Enter the egg mobile (start with what you’ve got)

eggmobile 02

We’ve been researching egg mobile models for a good while now, in order to figure out how best to get our small (but growing) flock of layers rotating through our paddocks, enjoying fresh pasture and laying eggs aplenty. In the end, as with most things, it came down to working with what we’ve got.

Enter the Chalet. Or the Sherman, depending on who you talk to (in reference to the sherman tank, as this thing is robustly constructed). Nick’s dad Karl kindly built us this construction a few years back, with the intention to put broiler hens in it. Now Floyd has converted it to an egg mobile of sorts, it’s proving an awesome pastured poultry unit.

Joel Salatin's broiler pens at Polyface Farm. Hmm just a litle bit different from ours...

Joel Salatin’s broiler pens at Polyface Farm

And ours. Aint no broiler pen, but it's turned out to be excellent for a small pastured egg laying system

And ours. Aint no broiler pen, but it’s turned out to be excellent for a small pastured egg laying system

Initially, this unit was meant to be constructed a la Salatin… ie like Polyface Farm’s broiler pens – low profile, light construction, and on skids. However Karl put some extra touches on it, most notably in roof height, and we ended up with the Chalet.

The chalet has turned out to be pretty awesome for its current use as an egg mobile. Because of the roof height (which you don’t really want in a broiler pen) we could put roosts in there, and Floyd welded up some laying boxes to fit the side panel.

Shelter for the birds was the next main thing, but we wanted to avoid too much more weight so that the egg mobile could be moved by hand via wheels on the sides and a pulling bar on the front. So corrugated iron cladding was out. The solution? Election signage, of course. Light, UV resistant, easy to work with, and free.

Chicken door at base, human door at top (don't need to get in there much however)

Chicken door at base, human door at top (don’t need to get in there much however)

It's sortof like having band posters in your bedroom... and it keeps the ladies warm and dry

It’s sortof like having band posters in your bedroom… and it keeps the ladies warm and dry

Ben van der Wijngaart and Monique Dare-Ward may have moved on from their appointments as greens councilors of the Kiama district long since, but their team photo lives on at Milkwood Farm, in montage. Bloody useful things, corflute signs.

Floyd made the nesting boxes in the same style as the ones we have in the rawbale chookhouse – removable plastic drums with sawdust bedding – cheap to make, easy to pull out and clean, nowhere for lice to hide, and the chickens seem to like them.

Nesting boxes - cheap, easily removed for cleaning, and light

Nesting boxes – cheap, light, strong and easily removed for cleaning

eggmobile 06

eggmobile 07

eggmobile 08

Egg count: currnetly one per hen per day. And they said heritage breeds don't lay!

Egg count: currently one per hen per day. And they said heritage breeds don’t lay!

The chickens are locked in each night and free range in the electrified netting by day watched over by Dollar, who’s not the biggest rooster you’ve ever seen but who protects his ladies well. They’re very happy, very healthy, and the egg count is up to one per bird per day – not bad for a heritage breed!

Yes these are the Blue Langshans we bred up last year, minus all the roosters (mmm rooster). Nick wanted to experiment with these as they’re a good natured, hardy, dual-purpose bird – good for eating and laying eggs both. While isa browns would produce more, we want multi-function chickens if we can, and preferably ones that we can breed here at the farm rather than shipping them in.

These chickens are currently being rotated across patches of pasture on the creekflat – we’re not in any high-intensity multi-species rotation scheme at the moment with the dry the way it is (which means not much grass around), so this is a very low-fi, low impact system.

At this point we’re moving the egg mobile and the electronet fencing intermittently – it’s not  an every day job at all, because the number of hens means a small amount of impact on the pasture. This is an exercise in incrementally increasing pasture fertility in a dry year, while getting a good yield of eggs, in a low-maintenance system.

Where will we go from here? Maybe towards broiler pens, or maybe towards a larger, more serious scale of pastured egg production. At the moment we’re just getting a feel for it, and supplying all the beautiful orange-yolked eggs we need for farm crew and course catering.

eggmobile 09

In seasons to come we may use this system (perhaps with a different eggmobile that is more all-terrain friendly) to follow after mob-grazed herbivores such as goats, sheep or (fingers crossed) cows. In multi-species systems the chickens have the added advantage of dispersing the manure of the animals before them, as they search and peck for grubs in the manure.

