Chicken Tractors

Chicken tractor

Chicken tractor

Chicken tractor?  What is a chicken tractor?  I think most people who have done some homesteading or small-scale farming have heard of chicken tractors by now.  I think I’ve known about them for 10 years.  But for most other people they haven’t a clue.  Basically a chicken tractor is a smallish, portable chicken pen.  It allows you mimic free-ranging your chickens without the hassles of letting them free range.  Some that we experience are:  Chickens that decide the barn (or garage) is a better place to sleep, poop and lay eggs than their own building complete with roosts and nest boxes.  Holes in the middle of your yard where they have decided to dust themselves.  Holes in your tomatoes from chickens “tasting” them as they meander through the yard.  Despite these problems, we still tend to let our layers completely free-range throughout our yard because of a few benefits:  Serious reduction in feed costs.  Their pen doesn’t get too nasty and full of poop.  Health benefits for the chickens – not living in poop and being able to eat a natural diet full of plant material, seeds and bugs.  And, with the “bug” part, that means fewer bugs in our yard.

Inside the chicken tractor

Inside the chicken tractor

Several years ago, some smart people decided that movable pens are one way to get the benefits of free-ranging – clean ground, bugs, plants, fresh air – without the problems – chickens roosting everywhere and eating things you don’t want them to eat.  They had to come up with a catchy, short name, and the term “chicken tractor” was born.  It’s a portable, fully-enclosed “building”.  There are many ways to make them, but basically they are around 4′ x 8′, relatively lightweight, covered with chicken wire or netting, plus some kind of solid roof over part of it for shade and protection from rain – it may just be a tarp.  If  it’s for layers, then there is a nest box or 2.  Or 3.  It is usually moved daily to get the chickens on fresh ground.  That gets them out of their poop and gives them fresh greens and bugs.  Another benefit is the fertilizing of your lawn.

Like I said, we usually let our layers free-range.  Now and then we lock them up in their permanent pen for various reasons.  But when we raise meat birds, they usually spend their time in a stationary brooder – and that gets rather dirty after a couple of weeks.  It’s not healthy for the birds and the reason we are raising our own meat as much as possible is to eat animals we know are healthy.  We’ve considered chicken tractors for several years.  But, since we haven’t always raised them, it’s been put off a lot.  This year we decided to go for it.

Outside access for feeding the chickens in the tractor

Outside access for feeding the chickens in the tractor

Keith had made plans that required a lot of wood, and wheels because without wheels they would be too heavy to move.  And this won’t be successful if I can’t move them daily without help.  But after looking at a couple of videos on YouTube, he changed his mind and made most of it out of PVC pipe.  Only the bottom frame is wood.  He also chose to abandon the wheels because he believes it will now be light enough to just drag it.  We’ll see.  I haven’t had to move it yet, as we just put the chickens in last night.  They can be added if needed.  And instead of wire, he bought a woven plastic netting that’s been UV treated.  It’s extremely lightweight and will keep the chickens in.  Our only concern is that it probably won’t stop coyotes.  But then, neither would the brooder they were in, if the coyote was truly hungry.  So again – we’ll see.  We don’t often have coyotes showing up ON our property.  We’ll see.

He’s made one of them over the past 2 days and started the second one last evening.  It should be done today.  We bought 50 meat birds and want 25 in a tractor.  It will get a little tight for the last week or two, and we may need to move them twice a day, but it will still be a lot better than when they were in a permanent pen.  Plus we won’t have to keep buying straw for bedding.

As I’m writing this I can see the tractor out my window.  The peacocks are walking around it, checking it and the chicks out.  It’s rather amusing.  One has his small tail all up and spread out, like he’s trying to tell the chicks just who’s boss!

In 4-6 weeks these birds will be big enough to go in the freezer.  They are already 4 weeks old.  I don’t think we’ll get another batch done before fall, I’ll have to see if the hatchery has any available.  We don’t really like butchering when it’s cold.  But starting next year we could get probably 3 batches of 50 done in good weather and that should be enough chickens for us for the year :)

Andrew hugs a chicken in the chicken tractor

Andrew hugs a chicken in the chicken tractor

Andrew hugging one of the chicks

Andrew hugging one of the chicks