Pen for Small Hens

It’s disarmingly easy to bring home a chick from the feed store. They are super cheap, and cute as heck. They have the sweetest little peeps: peep, peep, peep. You can grab a few with your bare hands, tumble them into a cardboard box, hand over a couple dollars, put the box on the seat in the car next to you and drive them home. Put the box on the hearth, next to the fireplace. Badda bing! Now you’re a chicken farmer!

It is blissful for day one. And maybe even for day two.

Even though I had taped the walls of the box to be as high as possible, it wasn’t high enough to keep her inside. She had already pooped onto the hearth.

Day three I saw that one chick had already flown to the top of the box, meaning it was a certainty that she would soon fly into the living room, leaving her tiny adorable little piles of poop in her wake. I wasn’t having that.

I bought a dog pen and moved their whole cardboard box into the pen. Then they could fly up to the edges of the cardboard box and perch safely.
The dog pen worked for them for a long time. I was going to send them outside as soon as it the weather warmed consistently above freezing at night. But…week after week it stayed cold.

I chose a metal cage-type dog pen, and built a base by wrapping up canvas 5 inches high, to hold in most of their hen detritus. I laid down a washable sheet on top of the canvas, and replaced it once a week to clean up the chicken poop. Since the babies could fit through the holes at first, I strung bird netting around the bottom to keep them inside, but they often got tangled in it and I had to constantly rescue them.

Babies getting a little bigger and growing some big girl feathers. Mathilda the Hun has bullying and terrorizing tendencies (hence the name) and here she was in a time out to give the other girls some peace.

As I lamented in a blog post, the hens, the cat, and me all lost our patience with the arrangement. About that time, my blogger friend Marlene sent me a link to a blog post she had read. The other blogger built a chicken tractor, a phrase I had to look up. It means a mobile chicken pen with no floor. You can push it around with chickens inside, and move it to a place with fresh grass and no poop. (Yes, I am noticing that dealing with poo is constantly on my mind) The blogger built hers out of PVC pipe, a hollow plastic tube that is flexible and easy to find in many sizes.

Using PVC was immediately appealing to me. I had built a tractor a few years ago using 2x4s and large sheets of particle board. All that lumber made the thing ferociously heavy for me to move all by myself. After a season outside, the rain had warped it out of shape too. PVC would not only be lighter, but rain resistant and also round on the bottom, for even more ease of movement.

I pulled out a piece of paper and starting scratching out plans, based on tips from the blogger, my past experience, and my goals for a hen pen. My goals included easy access, which I had not incorporated into the wooden pen. I had not been able to interact with those chickens and when they were adults would not let me anywhere near them. My Small Hens currently adore me and immediately jump up onto me when I sit down, and if I hold still long enough, they settle down and take naps on me. I just love that.

I had not done much with PVC before, except installing the underground pipe to fill my pond in the summer when it stops raining. That was a simple job, merely connecting pipe in a straight line from the creek to the pond. This time I wanted to use PVC like Tinker Toys, which I played with as a child. I looked up the dimensions of pipe that is commonly sold, and of poultry netting (chicken wire), in order to build something with the least amount of cutting. I envisioned all the joint connections that I assumed could be found at the hardware store, and drew out the ones I planned to buy. I found a website online where a person had invented a hinge for a PVC door, and I loved the idea and decided to copy it.

Pedro came over for the weekend and we drove to the hardware store and discovered right away that I had been too confident. Not all the joints I wanted were available, and the hinge would only work if we could find a pipe exactly the right size to fit around the 3/4″ pipe size that we had chosen to work with, and we couldn’t. Not all the pieces we wanted were at one store. By the end of the weekend we had visited three different stores, beginning with the cute local Rainier hardware store and buying everything they had that we needed, because I like to support small shops, but knowing they wouldn’t have everything and we would have to make a supplemental trip to get what they lacked.

Pedro’s saw went easily through the PVC pipes.

There was no time for online shopping. I quickly rearranged plans in my head. Pedro had brought a saw from home and set it up in my garage. He followed my lead and deferred to me as Project Manager. When I needed to think through a part of design or construction, I made sure we collaborated, to try to reduce the number of mistakes. I still made a lot of mistakes. We made FOUR trips to Home Depot alone, returning parts, buying new parts, coming back for more parts, etc. But for all that, we didn’t end up wasting any material, and nothing was ruined. We never had to discard something that had been cut wrong or connected wrong. That’s pretty neat.

We put the frame together and then I thought through how to build the door, where to put the perches. Then we pulled it apart, cut some more pieces, went back to the hardware store and bought more connectors, and tried again.

Soon after we got started, Pedro stopped and looked at me. “Do you need to take photos for your blog?” he asked. Awwww. That’s the first time that’s happened to me. I assume your significant others have done this, but it’s my first time. The first time a partner reminded ME that I need to stop and take a photo for my blog. ÔŁĄ So, I did.

The PVC door and the Small Hens’ new box. Here, we have still not yet glued anything. You can tell because there is no purple staining.

