In the course of designing Nicola’s Ark, we’d come across a number of chicken tractors that had sleeping and laying quarters raised off the ground. And it is a very sensible idea – an economical use of space, plus it means that the ground underneath the house is available for full scritching access. Just what you want in a tractor situation. So we decided that that’s what we would build in the orchard to replace the old Chicken Tractor. It would be our first intentionally immovable structure.
We began preparations in late September. It was going to be more complicated than our usual, so Stewart spent one cold, wet and miserable weekend making a scale model so that we could work out things like access to nestboxes, orientation of perch(es), location of pophole and the all-important matter of how the girls would get upstairs to go to bed:
Construction began in early October. First we had to plant the four main posts that would define the house part of the structure, and clear space in the bed to make sure everything would fit between the two fruit trees. The following weekend we added the beams that locked the posts together and would support the floor, and built the two U-shaped wings that would be the bottom rails for the run part of the enclosure.
The following weekend (October) saw construction pick up pace – Stewart took a week off work, so we were able to work sunup to sundown to get it finished. (Ok, “second-coffee-down” to sundown.) We were optimistic that we would get it finished by mid week, and have the last few days for some relaxation.
The weather wasn’t helpful. Rain washed out a couple of half days. (Rain and powertools are not a terribly good combination.) But there was also the usual problem of us adding extra bits of complication and changing things as we went. And painting the timber took extra time too (another thing that wasn’t helped by the weather). And then we had a couple of days where a gale force southerly would blast through in the evening/overnight, which meant that everything we attached had to be fixed permanently.
A note about colour. We decided that this time we would treat ourselves and buy new plywood. (Stripping back old stuff is a vastly over-rated occupation, let me tell you.) And as this was above ground level and intended to be a permanent structure, we decided to paint it. Well, stain it actually – after a bit of research we decided that a waterbased wood stain would be the best option – no bits of paint to flake off and be eaten by a curious hen. So we went with Resene Waterbourne Woodsman. And the colour? Jacaranda. I know what you’re thinking – purple?! Yes. Purple. It’s fantastic – it fades into the shadows of the orchard beautifully, and glows with its own dusky light. Like the bloom on a ripe plum.
By the end of the week, we had the structure built and painted, doors made, and the roof on. Everything except attaching the mesh. We were going to be away in early November, so we decided that there was no point trying to get the girls into their new digs until we were back and able to supervise things like getting to bed and using the nestboxes (not the kind of task to leave a house-sitter!). So the final stage of construction was quite leisurely by comparison.
The ramp needed some modifications – the rungs were too far apart for the girls to be able to come down without sliding. And going up was also a bit hard for the less-athletic girls, like Bessie – too big a distance to comfortably stretch. But the modified version (twice as many rungs) was doable.