deep litter again, but this time with kiln-dried pine shavings. Since there won't be air circulating through it from the bottom, I want to start with something that's completely carbon; straw tends to act like a nitrogen when it's moist, I've read. Chickens' poops are a nitrogen, so when combined with dried shavings, they compost nicely. When combined with straw, it tends to fester (I love that word. hehe). I do, however, know a dairy farmer who does deep litter in a giant hoop shed that he puts his cattle into for the winter. I don't know how big his herd is, but it's pretty big (he owns Butterworks Farm--do you have their cream and yogurt there?). He says in the spring he has the most beautiful compost. Oh, also, as deep litter decomposes it makes a bit of heat.

Again, a water warmer, a light on a timer, and that's it (this year I'm using a CFL bulb).

Today I begin building an A-Frame coop for my boys (they just really make life miserable for my poor girls!). The bottom half will be hardware cloth all around but I'll staple 4ml plastic up on 3 sides for the winter. The top half will be solid. The plans call for a solid floor in the top half but I'm going to make one half solid, and the other hardware cloth. I just really think air circulation is the end-all, be-all in a chicken house. I'll put straw down on the whole floor in the upstairs. The A-frame will be situated on top of one of my raised garden beds and I think I may put pine shavings down on top of the dirt so it and the poops can be worked in and compost over the winter. Here's the coop I'm making: http://catawbacoops.com/

Keeping critters out of the large hoop coop... well, there are bales of straw all around and a secure door. I guess I could just keep it closed most of the time and only open it when I'll be around. The A-Frame will sit down inside the perimeter of my raised bed, which has hardware cloth down under the dirt to keep moles and other diggers out.

Whew! Sorry about the novel. I hope some of what I've done can be applied to your situation. It sounds like a fun project!
Am thinking along the same lines re: deep litter over garden beds. Have been gardening under 6" of straw for years. Now that all of the other gardeners are catching onto the benefits of straw, the cost is up to 8.50/bale. too pricey for me, so I've switched to spoiled hay this fall but greatly fear the weed intro. Ruth Stout (read her books) said that hay isn't a problem as long as you keep a good layer in place. we'll see, any how I'm hoping that the weed issue won't be such an issue with hens to help with the gardening, and the weeds will just be a form of free green manure, right?!

Will 2' be high enough on bottom of tractor for hens to be comfortable?

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