Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Poultry Schooner

Ta-dah!

This is our new lightweight poultry pen.  We call it the Poultry Schooner.  It measures 3 feet wide by 10 feet long, which means it provides exactly the same area (30 square feet) as our mobile chicken pen that we use for rotational grazing in the backyard.  I'm very pleased with it for a number of reasons.  First of all, it has two handles on the purlins (click the picture to biggify) that allow me to move the pen entirely by myself if it came to that.  I prefer to move it with help, but in a pinch I can do it alone.  Secondly, it's designed to fit over our newly established permanent beds in the garden, which are all three feet wide.  I'd heard the idea of building mobile chicken housing to precisely fit the dimensions of garden beds, but it didn't make any sense to do it until the dimensions of our garden beds were fixed and known. Now that the beds are established, a pen fitted to them makes all the sense in the world.


Still, the more pressing reason for getting the Poultry Schooner built was to provide housing to our growing turkey poult.  In our state of unpreparedness for a new species, we've kept him in the crudest pen you could imagine - a length of 36" chicken wire bent into a tube - during the days for about two weeks.  He (-we're hoping it's male, but we don't really have any clue) is rapidly getting too big for such a small and flimsy pen.  Now the turkey has as much space to roam as the chickens do, and less company.  He does really like to be near the hens though.  He'll start up his distress call if he's outside and can't see them.  They took an interest in him at first but mostly now seem pretty blasé about his existence.

In the fall, the chickens themselves will be put into the Poultry Schooner and placed on our garden beds after the harvest.  They'll scratch around, dig up grubs to eat them, aerate the soil, add manure, and, if we throw in some of our semi-decomposed compost, they'll happily speed that process along for us by scratching and pecking at it.  Thanks to the dimensions of the pen, they'll do it all neatly, bed-by-bed, as I chose.  I recycled the simple nesting box from the girls' '09-'10 winter quarters.  I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to steal good ideas from myself.

Down the line, after the turkey is just a fond memory of a good meal and a few quarts of turkey stock in the pantry, I have homesteading tailpipe dreams of adding quail to our livestock portfolio.  This is all in the theoretical stage; I've done only cursory research on raising quail.  But I designed the Poultry Schooner so be suitable for multiple species.  If we put quail in there, we'll have to refine the nesting box-bucket, since the opening where I reach in to get the eggs is plenty big enough to let a quail out.  That would be an easy fix though. I have heard that one can put quail in an active garden bed and the birds won't destroy the plants the way a chicken would.  A thirty-square-foot pen could house a fairly impressive number of quail at a humane stocking density. But we'd probably make do with a dozen or so.  Anyway, it's all speculation at the moment.

The Poultry Schooner was built much along the lines of a mini-hoophouse, only with as lightweight materials as possible. The frame is made of 1x2 lumber, and the purlins supporting the hoops of 1x1.  We used chicken wire here because I've never seen any raccoons on our property.  I was warned against using it where raccoons are a concern because the holes are large enough for a raccoon to reach through.  But I was also prioritizing light weight, and this is certainly lighter than hardware cloth.  The hoops are made from 7' lengths of somewhat stiff black plastic hose, and though they are lightweight as well, they lend a surprising amount of structural support.  They attach to the bottom frame with a single screw running through each end, plus a bracket sold in the plumbing aisle for supporting pipe.  They also attach to the 1x1 purlins at the top, providing extra side to side stability for the whole structure.

It's hard to say what our expenses were for this project, since we had some materials lying around (chicken wire, the plastic hose, whitewash paint, staples for the staple gun, some of the 1x2, and 1x1), but we spent at least $50 for new materials just for this project as well.  I'd guess the total came to over $100, which seems extravagant to me.  So I figure we'd better get more use out of it than just housing our Thanksgiving turkey.  Guess I'll be doing some reading up on quail.

16 comments:

eatclosetohome said...

"Poultry Schooner" - I love it! Man, I'd love to have a flock working my garden for me like that...

Why quail?

Debbie said...

Cool!

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Looks like a great way to get the chickens integrated with the garden. I may have to make us one of these. I love the idea of having the chickens work over the garden for me in the fall.

Kate said...

Emily, I could just say, "why not?" But that would sound flip, wouldn't it? Quail are extremely quiet even the males, so the neighbors probably wouldn't notice that I'm expanding my poultry fiefdom in the backyard. Keeping a male or two would mean, potentially, that I have a sustainable flock, unlike my four laying hens. Quail also convert feed to eggs more efficiently than do chickens, and start laying at a much earlier age. Possibly, I could have a nice business selling quail eggs to some restaurants, or we could just eat them all ourselves. Also, the ability to have the birds in the garden for pest patrol, even while I've got a crop in there, is pretty appealing.

