Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chicken Ark

It's our first year raising large numbers of chickens for meat and eggs, and we are using a portable chicken pen for pasturing our birds. Most pastured chicken pens look something like this:

That's Joel Salatin moving one of his mobile pens on his farm in Virginia (photo by T.L. Gettings). Salatin is the best known proponent of pastured poultry and he has recently been featured in Michael Pollan's best selling book The Omnivore's Dilemma.

We are farming in a very different climate. We are in a river valley in a desert. We can go months at a time without rain so we irrigate with river water, using a traditional system of ditches called acequias. So once every two weeks our pastures are under several inches of water for about half a day. This is not compatible with chickens on the ground. Also, we are in a very hot climate. The short, flat design of the Salatin pen would quickly bake our birds. So Chris designed a chicken pen that deals with these problems. He calls it the Chicken Ark. Here it is under construction:

The Ark is built as an A-frame, which allows hot air to escape through the ventilated top and sides as it rises. The vertical component of the Ark also provides for ample room for my nearly 6 foot tall frame to step inside. And there is a loft built in where the birds can sit when the field is under water. The birds have a choice between shade or sun and they are moved every day to fresh pasture where they get their fill of bugs, grass, and alfalfa. This makes for happier birds and much healthier meat, and the pasture gets nutrients without the use of chemical fertilizers. This in turn feeds our sheep and cows with healthy pasture.

Chris has also designed some nice waterers that use a common float valve hooked up to a hose that flows out of a 5 gallon bucket. Fifty birds can drink ten gallons of water per day in our hot and dry climate so it's nice that we only have to fill it up twice a day.

The Ark is heavy but that is also a good thing in this insanely windy place. Two people can move it pretty easily with two hand trucks, and one person can move it if they try really hard. I know this from experience.

Now he just needs to build two or three more of these and we'll be all set!


yarrow said...

fabulous! that looks like a great design!

Anonymous said...

Jen, I am not a farmer, but I love reading your blog. How nice to see the finished product that you and Chris worked on the day Eli and I went to the zoo. Nothing like creative minds creating out of necessity. Good job!


Ren said...

I saw a design similar to this in a recent issue of a poultry magazine. Way cool! I like your design even better.