DMK Permaculture

Permaculture Mandala Garden, Chicken Tractor Design


Chook Dome Building Instructions

In true Permaculture spirit, we supply this information to other Permies for free,
there are no catches, no sign ups or registering emails, simply view or print and use with our best wishes.

The Dome featured was built in Dec 2013. Scroll down this page for a full detail set
of step by step instructions including photos.

Or… Click Here for Detailed Printable Instructions (pdf 4.3Mb)

Dome Build 51 We have built a new chook dome for our garden, also known to some people as a “chicken tractor” or a “chicken dome”. We now have two domes in operation circulating around the garden. This new Dome is made to our original dome plan sketch below, and we have posted photos and instructions of each step of the construction for you to follow.

Note that there are two things that set our our dome design apart from others you may have seen. ONE: We use a third horizontal ring for extra strength. And most importantly TWO: The use of a glued ‘T’ junction at the bottom where the ribs meet the base ring. Incorporating this ‘T’ junction negates the use of criss-cross wires to pull the dome into shape as per Linda Woodrow’s design. ALSO: Our experience clearly demonstrates (against popular opinion) that it is better to attach the tarp to the dome permanently, and then peg down the dome when strong winds or storms come, it is a whole lot stronger.

This post is a pictorial with instructions and hints on “How To Do It” . . . or rather more accurately . . . “How We Did It” The following is only a guide, plenty of handy women & men, can take one look at Linda Woodrow’s dome concept and its principles, and run with it and work out a pretty good facsimile for themselves. We have posted how we approached this construction, and hope it will act as a useful guide to the complete novice, or a reference of “how the hell they did it” to the experienced builder.

OUR DOME Dec13

We are estimating the whole dome will cost about A$250 to A$300. It is difficult to put an accurate figure on this because we already have some of the materials we’ll be using, but they are not expensive, and can last for years.

Click on Sketch for Closer Look

The sketch of the design DMK Dome#3 is of our existing 8 year old dome, which had a recent upgrade and refurbishment, can be seen featured at our page Chook Dome Tractor Old

A second dome was necessary to expand our garden from two Mandalas to four, with two domes rotating as planned. We had eggs incubating under a broody chook at the time of writing this post, eventually to fill this dome, so we had to get moving and be ready to move the hatch-lings in a few weeks. In the meantime the chicks will be in bliss in the recently refurbished broody pen below. It’s quite literally goanna & dog proof, and large snake proof. For more details on this Broody Coop, click on picture below.

Broody 1

BUT WHY USE A DOME?

There are other good reasons for persevering with a dome rather than a square shape. Chooks can be bitchy girls indeed, and the will naturally establish their pecking order – literally pecking the weaker chooks! Being a circular cage, it is difficult for the weaker chooks to be cornered, after chasing around a couple of laps, they all forget what they were doing, so the maintaining of the pecking order is not so relentless as in a cage with corners. They will be much happier chooks.

Second important reason for a dome is the shape has minimal wind resistance. We’ve had domes go through a couple of cyclones and the shape is more sleek than a square shape. If the tractor is light enough to lift and move, it will also be light enough to blow away or be blown over. We wedged four square bales of hay inside our dome and used a few hefty tent pegs around the base ring where the ribs come down. We faced the dome opening into a sheltered direction from wind. The bales got wet & heavy very quickly, the second cyclone we even pre-wet them, and the chooks sheltered on the ground between them, we didn’t loose a chook. The ground was so wet that worms were looking for higher dryer ground, and what we found after the cyclone was a bonus . . . the bales were chock-a-block full of worms.

Our garden system closely follows Linda Woodrow’s mandala circles system, as per her book, The Permaculture Home Garden. Our garden beds are circles thereby maximising the Permaculture Edge Principle, so the dome is built to fit neatly over the beds. It’s a ‘no dig’ system where the dome and it’s chooks become the tractor. The dome has to be light enough to get inside and lift and carry, yet strong and sturdy enough not fall apart when you do. It has to be rigid enough to last a long time and not go out of shape, and withstand strong winds and storms.

