Today is April 22nd , and it is officially Earth Day! It’s the perfect time to remind your kids of the importance of protecting their planet. There are events going on not only throughout the country, but also internationally, since April 22nd was named “International Mother Earth Day” by the United Nations in 2009. Kid’s can play a huge roll in these events. There are beach and park clean-ups, planting of trees, recycling drives and many other activities.
In my home, we decided to work on an Earth Day project for our layer hens. If you’ve been to my facebook page you would see that we have spent the past year raising hens from 2 days old. It has been a lot of work, but so much fun. I will definitely blog on that experience soon so you can see if it’s a project you might want to tackle.
As much as I would love it, our chickens can’t free range all of the time. We have huge hawks, raccoons, vultures, coyotes, and bobcats, even the occasional mountain lion up in the hills. For a town that is 4 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, it sounds more like the Land of the Lost. To let them out, the dog or we need to keep a close watch. So we decided we would build a chicken tractor.
I know, you are saying, “What the hell is a chicken tractor?” Chicken tractors are small fenced in runs that are portable. You can move them around by lifting one end and rolling the other on wheels. If you put it in a different spot every day, your chickens get fresh greens while the places they’ve been the days before are naturally fertilized. It’s brilliant.
Recently we trimmed back several feet of bamboo that was overtaking our driveway. Instead of composting it all, we saved lots of the big stalks. Some of them are over 15 feet long. Bamboo is incredibly strong. In spring the stalks in my yard grow over a foot in a week during the spring. It is one of the most plentiful and earth friendly materials around.
The first step was to plan how we would build this structure. There are manufactured tractors we could attempt to copy, but we wanted this to fee like something…well, earthy, natural as if it might have grown right out of the ground.
First, we cut off all of the little branches protruding from the sides of the large stalks. Then we lined them up alternating the top and bottom ends to make the base of our structure.
The next part was a bit tougher, so we needed to work together. I gathered 4 pieces and tied them together about ¾ of the way up the stalks as tightly as possible. Now standing with the poles in the center of the base, one person held the tie still while we little by little opened up the bottom like an umbrella. When we reached the corner with each stalk, we again connected them to the base. To add more stability, we laid four more stalks into the top tied piece, and secured the bottoms, this time at the center of each pole in the base.
Then, we grabbed it and shook it as hard as we could. If it wiggled, we just kept on tying more and more pieces, across the outsides, across the middle, what ever it needed to be stable. We had to be sure this thing is tough, because these girls trust us to keep them safe. Look at this thing! I hope this means I have some Native American ancestors who are watching me from the spirit world. Wouldn’t they be proud.
A door. I made one to install at the top of the pyramid by making one additional triangle to swing open when putting the girls in. Out would be no problem because you could lift it and simple walk away. But trying that and having them all stay under at the same time is worse than trying to get 20 pre-schoolers to walk in a straight line while they hold on to a rope. (I speak from experience here.) We wired on some large simple hinges so it could be easily swung open.
The next step was to attach some ½ inch chicken wire to cover the entire structure (covering the door separately.) To close the seams, so sewed them shut with some 22-gauge wire.
The last step was to attach some wheels to one end so it can be rolled when lifted. If we wanted to be totally green, then we could have left them off. But I want my kids to be able to maneuver it around themselves, so I made this one exception.
So there you have it. We had a new chicken tractor and we didn’t have to cut down any additional trees. It’s groovy, it’s rustic, and it’s strong and functional. I bet Al Gore would call it downright sexy.
Oh, yes. There was one last step. Lying down under the clear, clean sky while listening to the happy clucking of our flock and sipping a glass of wine. (Just for me of course, not the kids ; ) This is Northern California, ya know. Wine is required for a celebration.)
Cheers to a healthy planet, organic omelets, and family projects.
Happy Earth Day!