Last weekend, we built 90% of Ussery’s pasture shelter in about a day and a half. Given that we don’t have the resources (or desire, for that matter) to traffic in electric fencing for our girls, we re-engineered several key parts of the shelter to make it safer and less predator-friendly. I’m going to cover the changes we made last weekend here, but if you want to build your own Ussery shelter, please seek out his marvelous book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.
The one step we did take that saved us TONS of time was to go to Jason’s father’s house a week before we built the shelter and cut all of our wood with his table saw. Given his father’s expertise and ability, we were able to assemble the basic structure of Ussery’s design with far less difficulty. In addition to Ussery’s supplies, we also puchased 4 2”x2”x8′ boards for additional framing and a sheet of 1/2” plywood, from which we cut the two triangular panels to build a roosting box in the top of our shelter. We also needed two extra pairs of hinges because I wanted a second entry into the roosting box and a drawbridge that we could pull up at night to keep out creatures with sharp claws and teeth. Finally, we increased the quantity of hardware cloth to a 25′ roll of 1/2” cloth that was 36” wide. This was crucial to maintaining the safety of our girls without vastly increasing the weight of the design. We painted our structure with white exterior paint to brighten it up and prevent the wood from rotting.
Now, let me walk you through our process. We started by building Ussery’s basic framework and placing it on the wheels he specified. We drilled 1/2” holes 10” from each end of the shelter 1” down from the top edge of the frame. This left us with just over an inch of clearance from the ground when the wheels were installed (an ideal spot for an animal to start digging from, especially in the spring before our grass starts to grow. To combat this, I stapled 2” of hardware cloth around all four edges, extending down almost to ground level, with the spiky edge pointed down.
Wire-Reinforced Tractor Base
Next, we placed what would become the base braces of our roost/nesting box. This base is part of Ussery’s initial design but serves as a set of roosts, rather than a secure space for the chickens at night. To do this, we cut a 45 degree angle into a 2”x2” board, measured 57” and cut another 45 degree angle, so at its widest point, the board was 57” long (we did this with four boards). This will give almost two full feet of clearance for the birds underneath the box.
Base of Nesting Box/Roosting Box
Moving from the BACK of the structure, we drilled pilot holes then secured the first three braces in place (the first is in the back triangle of the structure). We then skipped one set of rafters (to allow for the drawbridge to swing up at night and attached the fifth).
View of box supports from back corner looking toward the front of the tractor. Note that there are no braces on the front two rafters.
Once the supports were in place, we cut a square of plywood to form the base of our floor (and the support for the drawbridge). Ours measured 37” x 30”, and 4 inches from the end that would attach to the rafter (a 30” end), we cut a second 12” W x 24” rectangle to provide a hatch for our chickens to access the box when the drawbridge (14” W by 40” L) is lowered. We set this directly in the middle of the front braces (the pair with the space in between) and measured the distance from each side (roughly 11”). At this point, we did have to remove sections of Ussery’s diagonal cross ties because they would inhibit our ability to place a box in the upper section of the structure. We removed them with a hand saw.
Placement of Flooring
Using a marker, I noted where the center piece needed to go and then removed it, so I could begin to construct the hardware cloth floor. I measured the distance from the triangular eave to the line on each side, adding about an inch of overlap that would fit up under the middle flooring (and give our floor a bit more stability) four of the 1 1/2” x 3/4” stringer boards and cut them to measure from our front box brace to our back box brace (five rafter lengths). At this time, I also measured out two pieces of hardware cloth and cut them to 12” by 74”. I placed the hardware cloth into the frame on either side, returning the middle wood to hold it down, then I used the stringer boards to hold each slice of hardware cloth firmly in place, sandwiching the wire between the box supports and the stringer boards and ensuring a tight fit by stapling at every six to eight inches into the stringer boards which fit flush against the bottom of the rafter and the middle flooring.
Framed Wire Floor Panel
After placing about fifteen staples in each stringer board and ensuring the wire would stay put, I slid out each piece of wiring (now attached to the boards) and stapled at every half inch connection, ensuring a tight and solid fit for the floor (without having to be upside down under the structure for forty five minutes.
While I worked on the flooring, Jason attached the drawbridge to the main flooring with a pair of 1/2” utility hinges. We designed our drawbridge to extend well over our opening (so it would touch the ground and also enable us to place a rope tie at the end). He added an eyehook to the base of the drawbridge and several chunks of wood to form steps for the girls. he then added three eye hooks to the top of the shelter (running along the underside of the ridgepole, so we could thread a rope up and through and ensure proper closure. Finally, he drilled a 1/2” hole through our rear box triangle (included in part II).
Eyehooks for Drawbridge
Meanwhile, I replaced the two frames of hardware cloth and after double-checking that the mid piece still fit (and refitting it again) I drilled pilot holes from the stringers into the box supports an then screwed them in place. I next secured the hardware cloth to the box supports for added strength, then covered them with small chunks of wood that I screwed in place (almost like building a frame around each piece of hardware cloth).
We then removed the mid piece for the final time and secured a piece of hardware cloth from the back box brace to the third brace in (30” x 38”), where we would construct the nesting box and the end of the roosting box. I simply stapled this piece in place on each of the three braces, then covered the first two with chunks of wood, which I screwed into place. The third brace was reinforced when we (finally!) screwed the middle piece of plywood (and its drawbridge) in place. We then ran the drawbridge rope up through the hardware cloth floor and threaded it through each eye hook (testing to ensure it worked).
To ensure the safety of our girls, we had to add a chunk of 2” x 4” x 12” on either side of the drawbridge (underneath) to eliminate a gap caused by a spot where the drawbridge hit one of the box braces.
In tomorrow’s post… building the nest box and framing in the roosting box!