DMK Permaculture

Permaculture Mandala Garden, Chicken Tractor Design


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Chicken Tractor or Chicken Dome in a Permaculture Mandala Garden

We use chicken domes, chicken tractors, or as in Australia we call chickens chooks, so our dome is called a ‘Chook Dome’.

We haven’t found it necessary to change to a geodesic dome, because our domes are sturdy and durable and have lasted well. A geodesic dome seems a whole lot of mind numbing effort, and I’ve seen a couple where it is too high in the centre to be moved by one person standing inside.

One of our domes has been in service for ten years, we refurbished the netting and revamped the door after Cyclone Yasi in 2011 gave it a bashing, but I gotta say that our dome has stood the test of the world’s 2nd biggest storm in history, so we reckon we built it right!  We built a second dome to the same design a couple of years ago in Dec 2013. Both domes work extremely well, they need little or no maintenance and the chooks are very contented.

Two Domes Now

Two Domes Now

The internet is littered with failures and examples of how not to build a dome. Do not use black poly pipe. Do not use grey electrical conduit. They are not as good as PVC and don’t last. For our design you need white PVC pressure pipe, 20mm (3/4 inch). It’s very cheap and light, comes in 6 metre lengths, and it bends easily without collapsing.

The DMK page link below, shows you exactly how we did it step by step, with pics of each step and a detailed sketch, and even printable instructions if desired.

Chook Dome Step by Step Building Instructions

Good Luck and Good Gardening


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Chookhouse Breeding Pens

          The plan on our home page shows three breeding pens for chooks adjacent to the seeding shed. These pens will be for breeding chooks to sell as breeding pairs, and to raise for eating. The concept of the pens was done as a drawing sketch with a rough idea of dimensions but mostly we ordered standard lengths of steel and it is being developed as it’s built. It’s kind of an organic development.

Chookhouse & Shed 05 2015

Panaramic Fisheye View of Chookhouse & Seedling Area

          The pens are absolutely dog and dingo proof, python proof, goanna proof, and even rat proof. We had two young roosters in the same dome so they had to be separated. We have eaten the other two roosters, but we are keeping one; Syd, a Sussex boy with a good temperament. He’ll be handy to us in future. 

Here’s Percy and Prissy, a Plymouth Rock couple, the first occupants of the new pens.

                          We put some fertile eggs from Percy & Prissy, and also some from Syd Sussex & Red (a Red Sussex hen) under Sparkles, a broody Seabright/Sussex cross, and we now have ten chicks, in the luxury of the new pen.

                        These pens will have a little night house at the rear which will be raised up from ground level and will also have a large access door at the rear for easy cleaning, and a slide out worm farm positioned under the night house floor, so droppings can be scraped straight in. The raised night house also allows for the droppings and hay to be scraped straight into a wheelbarrow parked at the rear.

Chookhouse 1

Main Frames

Chookhouse 2

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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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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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