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Disadvantages to PVC pipe chicken or duck run? How fast does it break down?

 
master steward
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A few days ago, I walked inside to drink some water, and walked back outside to find another duck gone. Even with our guardian geese, and the ducks right next to the house with no where for a bobcat to sneak up on them, we still lost a duck. I feel sick to my stomach and really depressed.

I don't want to keep them cooped up in their house all day when I can't be staring at them. I'm pretty sure our yard is not as secure as I would like-- the solar fence charger went the way of all other solar devices on our property (it died due to too little sun in the winter). And, when we bought the chicken wire, the place said there was no galvanized fencing and that people just don't make that. So we bought ungalvanized and holes have rusted through it in just a few years. What a lot of money wasted!

I'm thinking of making a duck tractor. I'd like to make it affordably...but I don't want to end up making it cheaply and then it falls apart in a year or two and all that money is wastes. I see a lot of good things about making a PVC tractor. It's lightweight, affordable, easy to assemble (no welding skills needed!), etc.

But, what are the downsides of PVC pipe? How fast will it degrade in the sun? Are there ways to make it last longer? Does the black PVC last longer? Will it leach toxic stuff into my yard?
 
pollinator
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I've seen pvc hoop houses last close to a decade without showing too much degradation. The same feature that makes solar such a hassle in our region also helps things like pvc last longer out in the elements. You can also buy pvc that is treated to resist uv, but it is a little more expensive. It also helps to buy connectors so you can just use straight runs of pvc and not have the physical stress on the pipe along with the uv stress.
Is expect a tractor made with the cheapest and easiest pvc available to last you a decade pretty comfortably
 
Nicole Alderman
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That's good to know! I really don't want to invest in plastic stuff in general, because I really don't want to be using non-renewable resources. But, if it'll last 10+ years, it might be worth it.

I wish I knew how to weld and could weld one out of rod iron. Are there ways to connect rebar without welding it?
 
gardener
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With a wood base/outline you could drill holes and insert the rod into it. The rest could be done with wire ties.

 
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Hi Nicole,

I am not a big fan of PVC, due to the leaching of dioxins (among other toxins).

Welding is not that complicated for thicker material, but then you would have something heavy. Welding something thin is more difficult. And welding requires someone to show you, like a friendly neighbour.

For thin steel, (or aluminium, which is also lightweight) riveting is really easy, and cheap.
You hold the material in place, punch a start in the material with a hammer and a nail, drill a hole adapted to the rivet, and rivet it.

in case you don't know what rivets are, and what hand-powered riveting guns look like, here a few.
https://www.aliexpress.com/wholesale?catId=0&initiative_id=SB_20190906115342&SearchText=rivet&switch_new_app=y

Best of luck with your duck
 
gardener
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I'm really sorry that you lost another duck. Are you sure of what's taking them?

No matter what materials you choose to make a portable shelter out of, there will be upsides and downsides. There's pollution, availability, ease of working with it, biodegradability and most of all, weight.

1. At 115 lbs, portable shelters, even with wheels, and on soft ground, very quickly get beyond my mass to move. I'd rather build a light shelter and have to stake it down, than have it "turn stationary" because it's a pain to move.
2. Friction is real! I have some small portable shelters which use 2" PVC pipe on the base, and 1" PVC hoops for the top, and the large, smooth pipe slides really easily on grass.
3. It's wet here all winter. If wood was cheap to buy or I had a way to turn trees into lumber on my land, I would accept its ability to rot, but neither is the case, so I admit I'm looking for things that cope with wet.
4. I've totally given up on chicken wire. It might keep chickens in until it rusts through, but it won't keep anything else out! Hardware cloth is harder to work with - one would think that on the scale it is made it could be square, but it only "pretends" to be square!
5. Aluminium is lovely to work with and light, but up here, its price has sky-rocketed. I've used it with stainless bolts and nylocks (locking nuts) to build things. I scored a damaged aluminium ladder which I cut on an angle, covered with hardware cloth and made two ramps - one for the Noisy ducks and one for the geese - the Muscovy have been seen using it, but they don't *need* it! So consider watching for anything aluminium that can be chopped up/repurposed/used as a framework.
6. I *really* like the idea of having multiple paddocks that I can rotate the birds through, but I'm not there yet. My "quackie" ducks are in a stationary run, and my goal this winter is to build them a second run. The only way I'll get a 3rd and 4th run where their shelter currently sits, is to make a "duck tunnel" of some sort. I mention this, as a way to encourage long term thinking.
7. Portable shelters don't go "over" either rough terrain or higher plants. The birds can't move to find shade, although so long as the ducks can get wet, overheating isn't the concern it might be. We've had some "hot for us" days this summer when I had to put sprinklers on my husband's egg-mobiles to keep his girls cool.

