Down On The Farm: Mobile coops and micro enterprises. It’s how we roll.

Niel Ritchie blog, featured, news

For more than a decade, SOR’s Bob Kell has delivered bi-lingual regenerative poultry training and technical support to more than 140 aspiring Latino farmers. From coop construction to pre-dawn Post Office deliveries of Freedom Ranger chicks, to late night roundups for processing. Bob’s hands-on, real-world approach helped trainees produce and sell more than 50,000 birds while learning the basics of farm business management.

We talked with Bob recently about the new, innovative mobile coops we’re building and what it means for our poultry training program and future farmers. Here’s what we learned:

From 2010 to 2018, the model of poultry production we were incubating required “fixed” poultry buildings with one-acre fenced paddocks planted with perennial crops, on land leased from local farmers. Each facility supported free-ranging flocks of 1500 birds, up to three times per year. With experience we were able to reduce construction and operating expenses, but we also recognized that access to land and the cost of permanent buildings would remain a significant barrier to beginning farmers.

With our new demonstration farm, we had plans to grow our training capacity by increasing the number of fixed facilities and sharing them with advanced trainees and beginning farmers. However, the farm’s landscape and hydrology limited the number of available building sites and we needed a new approach.

We considered “chicken tractors”, small on-the-ground enclosures that are moved every day to a new forage area, but the tractors are difficult to use on uneven terrain and although the birds have light and fresh air, they’re confined with limited ranging ability.

What we really needed was a low-cost mobile coop that would be affordable for a beginning farmer and support enough birds to make it economically viable, while still providing a free-range environment. Here’s what we did:

We started with a hay wagon frame, which is easy to move around with a small tractor. We settled on a 20’ by 10’ coop which will hold about 175 birds. This is a great flock size for training and gaining experience, and running two small coops would net producers between $800-$900.

We chose an inexpensive hoop house design using metal tubes and fabric. We’re experimenting with poultry slats instead of wood flooring, which will allow the manure to fall directly to the ground instead of building up inside the coop. This will make it easier to fertilize more of the farm, while providing a cleaner environment for the birds.

We’re also experimenting with allowing the birds to range inside a 300’ electric perimeter fence during the day, returning to the coop at night. We’re planning to move the unit every 3-4 days but may adjust that time depending on grazing pressure.

Including the hay wagon, the cost of this design was approximately $3,000. Our plan is to build four of them this year to be used by training groups or individual advanced trainees.  Our hope is that families would eventually own the mobile coops to operate as a microenterprise, paying only a small fee to rent the land.

We have eight trainees signed up for this season. Three of them have started working together with a flock of 700 birds in our large coop building. The chicks have just arrived and will be spending a few weeks in a heated indoor space. Once they’re large enough to range, we’ll move 175 of them into the new mobile coop as a trial. By late summer, we’ll have a second round of flocks, with the other trainees having the opportunity to use the large and mobile coops for production.

Please consider making a contribution to our Poultry Innovation and Inspiration Fund to support Latinx families build mobile coops and a livelihood.

$75: Provides chicken wire for one mobile coop
$125: Provides pipes for one mobile coop structure
$500: Provides the tarp for one mobile coop
$1,500: Provides the frame for the mobile coop
$3,000: Provides one mobile coop for a family

To make a donation today click here

For questions about our Poultry Training, mobile coops or our regenerative model for raising chickens, please reach out to Bob Kell: bob@sharing-our-roots.org

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