It was almost a year ago that our chicken co-op, the Eastside Egg Co-operative at Zenger Farm, began its volunteer operations. A lot has happened since then, and the general consensus is that co-operatively tended chickens are a heck of a great idea. But there’s one thing that hasn’t happened, or it hadn’t until this last weekend, anyway: the coop had not rolled.
We designed this coop to be easily moved by a small farm crew, even if it was full of 50 fat laying hens. A key component to this design was a set of wheels. We toyed with the idea of using a wagon base, but decided it would be too heavy to move by human power alone. Being bicycle-powered people, we figured there had to be a way to utilize bicycle wheels.
One night, while we were wrestling with this idea, I called Sacha White, who is the owner of Vanilla Bicycles here in Portland. He’s also a member of the 47th Avenue Farm CSA, which does some of its farming at Zenger Farm.
Over the course of our conversation, Sacha and I came to the conclusion that a set of bicycle wheels could work very well. Since this was a volunteer-run project, and would benefit the 47th Avenue Farm, he offered to help out by designing and fabricating two custom forks that we could attach to the sides of the coop. I was rather floored at the notion, both that a person who knew how to weld stuff would offer to help us, and also that our coop would have Vanilla-designed components.
Sacha also suggested that we contact Surly Bikes to see if they might donate or partially donate a set of their Large Marge wheels and, more specifically, their Endomorph 3.7-inch tires, which I knew were designed specifically for rolling atop soft surfaces like sand, snow, or mud. Our friend Todd, one of the owners of Clever Cycles (and another member of the 47th Ave Farm CSA), knew the folks at Surly through his work as a bicycle professional, so he got us in touch. Lo and behold, Dave Gray and Surly Bikes agreed to donate two wheels, tires and tubes to the project.
So, back in May of last year, we designed and built a chicken coop, specifically with these wheels and forks in mind. Over the summer I got busy building the wheels, and Sacha worked on the forks. What with one thing, and also another, it took almost a year to get all the pieces together. During this time we’ve moved the coop several times, using as many volunteers as we could muster, and sheer brute force, to lift and lug the coop full of grumpy, half-awake hens across the muddy fields.
The moves were occasionally fun, as at the last Zenger work party. But, often they were a big pain sometimes literally, when the number of volunteers that morning was not quite enough to comfortably heave-ho. One on one, you or I could take a chicken on, and come out on top assuming you could catch the damn thing. But for hefting 40 to 50 well-fed hens, you want a big team.
Last Saturday, Holly and Craig and I went out to mount the freshly painted forks to the coop. We’d drawn in these forks in the original plans last year; brought out the half-finished forks in March to measure for their crossbraces; scoped out the fit the previous weekend; and stopped by a hardware store earlier in the week to collect the necessary bolts, screws, and drill bits. In one of those rare, universe-blessed moments, all our best-laid plans actually worked. And when we attached the wheels, bolted the axles tight, and took the coop for a test drive, we appreciated that free-wheeling freedom more than we ever would have, had we been able to roll the thing across the fields from the get-go. It worked! The forks bolted into the vertical 2×4 we’d built into the back of the coop a year ago. The huge, balloon tires rolled effortlessly along the bumpy field. The chickens found it all very amusing.
I need to say a little something about these wheels and tires. They are not something you look at and think, “Wow, what cool bike wheels!” Instead, you look at them and think, “What the heck kind of crazy vehicle are those wheels designed for?” And I know that Surly has designed a bicycle just for the use of these wheels. But really, I think what they have done is design a set of wheels for chicken coops. Because these wheels are absolutely perfect for this purpose. Meanwhile, I have a notion that such an easily movable coop could find a use in other contexts community gardens, co-housing situations, or maybe just other small farms. So perhaps Sacha and Dave can get together and start a human-powered chicken-coop kit. You never know.
We’d like to formally thank the folks who helped to get this coop on wheels.
Sacha White and Vanilla Bicycles donated the design and fabrication of the forks. They also powdercoated the forks and gave them the sleek “EEC” logo and stars! Aw!
Dave Gray and Surly Bikes donated the parts for the two wheels, along with the tubes and tires. (I built them.)
Bill Stites of Stites Design helped Sacha with the CNC work on the forks.
Todd Fahrner was kind enough to get us in contact with Dave at Surly.
As for the Eastside Egg Co-operative, well, I guess you could say we’re on a roll.