Do you have chickens?
Are you sick of shoveling chicken poop?
My guess would be yes.
If that’s the case, you’ve got to consider using a chicken tractor to house your birds.
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What is a Chicken Tractor?
In a perfect world, your chickens would be able to free-range all day, exploring their environment as you sit watching, relaxed and uncambered with worries about predators, overgrazing, and wayward chickens.
Chicken tractor offer all the benefits of free-ranging – access to more nutrients, free soil tilling, and more – without all the downsides. If you’ve never heard of a chicken tractor, it’s high time you consider using on your farm!
The great thing about chicken tractors is that they can be used for any number of chickens. Whether you have six chickens or sixty, chicken tractors can be a great solution for you.
The main difference between a chicken coop (or pen) and a chicken tractor is that chicken pens and coops are not portable. Chicken tractors, however, are. These are basically mobile chicken homes that require your chickens to be moved every day. They will allow your birds to have access to fresh grass every single day, preventing overgrazing and other issues related to keeping chickens in the same place all the time (hint – most of them have to do with poop).
Basically, a chicken tractor is a moveable chicken coop without a floor. It is usually enclosed so that it is predator proof – usually woven wire over a metal, wooden, or PVC frame.
How Do You Use a Chicken Tractor?
Chicken tractors can be used in a number of ways. Here are a few to consider.
Seasonal Housing: We use our chicken tractors only in the snow-less seasons of the year. They are too difficult for us to move when there’s four feet (or more!) of snow on the ground. We move chickens back to the coop during the winter to keep them warm.
For Limited Daily Grazing: Some people use chicken tractors only during the day, as they pens don’t include roost bars or give their chickens anywhere to sleep. They move the pens back toward the coop so the birds can go inside at night.
Flood Protection: If you live in a particularly wet area, you can move your chickens every day so you don’t have to worry about swampy sections of your property.
On Flat Ground: There are some styles of chicken tractors that can be used on hillier terrain. However, most are designed for use on flat, level terrain.
What are the Benefits of Using a Chicken Tractor?
Now that you know exactly what a chicken tractor is, here’s why you should use them on your small farm – or even in your backyard.
Direct Access to Greens
Chickens who are housed in chicken tractors have access to fresh pasture every single day (or at least every time you move them). They will constantly have new things to munch on, reducing your overall feed bill (and providing for healthier, happier chickens besides). Chickens raised on pasture produce meat and eggs that are much better for you than their grain-fed alternatives.
Access to the Soil – and Soil Improvement
By putting your chickens on fresh ground every day, you’ll reduce the likelihood of them being infested with parasites and other diseases. Soil has some of the most nutritious and beneficial microbes that your chickens need, but if the soil they’re pecking at and bathing in is filled with manure, they aren’t going to access those benefits.
When you give chickens new soil every day, they get everything they need. They improve your soil while also reaping the benefits. You may find that you don’t even need to give them grit anymore to keep their gizzards healthy.
Keeps Your Chickens Contained
We all love chickens, but they can get downright irritating when they keep getting into your garden. We once had a problem with our chickens eating the insulation off our house – I have no idea why they did this, but I’ll tell you, our house will never look the same!
Once you put chickens in tractors, you have a captive audience. No more worries about the garden getting torn up while you’re away at work.
Protects Your Birds From Predators
Our biggest reason for investing in chicken tractors was to protect our birds against predators. Chicken tractors make it impossible for aerial predators (like hawks) to get at your birds, and they also make it extremely difficult for large critters to get in there, too. The only caveat to this is if you have a bottomless tractor and live on sandy soil.
Sandy soil is easier for predators like skunks to dig through – luckily, we have clay soil so it’s usually too heavy to dig through. However, you can also position boards, wire, or barbed wire under the perimeter of the chicken tractor to deter predators.
Allows Grass to Regrow
If you allow chickens to free-range on your lawn, you may find that your grass production has come to a screeching halt. Overgrazing happens when pasture does not get enough rest time between grazing cycles. If your chickens have always been let out on these ame section of pasture or yard, they’re going to kill off the grass. Using chicken tractors and moving your birds daily gives it time to rejuvenate.
