We already had a coop on the property, so we did not have to worry about building one of those, but I really wanted to let our chickens free-range during the day. The problem is that the house is fairly close to a road, the yard is not fenced, and it is wooded on two sides. Between the cars, neighborhood dogs, snakes, and hawks, I did not think that our chickens stood much of a chance without some sort of protection. So I turned my attention to making my own version of a “peck and play.” This posting is not really to tell you how to make one exactly like mine as much as it is a testimony to God’s provision and to encourage using what you have.
When I was looking around to see what resources were on hand I came across a large rectangle of black construction netting that had been left in the coop by a previous occupant of the house. When I found it, I wondered at how personal my God is! How like Him to have provided just the piece I needed to create a safe zone for my chickens! In addition to the netting, I already had eight corner joints for 1/2″ PVC pipe, four of them with wheels already attached! These came from an old laundry cart that I could no longer use and included some lengths of 1/2″ PVC. I also found four more wheels that I had salvaged from a damaged ping-pong table, an unused food bowl that came with our cat carrier, a milk jug, and some large bird seed sacks I had saved that were made of tarp material. This left me with needing to buy only a few more lengths of 1/2″ PVC pipe, some extra joint pieces, and some zip ties!
Using the piece of netting to guide the finished size of the pen, I basically constructed a large rectangular frame with the PVC pipe and attached the netting to it with zip ties. I sewed the feed sacks together to created a protected area on one end which covers an attached perch and the food and water dispensers. The food dispenser I formed from an upside-down milk jug zip-tied to the corner post through its handle. An altered pet water bottle provides water in the opposite corner (more on that later). The chickens enter and exit through a flap in the covered section that closes with a strip of Velcro. The wheels on the bottom allow us to roll it about in the yard. The finished enclosure is 18″ deep, 72″ long, and 56″ wide -plenty of room for a flock as small as ours to enjoy scratching for bugs and taking dust baths in the sun!
This unit has allowed us to move the chickens about in the yard, but still have them where we can keep an eye on them! We know that it is not a fail-safe against predators, but it should allow us a window of time to respond to things that would threaten them.
Update 9/23/14 – Our chickens finally got to the point where they were tall enough to enjoy a bit more head room! To allow for this, I split the two bars that held the netting in the center of the unit and added joints that were 45 degree angles. The T-joints on the sides allowed the support poles to swivel up to without having to rework the sides. Now the top is shaped more like a circus tent, but it does allow more space for the chickens to jump and stretch.