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.
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.