THE DOME CONSTRUCTION . . . Step by Step

It is important to use PVC tube of 20mm diameter. Do not use the black poly pipe as it will slump and change shape dramatically on a hot day, or in a strong winds. Do not use electrical conduit, it is smaller and has less wall thickness and not as strong or flexible. The internet is littered with examples of dome failures using these. Stick to the white PVC pipe, it is cheap and easy to use.

As the dome building description is long & detailed, the process has been divided into six sections . . .

Clickable Section Index:

BASE RING and RIBS
FITTING the RINGS
MAKING the DOORS
NETTING the DOME
FITTING the DOORS
ATTACHING the TARP

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Chook Broody Coop

The ‘A’ Frame Broody Coop.

          This is an old hardwood ‘A’ frame Broody Coop that we built in about 2004. It has been used as a broody coop for hatching chicks many times, but it ended up being stuck in middle of a fixed chook yard for years, with them roosting on top at night. It literally took shit . . . all over it! The softwood was eaten by termites and the netting in tatters, shown here it has been stripped and refurbished ready for use as broody coop again.

Broody 1

           New netting is Galv Arcmesh, 25mm square by 2.5mm gauge. It is strong and we are confident it is dog, goanna & python proof.  The little verandah roof drops down & when closed iron overlaps to make it completely water and wind proof on this side.

Broody 2

           Access thru little door, with convenient lip so little ones can’t jump out. Also shade-cloth is permanently attached, giving the option of shade on this side and the end.

Broody 4            Light enough for one person to be able to drag around, even with mother & chicks inside,  but heavy enough and shaped so it won’t blow over, or away in strong wind.

Broody 3

Here it is in use showing mother hen and chicks, safe inside secure mesh.

Broody 5

Only hatch four chicks this time, and they coped with the broody design with ease.

Broody 6

           With hay over the mesh floor, and the full view out the end of the ‘A’  it gives it the feel of being free range to the babies. Certainly mother hen has been very happy.

Broody 7

          Mother hen didn’t like the camera and did have a go at it, then herded the babies down to the corner. A little house like this made this an easy experience and we know we will use the broody coop again many times in the future. 

           We have a second ‘old broody coop’ sitting buggered and ready for refurbishment, so now we know this re-design has been successful we’ll rebuild that one too (when we get a spare moment or two!!).

Broody Old

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Produce Gallery

Real food – fresh & local. Food miles is about utilising local seasonal food. Many people need to be educated to know what fruit & veg is in season locally, not expect all produce – all year round.

Sometimes we produce fruit & vegies which are classic, and of course this happens when you provide them with a near optimal growing conditions – rich organic soils and the right weather. We have posted pics of some of the more exciting examples from our garden . . .     

Michele below shows a staggered planting of sweet corn. See in foreground the young plants, behind them on the left the corn is just reaching adult size, and on the right the plants are fully mature, very healthy, and bursting with multiple cobs ready for harvest. We’ll be eating fresh corn tonight and for many weeks to come. There are rock melons under the corn on the right, plentiful and nearly ready. Yum.

Corn 3 Stages

Purple Podded Peas, they’re savoury, not sweet, great for pea soup, pea flour, or mushy peas.Purple Podded Peas

 Ruby Lou’s Potato, freshly washed & eaten same day as harvested.Red Potatoes

Rainbow Chard which we call Ozzy Spinach!   Oi Oi Oi (it’s green & gold)Spinach

Tropical Peach – “Prunus Persica” is a native to China

Tropical Peach

We had chickens hatch last xmas (2013) and here is one of the roosters at around six months old, and of course he wasn’t going to lay eggs so he was destined to be roasted. Organic and fresh . . weighing in at 2.2Kg  and absolutely no food miles. If you like chicken, it doesn’t get any better.

Surplus Rooster

Nicely Roasted

Cooked Chook

Below is a photo of a morning’s harvest in early Nov 2013. Michele presented this to her daughter for her birthday.  About 15 varieties of veg, couple of herbs and a dozen eggs, all grown in our permaculture organic garden. 