I suggest that you google images for chicken/duck runs and look at as many as you can and consider the things you like or don't like about them. I know of many that appealed to me on first look, but they either end up stationary because they're heavy, fall apart due to under-engineering, or are just too small to be useful. Adding "cheap" to that equation, which my first shelter was, and at least it may teach you how you want to improve the next one. That said, my cheap, mostly second hand shelter lasted some time before it rotted.
 
master steward
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I'll see if I can get some photos of mine.

We've had them about 8 years.  They will need some repair (duct tape -> duck tape?) if we are going to use them next year.  
 
stephen lowe
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The other option I would look into is 1x1 wood. It may require knowing someone with a small mill to make it reasonable cost wise. But I'd imagine, like us in coastal Northern CA, you could source cheap mill scraps that can be milled into 1x1s that are light and fairly durable
 
r ranson
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The tractor that was made with 1x1 wood for us lasted about 5 years before needing serious repairs.  But we made a second one to the same design out of rough-cut ceader and reenforced the corners.  We expect this one to last forever!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Jay Angler wrote:I'm really sorry that you lost another duck. Are you sure of what's taking them?



95% positive. I've seen the bobcat at least twice over the years. I saw him/her August 30th, the same day my neighbors cat was all scratched up (lost a toe, bloody all over, gouges everywhere). I heard the ducks and geese honk and ran out, to see the bobcat 20 or 30 feet away, at the edge of my patio, looking at me. It then ran up the path next to the pond. I wish I'd thought to take a picture when it was staring at me, but it wasn't until the bobcat was running away that I thought to take a picture.

We've also heard bobcat kits mewing in the woods, neighbors have seen baby bobcats wandering through their property, as well as a mama bobcat with her kits following behind.

It comes around noon, usually, and likes to sneak through the  bushes and snag the ducks without them even noticing. It's taken our neighbors young rooster the same way, too. There's no feather missing or anything--just a missing duck, with all it's friends standing around, looking confused, and quacking their "where did our flockmate go?" quack.
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pollinator
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We also know poultry grief from coyotes, bobcats, racoons, and bald eagles...

I can recommend what has worked best for me as a solid and long-lasting poultry tractor:
I find the dog kennel panels that are 6'x6' (or sometimes 6'x10') make a durable tractor that is heavy but moveable and secure.  One way these are nice is that with 4 6x6 walls, another 6x6 panel can go right on to as a roof.  These all have metal clamps to hold the panel frames together, so construction is solid, and a dog kennel usually has one panel with an entry door.

I know 6x6 isn't a lot of space, but without good security nobody is happy but the bobcat..
 