The new box was his idea. I was trying to think of a way to put a cardboard box outside and keep it somewhat protected from the elements, soaking ground, frequent rain. Pedro’s idea was to buy a plastic storage tub and cut a hole in the side and fill it with straw – viola! He suggested a dark-coloured tub, to keep the light out which would make the babies feel safer. These ideas were spot on.

Have you ever worked with the purple glue? It sets in seconds! It took both of us, thinking quickly, constantly. Which pieces should we put together first, so that the next connection would work? How many connections could we hold in place while the other person slopped on the glue? How best to jam joints together on a 3-D structure? It was a fun puzzle and – amazingly – we got through the whole thing without screwing it up. We made one bad connection, but luckily it was early in the process, and we were able to switch it out for a different place where it would work, and kept going. We built this damned thing in a day.

We begin to attach the poultry netting with zip ties.

Well, the plastic part was done in a day. It was nighttime at that point and we went inside to eat and rest. The next morning we were back at it. Pedro had to go home soon, so we hurried. Poultry netting is sold at rolls of 4 feet wide, so I designed the cage to be 4 feet high. I had purchased a bag of 100 plastic zip ties, and while Pedro unrolled the wire and stretched it, I zipped it tightly to the pipes. Then I went around and secured all the places that seemed like holes big enough to admit a small hen, and he went around and clipped the wire off and clipped the ends off the ties.

He helped me carry it out to the backyard. The last thing he did for me was to cut a hole in the side of the plastic storage bin that they could use as a door, and then kissed me goodbye.

I got fresh straw from the Hussies’ hen house and filled the tub and put it inside for them. Later I would cut lengths of black gripping tape and tape it to the perches so they had some rough texture to grip when they jumped up there, instead of the slippery plastic tubes. (We had selected 1/2 inch pipe for the perches, to suit their little chick feetsies better than the 3/4 inch pipe. We found joint connectors at a 90 degree angle to switch from 3/4 to 1/2. I mean seriously…this project was so much like Tinker Toys.) I installed their water dispenser to the wall, and put some food in.

Then came the FUN part!!! I got to move the babies. They were characteristically terrified when I began catching them all and throwing them into their box. I had pulled the towel completely over the top, so they couldn’t get out. They didn’t know that they could just jump against it and knock the towel off. Chickens are dumb. But still so cute. When I had nabbed them all, I carried them out of the house.

OUT of the house. Finally.

The girls frigging LOVED their new home immediately.

Girls in their new, big, safe, outdoor home.

I took the above photo and sent it to Pedro and cheered our success and thanked him.

It was still raining and still cold, almost down to freezing at night, so for a while I put them outside in the day, and brought them back in at night – with the trauma of catching them and trapping them in the box each time. But as I said, we had all had it with each other. The Small Hens were getting bigger and had all their feathers except on their heads, so they could cuddle together in their box at night for warmth. I finally hit a wall and just left them out there. They were fine.

Guess what I did that day? CLEANED THE HOUSE. Yes, There were little fluffy feathers and some kind of weird hen dust all over the house. Somehow they had kicked little dried pieces of poo outside of the pen and onto the wood floors. I deconstructed the dog pen and washed all the fabrics once and for all. Whew. Clean and quiet house.

Racecar was quite relieved and thanked me for getting her little sisters outside.

Eventually I added the old dog pen to the door side, to expand their space. I lock them in at night because their cage has a roof and will protect them from predator birds.

With all that space and a big door, I can easily climb right inside and hang out with them. They get SO excited when I’m there, and jump up onto my legs and chill out with me. It’s super sweet.

All four girls sitting on my knees while I sit inside their pen with them.
Mathilda the Hun loves me more than the others do, despite her punishments early on when she was such a bully. Maybe because of all the attention she got, she has bonded with me.
As the Small Hens get bigger, I have introduced them to the big hens a few times. Here, I have let them out of the dog pen. Starting at the left top and going to bottom right are: Two, Maya, Yin, Chick Nhat Hahn, Yang, Jamie, Mathilda the Hun.

They are almost big enough to stand up to the grown up hens, the Hussies. Chickens will peck each other to establish dominance, and it can get out of hand when one or more chickens are not able to defend themselves. It’s not meanness, just instinct, but it could be harmful if the babies are too small. But they are getting to know each other and so far when the big hens peck the little ones, it has been gentle and the little ones respond right away so no additional pecks are needed. I have high hopes that they will soon be ready to live together in the hen house in the big pen. Then I can retire the PVC cage till the next time I decide to raise baby hens.