Today's Pick

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Mandala Layout Guide

          From the diagram below you get a good idea how the Mandala layout should look ideally. Six circle beds all in their own big circle, with a herb bed & pond in the centre. The diagram below suits a mandala using a 3.5mt diameter chook dome. Working with a string line from centre post, mark out the inner circle line for the centre Herb bed and Pond, then mark out the circle line of the centre points of the six circle beds.   (click on diagram to view larger &/or print pdf)Mandala Layout guide

         A hint with this is; The radius of a circle, will divide it’s own circumference into six, well nearly, roughly . . . there-abouts anyway!  So if one gap between circles ends up being a bit wider than the others it’s OK. We deliberately planned our layout to provide a little more width for the main access pathway into the middle of the mandala and pond.

           Hammer in a peg in the centre of each circle bed, and mark out the individual circle outlines of the beds. In our case, we used ‘lime’ to mark the circles, but you can use flour. Then compost up the beds adding horse poo and peanut mulch, plant some buck wheat, cover with mulch hay. Water the bed a plenty and let it settle & the buckwheat shoot and grow a bit, then it’s ready for Chook Dome to move on to it. Freshen the mulch and plant vegie seedlings straight after the dome moves to next bed.

Mandala 1 Planning

Mandala One Layout

          The Chook Dome moves around the two Mandalas (set of circles) in a figure 8 pattern, spending 2 weeks on each bed. This equates to one complete circuit every 6 months. Clockwise on the first Mandala (pic below) and anticlockwise on the second Mandala still in layout (pic below that). Note; Chook Dome sites are only the outside circles, the centre circle is for a pond and perennial herb beds.

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Banana Circles

Turning a disadvantage into an advantage. In the wet season we have a potentially boggy patch on our driveway. Banana Circles have been created alongside the driveway, and able to benefit from channeling excess run off away from the driveway into the circles. The two Banana Circles are side by side, one is slightly uphill from the other, so that when/if the first one floods, the water runs down into the second. Beginning with a backhoe digging out rough circles, heaping up soil around the perimeter. The circles were then more clearly formed by hand, and the rocks within used to support the outer edges. The raised perimeter beds are mulched and further formed into high and low sections. The higher for Pawpaws, and the lower for Bananas, mulch in the centre. Around the outside will be mulch crops, lemon grass, yacon, Egyptian spinach, lucerne etc.

Ex Tropical Cyclone Oswald with buffering winds and torrential rain, sat stationery on us (the Cape) for four days (Jan2013), bringing a much needed 300mm (12″) of rain. This has demonstrated that our water control plan using the circles did indeed work. The water from the higher circle did flow into the lower circle, and did drain off the driveway effectively, meanwhile plants around the circle are powering.

NOTE: (Nov13) Unfortunately the neighbouring horses pushed the ordinary wire fence down and decimated one whole side of the plants. We will post pics when they are restored. 

The photos look at 3 different views of the two circles, and seven photos per view, covering one year.  Just click on the big photo below for a comparison slide show to start . . . .


Critter Proof Fencing

Our definition of a critter proof fence is to keep out bandicoots, rabbits, cane toads, foxes, dingoes, dogs,  kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, betongs; and other critters like a neighbour’s stray goat, horse, cow or pig. There are some we will never stop, such as large pythons, and goannas.   Qu “Where does a 300Kg gorilla sit?”  Ans Anywhere he wants!”  The same with +6mt long pythons and +2mt goannas, when we come across them, we gently coerce them to move on, or call wildlife enthusiasts for assistance.
Fence 00
The fence is 165cm high, has three wire strands with dog wire mesh from the top strand 120cm down to the bottom strand about 50cm off the ground. Recycled corrugated iron is hung horizontally along the bottom of the fence, trenched into the the ground about 20cm to 25cm. We found this design of fence is effective in keeping unwanted critters from the garden. Some fences have a skirt buried outwards from the bottom of the fence,  and while this was considered as well, in the last 5 years we haven’t found it necessary. Digging under the buried corro iron will be challenging enough for critters. So in keeping with permaculture principles we have designed a fence which we know to be effective to keep out the critters and pests in our area.

