Considering a chicken tractor for your feathered friends? Let’s explore exactly what a chicken tractor is, and some tips for building one of your own.
Basically, a chicken tractor is a mobile home, similar to a caravan or trailer, which contains everything your chicken needs.
It should include food, water, a roosting perch, a nesting box, and a nice space for free-ranging.
This detailed guide will start by covering the essentials, then look into the important aspects you should consider when creating and constructing your own chicken coop on wheels.
Benefits of Using a Chicken Tractor
The idea of the tractor is to keep your chickens penned to avoid damage to the rest of your yard or the next-door neighbors’ property, as well as to keep them safe from predators.
If you have actually ever experienced chickens cutting loose in your garden, you understand how disheartening it can be to see all your efforts destroyed in just a few minutes!
The next-door neighbors will also not be pleased when they discover that your chickens have dug up their mulch, eaten the veggies, and left numerous small “presents” behind.
Another major benefit of using a chicken tractor is that it provides defense for your chickens. A trustworthy and strong tractor can help avoid potential dangers from predators, although there could still be a risk from certain animals like bears, raccoons, and coyotes.
However, the hens will be able to forage without any danger from birds of prey like hawks and owls.
Having a portable chicken cage can also provide complimentary maintenance for your yard! The chickens will cut the grass and weeds by grazing them down, meanwhile getting rid of many pests and supplying natural fertilization, all without any expense to you.
AND, you’ll also get rewarded with fresh, tasty, and nutritious eggs!
If you want your yard to remain in good condition, you will probably have to move the tractor a minimum of every other day or you’ll wind up with bald areas and a dust bath crater.
Basic Chicken Tractor Structure
The fundamental structure can be divided into 2 unique parts: the coop part, and the run.
The chicken cage or coop is generally a square container that has adequate space for your hens. It is vital to keep in mind the amount of area your chickens need: regular-sized full-grown chickens need 4 square feet per bird, while bantam chickens need 2 square feet per bird.
Yes, you could jam more birds in, however it will motivate anti-social behaviors that will be tough to break and might lead to the injury of some of your girls.
The Coop Floor
In some circumstances, there is no floor in the chicken coop. As the chickens defecate during the night, their droppings are directly transferred onto the ground, meaning minimal cleanup by you.
However, many people, myself included, favor a strong structure for the chicken coop due to security factors. Personally, I find greater comfort in having a secure enclosure where I can lock my hens at night, rather than an open-design structure.
Should a bear or raccoon topple the cage, they may shake the girls, but they will still be safely locked up, whereas if the bottom was open, they would be dinner!
The 2nd factor is it makes it a bit much easier to move the hens while they are confined.
When moving a tractor with an open bottom, it’s important to acquaint the hens with the moving process if they’re standing on the ground. Usually, it doesn’t take too long for them to figure it out, but overall, it’s usually just easier if you can move the tractor with the chickens fully enclosed in the coop, and then let them out into the run.
The Run/Pen Area
You’ll want to make sure that the run you have for your hen tractor is large enough to accommodate the correct number of hens. Bear in mind the following measurements: for larger fowl, a minimum of 8 square feet per bird is required, while bantams need 4 square feet per bird in the run area. It is always preferable error on the side of more space.
Although your hens are technically ‘free-ranging,’ they won’t get much more exercise than walking from one end to the other, so a longer run is fantastic if you have the space.
The run also needs to be at least high enough that you can hang up the feeder and drinker so they can’t poop in it (which they will do if it rests on the ground). Some people prefer their run to be tall enough for a person to stand up in as well, which will make it much easier to take care of certain tasks such as cleaning, or picking up a chicken if necessary.
Building Your Own Chicken Tractor
There are a few things you need to consider when you are building your tractor. Your mobile chicken coop needs to be sturdy and well built; this usually equates to quite heavy to move.
If you experience back, neck, or other mobility problems, you will want to think hard about what type of structure you can reasonably move.
You can, of course, develop more lightweight tractors, but they do not come without problems. (We will discuss those in a moment.)
Size & Mobility
You need to know the number of hens you are going to keep in your tractor. As an example, 4 big hens will require 4sq. Ft space each inside the coop area, so that you will need 16sq. ft of floor area. This is a box that is 4ft by 4ft.
Moving this might not seem like a big deal, however when you add the effort of pulling or pushing it together with the attached run, it can quickly become quite heavy, particularly when going uphill or downhill. This can make moving it quite difficult under these scenarios.
How simple is it going to be to move your tractor? Most chicken tractor plans include wheels to assist with the moving of the structure – or can be hitched up to a little tractor to pull. While tractors without wheels are possible, you would likely need to keep these extremely small in order to be able to move them.
Moving your tractor can be done in different ways, depending upon their design. Some tractors can be navigated like a wheelbarrow, while others look like a rickshaw. When it comes to the larger tractors, they will usually require either real or mechanical horse power.
Remember that the coop will require cleaning on a regular basis, just like to a standard chicken coop. An adequately sized access area is vital for easy upkeep, enabling you to comfortably work in it. Some coops include a ‘lift’ side, which is particularly beneficial for cleanup and gathering eggs.
You should also keep in mind that if you live in an area with hot summer seasons, it is essential to make sure that the chicken cage offers ample shade and appropriate ventilation.
Many chicken tractors are not all that safe from a security standpoint, as they are often wrapped in chicken wire instead of hardware cloth.
Hardware mesh is a bit pricey, but it is better than losing all your hens to a determined predator!
Nevertheless, that does not mean the style of the tractor is intrinsically bad. You can simply add security features if you find a design you truly like.
It can be simple and easy to develop a basic structure from scratch, and you can make it more cost-effective by using recycled materials in many cases.
The coop itself needs to be made from durable materials; it will be outside in sun, wind, and rain, so if it is made from wood, it needs to be painted for longevity.
Earlier, we briefly went over security, but it’s essential that your tractor is sturdy enough to protect your flock from determined predators.
To ensure reliable defense, windows need to be covered with wire mesh or hardware fabric, rather than chicken wire. Chicken wire is fine for confining chickens, but it won’t always prevent predators from entering.
The run should be also protected with a hardware mesh covering for this reason.
You will also want your locks and entry points to be secure. Keep in mind that any lock that a 3-year-old child could manage can probably also be opened by a clever raccoon.
Considerations for Compact & Lightweight Tractors
When it pertains to mobility, lightweight is undeniably the ideal choice. However, in unfavorable weather like strong winds or storms, there is a high threat of them toppling and scattering or injuring your hens.
If you are adamant about having a lightweight tractor, you will need to have some system to secure your shelter, particularly if you live in higher elevations where the wind can be extreme.
Predators of considerable size will also have no trouble in dismantling a tractor built utilizing PVC tubing and chicken wire.
To Sum It All Up
The design of your tractor is restricted only by your imagination, available space, and budget.
There are several benefits to utilizing tractors for your hens and extremely few disadvantages.
You will want to make sure that the tractor is appropriately constructed to provide adequate protection for the hens during the winter if you plan to use it consistently throughout the year.
Keep in mind, the larger your mobile chicken run is, the heavier it will likely be. However, if you have a lawn tractor or a riding mower, you may be able to use it to move your chicken tractor.
Lastly, remember that your chickens aren’t worried about the shape of the corners or the wood that you use, so don’t stress about making it perfect! They’re just happy to have a safe space to scratch and peck and enjoy the fresh outdoor air.
So don’t hesitate to try building your own chicken tractor even if you don’t have much DIY experience!