Free, Targeted Fertilizers
If you’re looking for a great organic fertilizer for your garden, look no further than fresh chicken manure. It is a great source of nitrogen and other nutrients, but the major challenge that people have with it is the constant need to shovel it and put it where you need it to be.
Instead, you can use a chicken tractor to target your fertilizer applications – right where they need to be. You can either compost over the chicken manure where you ran your tractors or just let your chickens drop their manure in your garden. Easy peasy.
Versatility and Flexibility – with Minimal Maintenance
You can’t get much more flexible than with a chicken tractor. If you have a small backyard, a chicken tractor will make it easier to prevent odor and pest issues because you will be moving your chickens daily. They won’t overwork a single section of lawn. Plus, chicken tractors tend to be small, meaning you can position them wherever you want.
Hot summer? Put the tractor in the shade. Cold winter? Put them on the south side of the barn. Plus, chicken tractors require minimal maintenance – no more mucking out the coop and dealing with flies and odors.
Got problems with bugs? No matter where you notice the infestation on your lawn, chicken tractors can help cut down on these issues. Simply place the tractor wherever you want it to be, and the chickens will go to town on the ticks, grubs, and larvae.
If you find that rats or mice have become a problem in your stationery coop, it might be time to consider a chicken tractor. Rodents are attracted to the consistent supply of water and fee din the coop. If you use a tractor, the pests won’t realize it is there in time for them to become a problem.
Increased Meat and Egg Production
There is nothing better for your chicken than providing it with fresh pasture every day. When your chickens are healthy, your meat and egg production are going to go up – and they’ll be better for you, too.
Free Tiling Services
Got a garden that needs to be tilled? Get rid of the rototiller and build a chicken tractor instead. Not only is conventional mechanized tilling awful for your soil, killing off beneficial microbes and introducing weed seeds, but it’s also tiresome. Move your chicken tractor over your garden and let your chickens take care of your springtime chores for you.
Read more about why you should avoid tilling your garden here.
Challenges Related to Using Chicken Tractors
I’m obsessed with our chicken tractors and take every opportunity I get to tell people about how awesome they are – but that doesn’t mean that they are without their challenges. Here are some potential pitfalls to be considered before you take the leap into using these cool contraptions.
Must be Moved Daily
Obviously, the major benefit of using chicken tractors is that they can be moved daily. However, the downside to this is that…well, they have to be moved daily. If you don’t have a few minutes to spare every day to go out and move your chickens, thi scna become a problem. The ground gets stinky, and your birds can get sick.
Because the tractors must be moved daily, there has to be some engineering that goes into building them, too. A heavy chicken tractor is going to be a serious chore to move, particularly if you have to fire up equipment (like the tractor) to do it. Consider this when you are building or purchasing your tractor.
Not Ideal for Winter Conditions
Because tractors need to be moved daily, they aren’t designed for inclement weather. If you get heavy amounts of snow, you may not be able to do this. Not only are chicken tractors difficult to move in the winter time, if you receive harsh winters, but they don’t offer a lot of protection against intense cold – and you can’t hang a light in there to supplement laying, either.
Need Extra Reinforcement Against Predators
Some people make the argument that chicken tractors are more vulnerable to predators. I find that the opposite is true, but you need to remember that chicken tractors are not innately predator proof. You need to make sure they are reinforced, particularly against animals that like to dig.
Not Designed for Large Amounts of Chickens
Alright, so if you have a large scale poultry barn, you are probably thinking, “This sounds great, but I have 300 chickens. How is this supposed to work for me?”
The short answer is that it can, but you need to put some extra time, effort, and money into the project. You can only house a certain amount of chickens in a chicken tractor before it gets too heavy and cumbersome to move by hand. While larger chicken tractors can be moved with heavy equipment, you may need to build multiple tractors in order to house all of your birds, if you have a lot.
You May Need to Check for Eggs
Raising chickens in a chicken tractor can be a challenge if you have laying hens. However, if you check for eggs every day, you can often catch them before they become broken. I recommend adding nest boxes to your chicken tractor to give your girls a designated place to lay.
This will add some weight to your tractor, making it a little heavier to pull, but it will prevent egg breakage (which can often lead to your hens eating eggs).
You Will Need to Clean Up Excess Food
If you feed a supplemental scraps or feed to your birds, make sure you are either putting it in a hanging feeder or trough. Otherwise, you will need to go through every day and make sure any leftover food is cleaned up to avoid attracting predators.