We chose to use galvanised pipe for posts and strainers rather than timber, for longevity reasons and given our local termite issues, we are simply too old to do things twice, or ‘the hard way’. Using galv pipe saved on labour costs and messing with heavy tree trunks and machines. The extra cost ended up being a small price considering the years it will last.

Fence 01

First the corner strainer holes were dug by machine auger, the posts were cut and assembled and concreted in position as one piece, all bolted together. We used 2 inch posts, and 1.1/4 inch angled braces.
Fence 02 Continue reading


Chook Dome Tractor Old

          A fully functional & ergonomic Chook Dome Tractor is imperative to our garden system. The garden plan involves two domes tracking around four Mandala layouts. The second dome has been built based on this old dome below, and is featured on our page “Chook Dome Building Instructions”. This dome pictured below was built in 2006, small improvements were made during refurbishment in 2012, now it’s back in use and exactly what we want . . . durable & maintenance free.

          There are plenty of chook domes about, but if you have predators of chooks & eggs, then most I’ve seen just aren’t going to cut it. When you have to worry about dingoes & large pythons who will both take several chooks in a night, or smaller pythons and goannas and rats who will leave no eggs, then your dome will need to be strong and secure.

           There are two things that set our our dome design apart from others, i.e. we use a third ring for extra strength, and; the use of a ‘T’ junction at the bottom where the ribs join the base ring. The ‘T’ junction also negates the use of criss-cross wires to pull the dome into shape. We also believe against popular opinion, that it is better to attach the tarp to the dome permanently, and peg down the dome, when strong winds or storms come it’s a whole lot stronger. Chooks don’t like constant flapping tarp noises.

          If you feed your chooks grain supplements as well, then native birds will feed all day. Then dome pictured has small bird wire covering it to prevent birds getting in, and it is behind a dog proof fence. Believe me when I say we had a 7 metre python come one night and take five chooks. If you want to make a dome that is light enough to lift and carry, then we’ve found there is ‘nothing’ you can do to stop a snake of that size, considering the dome doesn’t have a floor, if it did the chooks wouldn’t be able to scratch, so what’s the point? We put a rooster and ten bantam chooks in this size dome.

           This dome has been in use for many years, it survived the brunt of Cyclone Yasi 2011 intact, shown in the picture above during re-netting and new door in 2012. Cyclone preparation was to peg the dome down using long tent pegs, hammered in at an angle holding the ring at the bottom of each rib. We put 4 square bales of hay inside, positioned against the walls, then soaked them with water. Our chooks sheltered between the bales, and afterward the bales were ckockablock full of worms. We didn’t loose a chook.
 We have two perches, hanging from the top ring. Our perches are a branch of un-even thickness from about 35mm to 45mm, each chook will choose a position where the diametre is comfortable for the size of their feet. We found the best idea for a nesting box is an old lawn mower catcher, and you only need one, they’ll all use the same one. Water and grain hangs off the ground from middle ring, but under cover of the tarp.

The back of the dome is mostly covered for shelter from cold winds in winter and rain in the wet season.

           Chook dome door detail; Note a little hatch door below the main door, this is to return escapees back in, simply open the hatch and chase them around and they’ll go straight in, it works. The main door and frame is sheathed by soft poly pipe to prevent us humans from getting scratched when going in & out. The doors are 25mmsqu galv arcmesh 2.5mm gauge, sheathed around the outside with 12mm soft black poly pipe held on with ring clips. This door can be thrown open and slammed with abandon & it continues to close without gaps. Three nifty little ‘flick open’ wire hooks hold it firmly closed.

           Front of dome shows the door section as being ‘flat’ across, so that the door will close without gaps. Construction of the dome is 20mm PVC tube, it is rigid yet flexible and importantly light weight and cheap. Black poly pipe is not rigid enough and will end up floppy and out of shape, also will collapse in strong winds. The joins of the ribs and rings are attached by drilling a hole through both and wiring together using 2mm thick wire. Old wire coat hangers are a good source of free wire. The bottom ring of the dome shown here has “T” junctions where the vertical ribs join, this holds the whole frame quite rigid.

(See Also; Chook Dome – Building Instruction )

This is a rough dome sketch with sizes and measurements. If you have questions about construction, you can leave a message below.

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