The chicken tractor is a mobile coop that you can move around in your yard to cultivate the earth and weed it out. The scratching motions from chickens will loosen up to an inch or so of soil, helping remove pesky weeds while also fertilizing your soil.
It can be tough to picture exactly what a chicken tractor is, especially if you’re new to raising chickens. You might be wondering, what exactly is a chicken tractor, and how can it help me to meet my homesteading goals?
A chicken tractor is a mobile wooden enclosure that is open on the bottom to provide your flock with constant access to fresh ground. Moving it every day or few days, allows them the freedom to explore new bugs, soil, and grass while also being able to till up and fertilize their area in the process.
If you want to learn more about how to build your own chicken tractor and use it on your farm, keep reading. We’ll dive into the details (and benefits) below.
Benefits of Using a Chicken Tractor
Here are some of the biggest advantages of using a chicken tractor on the farm.
Easy to Use
Chicken tractors are incredibly easy to build and even easier to use. They’re like a “grab and go” solution for free-ranging.
With some designs, you don’t even have to worry about locking chickens in at night. They’re innately protected from predators by the design of the chicken tractor alone – your only chore will be to move the tractor each morning and to refill feeders and waterers. Simple as that!
Easy to Maintain
Chicken tractors, especially when built out of quality materials, are also easy to maintain. There are no expensive components to maintain and no upgrades to make.
While it’s a good idea to give your chicken tractor a thorough inspection at the beginning of the season to make sure it didn’t incur any damages from the year (or winter) before, your maintenance chores will usually consist of nothing more than tacking on a new board or piece of tin or putting some air in the tires.
Easy to Move
Chicken tractors are meant to be portable. While some heavier units are designed to be moved with a tractor or ATV, most designs can be pulled by hand. That makes getting your chickens to fresh ground each morning much easier – and there’s no having to move individual chickens by hand, either.
Easy to Clean
Sanitation is another major benefit of using a chicken tractor.
Since the coop is moved so often, there’s not much of a chance for chickens to sully the ground beneath. You don’t have to worry about mucking out the coop on a regular basis, nor do you have to add bedding. The manure is deposited directly on the ground.
This also means it fertilizes the soil for you in the process. Chicken tractors can be invaluable tools when it comes to
Easy to Adapt
Chicken tractors come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and styles, allowing you to customize your chicken tractor to the ends of your flock – and your needs, as the chicken keeper.
Want to use your chicken tractor to till up your garden? You can do that. Need to get rid of some pests? Your chicken tractors can handle the job. Want to fertilize the lawn? CHicken tractors to the rescue!
Since you’ll have a greater level of control over where your chickens go (and what can get to your chickens), you can rest easier knowing that they’re safe.
Having free-range chickens is ideal, but predators (and neighbors) can make this lifestyle impractical. A chicken tractor can solve that dilemma, allowing your birds to free-range safely, but can also take many forms to suit your needs.
Chicken tractors vary in appearance. Some have an A-frame shape, which tends to be lightweight and easy to move. Others have a boxer structure. Whatever you choose, chicken tractors usually have the following features.
A common misconception that many people have is that, since the chicken tractor is meant to be moved every day, it doesn’t need to provide the chickens with as much space.
That’s not the case. Your chicken tractor still needs to provide your birds with ample room to roam. Remember, crowded birds are angry birds! They’re more likely to peck and harass each other – leading to injuries, fighting, and even cannibalism.
Plus, they won’t be as productive when it comes to laying eggs and your meat chickens won’t grow out as quickly.
Give your chickens as much room as possible. Ideally, they should have at least four square feet of space in the chicken tractor (though meat chickens, who aren’t as active, can get by with a little less).
At the heart of any great chicken tractor is a sturdy frame. You can build this out of any kind of materials you have, including lightweight wood (pine is a good option, or you can choose a more rot-resistant wood like cedar – just keep weight in mind) or even PVC pipe.
You’ll use the frame as a support structure for the mesh wire, which is intended to keep predators out. The frame should be lightweight yet sturdy enough to hook onto to pull. You’ll attach some sort of cord or cable to the frame to help you tug the chicken tractor along each morning.
Inside the frame will be the bulk of the chicken tractor – the run. As you might expect, this is just an open space where your chickens can peck and forage each morning.
The most important aspect of the run is that it should have an open floor. While some chicken tractor designs do have a small covered area that’s meant to contain the nesting boxes and roost bars, having lots of open floor space is necessary to give your chickens the direct access to the soil they need.
Chicken tractors also need wheels. These can be repurposed, if you’d like, and made out of anything from old bicycle tires, wheelbarrow tires, garden cart tires, or even tractor or trailer tires, if your chicken tractor is exceptionally large and heavy.
If you have a smaller chicken tractor, you can also get by by just using skids, in some cases. We use a dolly and that works well, too.
Put up a piece of shade cloth or even a tin roof to provide your chickens with some protection from the elements.
This covering doesn’t need to cover the entire chicken tractor but it should cover enough of it so that your chickens aren’t left out in the blazing sun or a torrential downpour.
If your chicken tractor has any elevated features – like nesting boxes or roost bars – you may need to put up small ramps to help the chickens get up on them.
You’ll also need some sort of access door. This can be small – just big enough for you to put feeders or waterers through or to collect eggs – or large – enough for you to walk through. Whichever you choose, just make sure it has sturdy latches and locks to keep predators out.
Feeders and Waterers
Don’t forget to add feeders and waterers to your coop! Just because your chickens are free-ranging, that doesn’t mean these aren’t necessary.
Nesting Boxes (Optional)
If you’re raising egg layers in your coop, you’ll need to add at least one nesting box for every four chickens.
Roosting Bars (Optional)
Roosting bars are optional but recommended for egg-laying chicken tractors. This will prevent your chickens from sleeping in the nesting boxes (a hard habit to break later on).
Ready to Make Yours?
Chicken tractors vary in price depending on a variety of factors, including how large you want your tractor to be, how durable, and whether you plan on building it yourself or buying a prefabricated version.
On average, you can expect to spend around $300 to $500, though if you make your chicken tractor out of recycled materials you would expect to spend virtually nothing.
If you’re considering a chicken tractor, or even if you’re just curious about what they are, hopefully, these tips have helped give you a better idea of what to expect.
I think chicken tractors are a great way to get started with keeping chickens – and I hope you do too!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).