Debbie, :)

Rick, we'll see how it goes. The beds will need to be very level to ensure the pen is stable. My current flock have developed a taste for escaping their housing, so any gap under the bottom of the frame would be pretty undesirable. I'll post later in the year if it works out though.

Wendy said...

Kate, another benefit of quail vs. chickens is that they are smaller, which means they're easier to have in small holdings. My friend has quail and her urban/suburban lot is roughly a quarter acre and narrow and long.

Another bonus is that in the urban/suburban areas where chickens are verboten quail often are not, and so a suburban homesteader could still have some sense of self-sufficiency with producing his/her own meat and eggs, while not flouting the rules ;).

Love the schooner ;).

Anonymous said...

Love it! I've made my allotment beds (ok, DH has made the allotment beds) uniform size for the same reason.
I'm going to cut water pipe to length so it will attach to the sides of any bed and can be covered with fleece/netting/whatever. Because the allotment is 1/2 mile away, I can't leave the chickens there, so they have some temporary netting with posts attached that goes round the edge of whichever bed I need scratching over. They can come down with me :0) They've been down before and did a good job on slug patrol!
I fancy quail too. DD2 especially loves quails eggs, but it's hard to find eggs from happy quails here, and when you do they're blinking expensive. Better wait for the chicken war to blow over first though, quiet or not...
Hazel

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Kate, I may just have to call the National Labor Relations Board on you. I think turning chickens into farm workers must violate some kind of rule.

But I'm just jealous. The idea of orderly, uniform beds being worked by chickens in regular rotation makes me look out my own window and see only chaos. Your Schooner is a beautiful thing.

Kate said...

Wendy, good points, both. I'm not so sure how much farther towards self-sufficiency quail would take me though. While breeding is theoretically possible with male and female quail, I'm getting the sense that an incubator is a necessity for quail. That doesn't seem much of an improvement over just replacing my all female flock from time to time. Still, I need to do more research.

Hazel, that sounds like a production, but I certainly admire your dedication to your allotment. I think I'd find it much harder going if my garden plot were farther than my backyard. I hope the chicken war swings in your favor over there.

Tamar, I love using the hens as farm workers! I can't claim any credit for the idea at all. It was all presented to me at the PASA conference a few years back, by Harvey Ussery, the grand uncle of modern homesteading. Still, the concept is one beautiful shining thing, reality may be another. But I'll definitely post here about how it goes later in the year. Right now, Thanksgiving is enjoying the run of the Schooner.

Jennifer Montero said...

All I can say is genius...and I would quite like to..ahem..borrow your idea. We have quite a bit of blue polypipe from pheasant plumbing and this would be a great way to recycle the old, too short pieces. And I need to be able to lift it myself. A perfect outdoor run to protect mum & chicks during the day. Well done!

Kate said...

Jennifer, please borrow away. I'm flattered indeed that any professional game bird farmer would pluck up one of my ideas. I'd be delighted to see what you do with the idea.

Anonymous said...

We live in the city so no chickens for us. My frugal chicken tip:
We bought a roasted 3 lb chicken at Costco for $4.99 (it was too hot to cook). I cut off the two thighs and legs for dinner. The next day I cleaned the rest of the chicken putting the carcass and skin into the pot with a quart of water to simmer for a few hours. The small pieces of chicken will make a stew with some vegetables and wild rice. The breasts were so plump we split one for dinner leaving the other for another dinner. I will only use half the broth for the stew so the other half will be used to make risotto. Now that is frugal.

Beekeeping 101 said...

Nice design ;-) if you build another you might look into the pipe clamps they have on the conduit aisle. It will make repairs much easier as your clamping right onto the pipe rather than clamping the pipe to the wood...

Kate said...

Anon, sounds like you made good use of a bargain chicken.

Beekeeping 101, thanks for the tip, but what would the clamp attach to other than the pipe? I mean, how would it secure the pipe to the wooden frame if it only clamps the pipe? We actually crimped the clamps slightly so that they gripped the piping firmly.

T4C said...

Kate.
Please contact me. I would like your permission to include your poultry schooner in my chicken care and behavior book.

Regards,
Dawn Russell

Kate said...

Dawn, kindly leave me a means of contacting you and I will do so. There is no email address listed on your blogger profile, nor on your blog that I could find.

Dr. O'Neil said...

I did something similar to this for my winter run. I used two 16 foot cattle pannels and wired them together on the top, spread them like an A frame and closed off one end. The other end led to their coup. It has worked great. I toss a layer of straw down fairly often and they mix in their crap and make an excellent compost to be raked up in the spring. Mine is alot heavier but it is so strong it can support my weight.