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Some design ideas for the tractor:
-Three sided/cornered at the base,for stability on uneven ground.
-Snow fence with 2x4 openings for the bottom, for flexible access to grass.
An entirely open bottom or instead of a grid, slats running parallel to the direction of travel might better.
-Stakes and ties at corners and edges. Without  staking down the perimeter ,any bottom that allows access to grass will probably not protect the ducks.
-24" bike tires off of one side of the tractor , set to just touch the ground. When the opposited end (point) of the tractor is lifted,  the wheels hold the tractor off  the ground,and away we go.
-1/2" hex 24 gauge  plastic coated  steel mesh for the top and sides. It's cheaper than hardware cloth, still tight weaved enough to exclude grasping paws. I get it from menards $14 bucks for a roll 2x25 feet.
-moving blankets and tarps to insulate,  water "proof" and control drafts. Use them, remove them,  wash them,  toss them,  I use these on my mobile hen house , very flexible.
-PVC really works and it's cheap.
I have coops and even fences built of it, years in service,  with no sign of failure.
But there are good reasons, already mentioned to  not  use it.
1/2" galvanized EMT conduit can be bent without kinking with a conduit bender.
It can be flattened on the ends and connected with self tapping screws.
Connectors let you use threaded  fittings like tees, wyes, and  ells.
-2x2 , 1x2, 1x3, 1x4 and pallet slats are all cheap, light lumber.
Pre drill and connect with screws, or use a pneumatic staple gun.


The thing that seems least doable about ducks in a tractor is the need for clean water.
Keeping ducks In clean water without some kind of plumbing  connected to a large-ish volume of water seems prohibitively laborious
 
r ranson
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This is the day-tractor we use on the farm.  This is the three hoop one which is easiest for one person to use.  We have a four hoop one, and it's easy for daily use, but it's less easy for one person to move great distances.

NOTE: the animals do not sleep in these tractors.  Raccoons can easily dig underneath.

These were originally designed to protect the garden bed from deer.  They work brilliantly for this.  I add clear plastic for portable greenhouses.  We added the tarp for shade and protection from sky monsters, and the young animals spend their outside time underneath.  

To access underneath, we roll the hoop tractors on their side.  Very lightweight and easy for one person to do this.

We leave the dog-crates under the tractor and the animals go in there at night.  We lock them up and take the animals inside one of the outbuildings overnight.  

These are about 8 years of constant misuse.  The joints need reenforcing with tape this winter.  The tarps need frequent replacing.  But I think there may be a few more years in them.

Downside - they are as ugly as sin.  Horrible background for when I'm trying to take photos!  Also plastic with all the problems that includes.

But we haven't been able to make a wood design as easy to work with.  


Also note: raccoons can get in there overnight.  We don't have bobcat, so I don't know if this would be strong enough.  
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master pollinator
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First I want to admit I haven't taken the time yet to read everyone else's comments. But I wanted to quickly say that I have pcv pipe mini greenhouses where the pipe is 12 - 15 years old. It has lasted that long in my tropical sun because I painted it. Unpainted, the sun deteriorates it, so it eventually cracks and breaks. I made my four greenhouses out of pcv pipe, again painted first before construction. I expect them to last 10-20 years. Maybe longer, but I won't be around to see that.
 
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PVC is only 'cheap' if the externalized costs are ignored.
In theory, a permaculture designer or implementer does not ignore these costs.

Briefly, some factors to consider if you are contemplating using PVC anything.

PVC is made of vinyl chloride (the "VC" part - the P stands for poly).
Vinyl chloride is one of the most toxic substances to manufacture and dispose of that is made by industrial humans.
It is relatively inert in use, in VC-based plastics like PVC, although it will leach some in certain conditions.
Softer PVC like flexible shower curtains, tank liners, etc. leaches more than hard PVC like water pipe, stacking chairs, fake wood lattice, and the countless other PVC products we are awash in.
This is a minor issue though, relatively speaking.

It's the making of PVC that involves some of the nastiest chemistry in the industrial world.
There is at least one documentary made about the cancer rates in areas surrounding these factories (no surprise, much higher than normal and with higher incidences of unusual and rare cancers).
So there's real, direct, observable costs to our fellow humans and the rest of the ecosystems in those areas.

Plus it is another source of the massive plastic pollution now everywhere on the planet, from pole to pole.

So consider these aspects of PVC (and all petro-plastics ultimately) and it is not 'cheap' at all.

