Sunday, August 3, 2014

Update on the Row Cover Chicken Tractor

Last fall, we wrote about a chicken tractor we built to fit directly over our (at the time) only garden bed.  We hypothesized that the inherent stiffness of the woven wire fence top would provide some structural integrity, and help shed the snow off to the sides before it could pile up.  Unfortunately, we put too much faith in the fencing material, and one heavy snow was all it took to buckle it.  When we got some time this spring, we made a few improvements to it that will hopefully help it survive this next winter in a little better shape.

When it happened the first time, we put a stick in the middle to hold up the wire.  It worked for a while, as long as we only got snow in increments of one inch or less.  (Also, we didn't figure out a good way to close off the ends in time, and our kale died. :-(  In the spring, we found that covering the ends with garbage bags and holding them in place with sticks was a workable redneck solution for the coldest nights.)

When the heavy snow came, it pushed the stick right down into the dirt and buckled the fencing anyway.  (An unintended consequence of double digging in the fall!) Time for some repairs!

In the spring, we bolstered the structure with a 2 x 4, in which we cut grooves in the ends and screwed it into the hoop parts.  We couldn't find one quite long enough, so the far end has a couple of bridging pieces to cover the extra distance.  A real craftsman would have found the right length board, and put it in the center of the hoops!

We also upgraded the mechanism for moving the chicken catcher piece.  It's now fixed to a rope that goes from end to end, suspended from the main beam by screw-in eyelets.  Now we can just pull on one part of the rope to herd the chickens toward us, and on the other part to give them more room...and all from the comfort of the door side of the tractor!

Here's a shot of how the eyelet hangs at the door end.  Doesn't look like much, but it was cheap, and it works pretty slick.  Those are our two primary concerns.

How do your chicken tractors or row covers hold up in the snow?  Have you had to make any improvements to their structural integrity?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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