Where Can I Buy a Chicken Tractor?
Some people purchase chicken tractors as an alternative to chicken coops. Depending on where you live, this may be available alternative – but the reality is that, for most people, you’re going to need both a chicken coop and a chicken tractor.
That being said, if you are only raising chickens for meat – and not for year-round egg production – you can get by with just having chicken tractors during the meat-production season.
If you’re looking for affordable chicken tractors, here’s an example:
Can I Build My Own Chicken Tractor?
You can find a ton of plans for building your own chicken tractor online. Within the next couple of months, I’m hoping to post a video explaining how ours was built so that we can walk you through every step of the process, oto.
How fancy you get with your chicken tractor is really up to you. Over the years, we’ve progressed from a small, 20-bird chicken tractor to a massive 50+ bird unit with built-in nest boxes. You can even find chicken tractors that are made out of old mobile homes or salvaged hay wagons!
There’s no shortage of plans out there to help you get started.
Basically, though, all chicken tractors will have a few basic components. You’ll have a run covered with wire mesh, and a frame that has wheels to allow you to pull the unit. Some may have additional features, like coverage from the elements or nest boxes, too.
Most chicken tractors are built around a single frame, often made out of wood. You will attach chicken wire to the beams. You do not need to put anything on the bottom of the tractor, as walking on wire can cause your chickens to develop leg and foot problems. If you are concerned about predators digging under and up into the chicken tractor, you can always add extra reinofremcnets along the lower wooden beams to keep them out.
You should also attach some sort of roofing material. Tin can be used for the roof, and it can also be used as lightweight cladding for the sides. If you find that wood is too heavy to be moved by hand, you can opt for PVC pipes or other materials to build your chicken tractor, too.
You can add either curved beams that act like skis to move your chicken tractor, or you can mount wheels to it. In addition, you will want to attach a heavy-duty rope or cable to the front of the rame so that you can pull it, either by hand or with a four-wheeler or tractor.
Our largest chicken tractor has wheels, but we have one that we move with a dolly and one that is light enough to pull by hand. On a large tractor, you’re going to want wheels – these things get heavy. You can mount a couple of wheels at the heavy end of the frame where your nest box is, which will allow you to maneuver the tractor more easily.
Some chicken tractors have separate “coop” or “nesting” areas and runs. Ours do not – they are all-inclusive units in which everything is enclosed in the same section. What separates the “sleeping” areas from the “ranging” areas is that our sleeping areas are covered by sheets of tin – whereas the rest of the tractor is just covered in wire so the birds have access to fresh air and sunlight.
The Nest Boxes
You should supply at least one 12 by 12 bedding-filled nest box for every four birds you have. Some people also use their nest boxes as sleeping areas for their birds, but I don’t recommend this. It can lead to a lot of problems with broken eggs and manure in the nest boxes. If you plan on raising laying hens in a chicken tractor, just make sure you provide a roof over their heads (in addition to the wire-covered frame) as well as separate nest boxes.
These nest boxes should be on the outside of the tractor and include access points so that you can get to the eggs. Make sure these have heavy, secure latches so you don’t have to worry about predators weaseling their way in (no pun intended).
Some people include roost bars for their chickens – we have found that we don’t need them in the style of chicken tractor we have. Our chickens simply sleep in the corners of the tractor and since we have a larger section covered with tin, theg round does not get wet and they stay dry and warm.
Remember, you will also need to include watering devices and feeders to keep your birds satiated when they aren’t nibbling on fresh pasture!
Should I Use a Chicken Tractor?
Do you want to improve the health of your birds? Do you want to beef up your soil health? Do you want to cut your chicken-related chore time in half?
If you answered yes to any of those, then yes! You should use a chicken tractor. And if you’re already using one of these cool devices on your own farm, let me know in the comments how it’s working for you, as well as any tips you may have.
Want to learn more about raising chickens? Be sure to check out these articles!
- How to Butcher Chickens
- How to Keep Predators Away From Your Chickens
- The Best Egg-Laying Chicken Breeds
- The Ultimate Guide to the New Hampshire Chicken Breed
- How You Can Make Money Raising Chickens
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