Sunday, March 7, 2010
Mark and I went on the “Coops Circling Corvallis” tour this afternoon—eight different chicken coops, one at the top of every hill that rims the town. Our coop was on the tour last year, so this was our first chance to peer into other people’s backyard structures. We saw an amazing Tom Turkey strutting around, striving to impress the ladies—fowl and otherwise—in the yard, a pristine coop with photographs of each chicken laminated of slices on pine, with the name underneath (shades of 1975…), and a very sweet dog who did not understand why she was not the focus of the tour. We did not see a coop that was integrated into the gardens and yard so that an entire section of the lawn was not torn up by endless rooting for grubs. It’s not easy. Chickens like to dig, and they really like to dig in soft garden beds and the leaf litter that builds up under trees and bushes. But you don’t have to give over a third of your yard to them.
We have a “Chicken Tractor” in the backyard. It’s not our idea; there’s a book called The Chicken Tractor that the co-op used to have in its lending library which I read three times before we acquired a chicken. The basic idea is, the coop moves easily. Our coop is sized to fit on the top of our raised beds, which are four feet across and ten feet long. The coop is four by five. It’s an A Frame design from Mother Earth News with a roosting and laying spot up high, an outside door that allows you to reach in for the eggs and shove the poopy bedstraw down, and two side doors to let the chickens out. In late September, when the Spring Bed is finally empty because aphids have taken over the old kale, we pile leaves on the entire bed and hoist the coop up. The chickens then go to work doing what they love, first eating the aphidy kale, then thrusting their pre-historic claws down into the leaves, shredding them and mixing the soil beneath in, increasing organic matter in the bed. They also drop some lovely fertilizer into the mix during the month or so that they live on that bed. Over the course of the winter, they rotate through every vegetable bed, destroying slug eggs, mixing up organic matter and soil, and fertilizing. In the summer, they live under the hazelnut tree and have the run of the back third of the yard. I used to let them run through the entire back yard, but the combination of bare feet and chicken droppings was not a good one. And then Myrtle decided to join us for dinner a few times, jumping up on the table. It was a bit too much of a good thing.
I love our chicken tractor. It’s the second one we have built. The first was a huge heavy box that was unbelievably awkward to move and way over built. Mark was worried that it would fall apart when we moved it….we nearly fell apart ourselves a time or two during relocations. This one is light and flexible and much easier to negotiate. It’s not totally perfect—we would like an attached run that covered the entire bed, rather than the system of rigging chicken wire and rebar that we have right now—but it does the job. And I saw a pretty clever frame made from PVC pipe today that just might work as an extra run…