Author Topic: Introducing Our EggMobile  (Read 16148 times)

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Offline Herman Beck-Chenoweth

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Introducing Our EggMobile
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2008, 09:04:57 AM »

by Tim Young, Nature's Harmony Farm

Last week we put our Eggmobile into production.  Christened "Freebird 1", this is the first of 3 eggmobiles that we hope eventually will call Nature's Harmony Farm home.

Many of you are familiar with Polyface Farm or have read about it in Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dillema".  The eggmobile was made popular by Polyface farmer Joel Salatin and has been copied by many.  There are lots of ways to make one, but the premise is that you have a mobile hen house that accommodates a few hundred laying hens, and you rotate the eggmobile daily to a spot that the cows grazed 3-4 days previously.   The hens stay in the eggmobile at night, protected from predators. During the day, the eggmobile is opened and, like miniature wobbly soldiers, the hens march out and immediately devour grass.  If you didn't think that chickens like grass, think again.  It's the first thing they'll eat on our farm given the choice.

The hens of course kindly deposit prodigious amounts of fertilizer on our pasture, and help the cows reduce/eliminate parasites by foraging for larvae and insects that bother the cows. This provides protein for the hens and earns them praise from the cows.

The foraging helps the hens to produce tremendous eggs with an "orangish" yolk and a white that will stand up in the pan instead of running around the pan like supermarket eggs. This is owed to the beta carotene that the grass provides to the eggs.  In fact, eggs laid by hens foraging on pasture have shown:

    * 1⁄3 less cholesterol
    * 1⁄4 less saturated fat
    * 2⁄3 more vitamin A
    * 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
    * 3 times more vitamin E
    * 7 times more beta carotene

    See this article in Mother Earth News for more test results:

In a previous post, we wrote about how we scored three old cotton trailers that were out of service.   I was able to find the cotton trailers simply by placing a $7 ad in the Elberton Star.  Given all the cotton fields I see around here, I figured someone would have some they didn't want.  One farmer had three and that was perfect for me.  Our plan was to modify these frames to become eggmobiles. The cotton trailer made an ideal foundation. While I may not want to drive it around I-285 in Atlanta, it's perfect for moving a few hundred feet at a time around our pasture.

The first step was to pull out the solid metal bed of the cotton trailer and replace it with expanded (mesh) metal.  While walking on this makes adults feel like they're on a cruise ship, it enables manure and urine to drop through to the pasture, keeping the fertilizer exactly where we need it. 

After the floor was set, I framed the interior and roof using standard 2 X 4's. You can get a sense of this in the picture.  Using joist brackets, I hung rafters and secured metal roofing to the eggmobile.  All in all, a good weekend project.  After that was done, I simply crafted a door, hinged it and the hens would have a ramp to enter and exit.

An important decision that Liz and I discussed at length was what to do about the nesting boxes.  You can buy the commercially made with 10-12 holes, but they cost up to $300 each new.  Given that we'll have 250 hens in each eggmobile, we'll need about 50 nesting boxes in each, that would add at least $1,200 to the cost of each eggmobile.  Ouch!

You may recall reading a post about how I found 212 milk crates on Craigslist.   These only cost us a dollar each, so for $212, we figured we could have the same number of nesting boxes; enough to supply all three eggmobiles!  This would save a retail value of over $5,000!  The question was how to best mount them, and if we could do so in such a way that the hens would lay in them. Plus there was the issue of the bar in front of the nesting boxes that hens land on before entering. Those bars, on the commercial boxes, are hinged so that they can be closed at night, thereby denying access to the hens. We needed to replicate this capability.
Nesting Boxes

Our solution was to use cable ties to secure the milk crates to the side of the eggmobile. We further secured them to each other, and so far that's worked out great.  However, this left the opening at the top of the milk crate on the side, which was what we wanted, but we feared it was too big to offer privacy to the hens. In addition, it would be difficult to keep the straw in the boxes, not to mention the eggs!

The solution presented itself as I was browsing at Home Depot. Looking for anything I could easily secure to the nesting boxes, I came across strips of gutter guards which seemed perfect.  A case was only $26, and less than half a case was enough for the 24 boxes I had up.  I screwed them in and they worked perfectly.

That still left the question of how would we provide access to the boxes, and how would we restrict access. Liz and I came up with a simple but effective solution.  We simply screwed a few lines of strapping to 2 x 4's, in effect making a wide ladder.  We place this on two cinder blocks at night and lock it to a hitch in the ceiling. This restricts access to the nesting box. In the morning, we unhitch it, lean it against the wall and the hens have access to any box they want. When you have as much work to do as we do, always look for the simplest solution.

The final step was securing tarps to the sides.  We elected to screw them in, believing that they will provide warmth in the cooler months and shade in the summer. The back is still open so ventilation is not a problem.

For convenience, we mounted a hose reel to the exterior and included 200' of hose. Given that we've already run over 7,000' of underground PVC with water spigots every 250' or so, this makes it easy for us to provide clean, fresh water, no matter where we park the eggmobile.

 Of course, the only real assessment can be provided by the hens. While we have 200 Black Australorps/Rhode Island Reds, after we finished the eggmobile, we went ahead and bought 40 Rhode Island Reds/Barred Rocks last week that were at laying age.  The hens have taken to the eggmobile just fine, and to my relief, have taken to the nesting boxes just fine.  We are helping them to learn that they have to come back in every night (a few like to roost underneath), but otherwise they're a delight.

With this experience behind us, the next eggmobile should be a breeze.  The eggs are rolling now at Nature's Harmony Farm.
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« Last Edit: August 23, 2008, 03:08:42 AM by CatManDo »