Even as a single species system, however, pastured egg production of this kind makes so much sense. Happy chickens, moved regularly onto nice fresh ground. Happy earth getting nutrients it would not otherwise, happy people eating real eggs. Hooray for integration.

We’re hosting a Pastured Poultry Masterclass with Joel Salatin in February at Kiama NSW if you’d like to join us for a full day of insights about successful small-farm pastured poultry systems (eggs, broilers and turkeys).

>> More posts about chickens at Milkwood

eggmobile 10

Dollar the rooster and some of his ladiez

Big thanks to Karl for building the Chalet/Sherman, and to Floyd for the egg mobile renovations. And to Jim (Kirsten’s Dad) for the lifetime supply of corflute signage.

23 Comments

  1. Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    Yay for corflute! We made our cubby out of corflute ‘weatherboards’. Bloody gorgeous!

  2. Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    We are just about to build a new egg mobile next week (with the wonderful skill and help from Gordon Williams). Glad I read this now. I am worried about weight and my place is STEEP in places so keeping weight down is vital. As my block is so steep normal egg mobiles/chicken tractors just don’t cut it so we have designed one that can be placed on a slope (with adjustable legs on one side) making it flat. The girls don’t like laying in their tractor when they are sliding around. I think I will search out my local (most attractive) MP and use that for the roof/sides. I like the egg laying boxes but I don’t know where to get those from. Any tips?

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink | Reply

      They’re the kind of containers that bulk dish washing detergent etc come in… Try your local Health food store for their empties?

  3. leandro
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Me interesaría saber que espacio debe tener mi gallinero movil para 20 pollos(10 gallinas para huevos y 10 pollos para carne)? ademas teniendo en cuenta que mi granja no supera los 60 x 15 metros ¿pueden mesclarce pollos con gallinas ? saludos amigos

    • Gianna
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hola Leandro. El egg mobile del arículo puede acoger hasta 40 aves, no importa si son ponedoras o para el consumo de su carne. Éste tiene que ser lo suficientemente grande para poder acoger las aves durante su tiempo de descanso, y tener cajas para las ponedoras, una por cada 3-5 gallinas. El espacio necesario depende de la calidad del suelo, el tipo de pastura, diversidad de insectos, etc. En función de ello, las gallinas necesitarán alimentación suplementaria. Suerte!!

  4. Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    This post got me thinking and I reckon I might have what I need to start building a chook tractor today. Brilliant and thanks.

  5. Floyd
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink | Reply

    Also, the local car wash place has heaps and heaps of the 20-25L HDPE containers that we use for layer boxes.

    We cut the front out, leaving a bit of lip so the bedding material doesnt get scratched out easily….then we cut the top out, just so we can easily access the eggs for removal.

    The frames that the nesting boxes are housed in are made from thin walled, 25mm square section steel. Very cheap, relatively light weight etc. The walls of the frame are corflute, but the base is steel mesh, so that chicken poo, saw dust etc can fall through and not collect in there….

  6. Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    I have Maxine McKew holding in the compost in my cold compost bin here. Corflutes and cableties are magic gardening tools.

  7. Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    oh wow this is going on! I love it, comments in Spanish AND replies, well done you lot. I have a great collection of John Howard and Peter Costello posters but I aint sharing them, they’re good for all sorts of things and make great target practice. HeHe. and Leandro I use similar mobiles for meat and eggs chickens but I give the meat chickens a little less room but move them more often, but it depends on the breed. If you’re raising a dual purpose bird, keeping the hens for eggs and the cockerels for eating then housing together may not be a problem but as Gianna says, supplementary feed may be necessary, another reason why I keep the meat birds separate. I give them a different ration and I like to monitor the amount of food they eat. Prospero Ano Neuvo todos.

  8. Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on albertgenau.

  9. Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    I will be biulding a coop soon for my first chickens this spring , I don’t have a pasture for them but will let them be free yard chickens, like your moblie and the laying boxes. great job.

  10. Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Looks good Floyd, good to see things are progressing since the course. We use left over corflute for all sorts of things. It was great for our portable chicken brooder which I made from 900 x 1800 timber frames with chicken wire over them and then used for corflute to contain the deep bedding and protect the pine.