16 thoughts on “Pen for Small Hens

  1. Enjoyed hearing about the PVC-tinker toy-like experience –
    It came out well!
    We were going to use PVC for our raised bed fencing but could not easily find the size we wanted and so went with cedar poles (the work better) and so It was also interesting to see that you did get all the various stuff you needed (even if going to a few places)
    Cheers to Pedro for his assistance and reminde to take pics for sharing on blog!
    Awwww is right

    1. Yvette, it is so good to hear from you. I’m glad you found the cedar poles easy to work with. I thought I might build a deer-proof garden area this year, but again I find myself so busy I know it won’t happen. I really should do these projects in the winter, so they are ready in the spring, ha ha. Well, you’ll just have to enjoy your garden a little extra for me. Yes, I am grateful to Pedro for the reminder. ÔŁĄ

      1. You comment about Pedro removing you of the photo taking – well it reminded me of earlier this year when twice my hubs and son invited me somewhere with them and said “come on – you can take pictures!”
        Hahaha – they sure no me even though after deleting a lot of videos and photos recently – I don’t feel like doing the “fast snapping” photo grabs of the past!
        And I vow to edit more before just storing the pics – sigh!

        And our raised bed is small and then we have about a dozen nap containers – and very manageable – I wish I could have a enormous plot to grow rhubarb and other fun things but don’t have the time or desire for that commitment – so the little bit of stuff we get is reasonable for how easy it is to care for what we have!

        Maybe you could have a couple containers for peppers and basil ?
        Or just enjoy your feathered friends!

      2. Oh that is funny. Your men know how to tempt you! Yes, thank you for the suggestion and it’s what I have been doing the last four years. I have big planter pots that I line up on the deck and plant my stuff in. The deer won’t come onto the deck so they are safe. I’ve had reasonable success with lettuces, cilantro, peas, and tomatoes. Squashes and potatoes not so much. This year I’m trying tomatillos and beets and carrots. What kind of peppers work best for you? We are cool and don’t get much sun, so I’m reluctant to try peppers without better knowledge.

      3. Well I think with peppers you will
        Have to experiment and we still have mixed results !
        Right now I have four pepper varieties – maybe five –
        Banana peppers are my top on to grow – love to snack on those little gems
        But we also have a yellow medium hot – two japs – and some bell.

        And so regarding the mixed results – I am puzzled as to our outcomes!
        I am Sure the seed variety changes – the location – even soil can interact in different ways

        So looking at the pepper plants – half were bought as starter plants and the rest of from seed
        – I wonder which will thrive
        None have ever produced like the first banana pepper plant I bought and cared for in 2009!
        It was my first banana pepper and I randomly put it into this bed area where I grew a clematis, Lantana, and other flowers – for months we got daily harvests and shared –

        Since that time I have never had a single pepper plant give as much as that one!

        One day would love to have the chance to have daily eggs – but no space for feathered friends

  2. That was fun to read. The poop would send me into overdrive to get the tractor built. Kate is always full of good ideas. Sounds like it worked out well for you and thanks for the mention. Pedro is a very good man. Love that the chickens like your company. Never heard of that before. I’m past my bedtime so my gears are slow tonight. Keep those eggs going. ­čśë

    1. Yep, the poop is hard to deal with. Luckily when their diet was 100% crumble for chicks, the poo didn’t smell bad and dried fast. But it looks bad, especially inside the house. We were roommates for almost two months, and now it seems a long time ago. They are now big, bold, and strong and it will be time to integrate them with the big hens soon. I’m so close to these babies that it will be very sad when I start losing them, as always seems to happen out here in the wilderness. It’s egg season again! My three big hens are laying now after not giving me a single egg from September – March. That’s unusually long. But I think it’s because they are old hens. When the babies start laying, I should have a more reliable supply.

  3. Oh, Crystal, you are amazing!! And Pedro too. You do everything just right! It may be easy and quick to become chick owners but not many do it like you did! That photo of you covered with chicks is so endearing. You are such a good chick mama. And Marlene sent you just the right post. I love it when everything comes together just right. I giggled twice reading this, aloud, and thought I’d wake up amore, but then realised that I’m in Piran and there is nobody to wake up but bestia.

    1. I love it that my post made you giggle. I feel lucky on this project, and it’s probably because of Pedro’s help that we didn’t ruin or waste anything. And yes, Marlene and her friend Kate came through just when I needed them. UPDATE: This weekend I was fussing around in the big hen pen and all 7 chickens followed me in there, curious. It seemed like an opportunity I could not waste, so I shut the door and they have lived together for 2 1/2 days now. It seems to be going really well. I’ve had cases here when the big hens pecked the smaller ones till they were injured, but nothing of the sort is happening. I’m relieved. I plan to keep them all trapped together in the big pen for at least a week before I think about letting them roam free in the yard again. Just today I put the PVC hen pen into a corner of the yard, out of the way, to save it till the next time I raise babies.

      1. Thank you for the update! I hope it continues well. I’ve had a ping in my lower back but it’s been better with cream and pills. I’ve been more or less alone for ten days but my parents are coming back from Croatia soon. Be well!

    1. Aww, kind of you to think of relaxation. This time of year I don’t get that luxury much. I’m just about to wrap up my Spring Spanish class, so I’ll get two weeks away from schoolwork and tutoring and it’s a relief. Maybe, just maybe, the rains will stop during that time, and I can continue to cut grass and haul brush. The good thing is that I love the chores. Working hard outside gives me joy or else I wouldn’t be living here alone, haha!

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