Art Ludwig's book on water storage, and his website at oasisdesign.net, has information on the hierarchy of plastics from worst to least worst - in terms of both immediate and long-term issues (e.g. leaching into water, and toxicity in manufacture and disposal). PVC is the clear worst. HDPE and LDPE (High and Low density Polyethylene) are generally the least worst. The various others fall somewhere in between.

BTW rigid black plastic pipe, such as drain/vent pipe for residential and commercial plumbing, is ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), not PVC.
There is also white drain/vent pipe, that is PVC.

Flexible black plastic pipe used for irrigation is polyethylene (least worst option).

Really we need to kick the petro-plastic habit completely, of course. No petro-plastics are sustainable, and all are to some degree toxic to make and dispose of, even those that are inert in use.

The idea that maintenance is a "problem," an activity to be avoided...where did that come from?
Not from permaculture ethics or principles.

From corporate advertising propaganda of the industrial age - that's where phrases like "maintenance free!" as a selling point originate.

Living systems and stuff made from them need maintenance. That's part of life, cycles of life, death and birth and rebirth.

Petro-plastic has net negative consequences in all cases, because at some point in its so-called "life cycle" it kills actual life.
And actual life has no need for it. Only humans have ever had any so-called need for it as a substance.
We lived without it for tens of thousands of years and if we survive our own bad behavior now, we'll live without it again.

 
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When I retire, I will have fowl & I plan to use stainless steel mesh buried 18” deep & 25’ x 25’.
The pin will cost more than mild steel, but it will last forever. It will not rust, grandkids will be using the pen. So the cost over 30 years is cheap, also I will not have to replace it, at the age of 60 or 70.
The mesh is forty eight inches tall X 100’ long, so I will need two panels to reach seven feet or six feet, with twelve inches over lap on roof.
 
r ranson
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We used PVC because it was reclaimed from a project someone else was demolishing.  

But yeh, it's not my favourite thing. Ugly.  Plastic.  But... it is a stepping stone.  I find the eco-scale is a great way of looking like things like this.  https://permies.com/t/scale  

Yes, people way up the scale would never touch the stuff, but people who are working their way up the list might use it as a stepping stone on their journey.  Like recycling or wire fencing.  

Personally, I can see that we needed to use it for our animals at the time. It taught us a lot about animal tractor design and helped build confidence to build more things ourselves. But making something today, I would go with wood.
 
pollinator
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I left my chicken tractors in Oregon when we moved to Kentucky last year -- there wasn't room in the moving truck for everything.  But they worked well, and I plan to make some more that will be nearly the same.  No PVC involved.  I used 'rabbit wire' -- the wire mesh used for making rabbit cages -- with no framing at all.  The tractors weren't large -- only about three feet wide by six feet long, and you could make them up to eight feet long, I think -- but they worked well and were easy to move around.  We had a lot of high wind where we were living, and I found that if I attached a tarp to the tractor for shade, it would blow over, so instead I laid scraps of plywood on top of the tractors, and shifted that separately when I moved the tractors.  If there was a cold wind, I'd lean plywood up against the sides of the tractor to protect the birds.  In the winter, they went into a larger hoop house.  

The 'rabbit wire' is stiff enough to be self-supporting.  However, if goats (or children) walk on top of the tractors, they will squash, LOL!  (Been there, done that!)
 
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Hi- We have ducks as well, but the predators around here are nocturnal except for hawks.  Our ducks have most of the yard. We strung fish line with old CDs above to detur predator birds.  We have a permanent run for when we are away from home.  It is similar to the hoop hours but much sturdier. We used hardware clothe and dug it down 8" into the ground on the outside. It is taller and has a door with a padlock.  Then for nighttime
we have their duck house which is plywood with hardware cloth vents. It opens from the front and top. I am embarrassed to tell you that in all we have 6 key padlocks.  We have 6 hens and one drake. So far so good.
 
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