  11. Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink | Reply

    My son-in-law designed one of these for his farm and called it a “chicken tractor”

    • Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink | Reply

      Yep in the lingo chicken tractors are generally structures that chickens are contained within, rather than a house which theyre shut into at night… I should note that this structure can be (and has been) used as a chicken tractor also :)

  12. leandro
    Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    Necesito saber como puedo controlar los malos olores ya que mi futuro gallinero móvil lo planeo colocar en un huerto urbano si bien colinda con patios de viviendas y hay también gallinas en ellos me preocupa los malos olores y saber si puedo tener 30 gallinas en un gallinero móvil sin que puedan salirse del mismo porque mi pequeña granja estaría ocupada con verduras , vegetales y hortalizas ¿que tamaño seria el gallinero para 30 gallinas? ..Saludos amigosdesde córdoba en el centro de Argentina Leandro…..

  13. Posted January 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I would be concerned for the chickens’ well being in Joel Salatin’s broiler houses with the very low roofs in Australian summer conditions.
    I’m thinking also that the corflute would be a little cooler (slightly more insulative?) than corrugated iron – and I favour your peaked roof.
    I’m thinking about moveable, flexible chicken housing for the future and am also considering how to keep them warm in our very frosty winter conditions by the creek. I’ve seen pastured, rotation systems with mobile pens built on to the top of old trailers. I was thinking of some kind of light weight construction like yours with large overhanging eaves and a gap between the walls of the structure and the sides of the trailer so I could slide in some hay bales on their sides for winter and indeed, summer, insulation. I’d need to hook it up to the ride on to move it though. Just throwing around ideas! Thanks again for sharing your ingenious solutions. Cheers, Cas in Coonabarabran

  14. Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We need some rolls of electric netting. Where can we buy it??

  15. Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We call the signs corplast here, but same stuff – ours are old realtor signs. We’ve used them for a multitude of purposes around here, including the top and sides of our first field shelter (made out of pallets-heavy!). It worked really well, but the corplast/corflute will definitely blow away if you don’t have it screwed down. It’s also not a great deterrent to serious predators. I really like your eggmobile design, and the jugs for nest boxes is brilliant!

  16. Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m moving soon to a place I’m told has a fox problem (Toowoomba). We’re planning to get our first chickens just to supply eggs for our small household. I’ve been keeping an eye out for ideas for structures I could build myself using basic DIY skills & tools, and this looks great. Do you reckon welding some steel mesh onto the bottom would be adequate fox-proofing? Or would they be able to chew/claw through the corflute roofing? I love the idea of it being so lightweight, and made from repurposed materials, but maybe something tougher would be in order?

    • Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink | Reply

      ours has mesh under the corflute, would definitely not recommend corflute as the sole material for a chicken house of any kind, unless it’s ina fox-proof chicken run. if it is a hutch that the chickens are let out of each day mesh on the floor would be a great idea for night-time protection, but if it’s a chicken tractor (where they remain enclosed in the structure) mesh on the floor would hurt their feet as they try to scratch the ground during the day…

  17. Posted January 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Milkwoodkirsten. When I was looking at the pictures of your egg mobile I somehow didn’t register the fact that you’ve got mesh on the inside of the corflute! I would want to let the chooks free range in the yard during the day, or at least in a much larger enclosure than the tractor thing, so I could put mesh across the bottom to keep them safe at night.

    Would it be possible for you to put the plans you used up in another post?

  18. Posted February 9, 2013 at 2:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    Here is the link that shows the chicken/turkey tractor we use for our meat birds. (PVC pipe,) I think it could be adapted for layers. We’ve made smaller shorter ones then the one pictured.
    http://homesteadinginwv.com/2013/02/07/what-are-some-of-the-best-agricultural-opportunities-part-1/
    We really like Joel S. farming techniques, he have most of his books. One of these days we’d like to check out his farm. He is only a state away.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Enter the egg mobile (start with what you’ve got). [...]

  2. [...] to the inclinations, functions and nature of the Muscovy, we’ve started them off down in our egg mobile system with the laying hens, until we decide on the design for a full-blown duck system [...]

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