Monday, March 14, 2011

Mobile chicken tractors vs fixed pen

See also How to use a chicken tractor and How to build a chicken tractor and chicken tractor guest post.

When we first started with chickens, we had an old stable with a tack room, and converted that into a chicken coop, with long star-pickets and chicken mesh used to make a run.  As we got more chickens, we kept having to make the run bigger so they would have somewhere the scratch.  Its amazing how quickly a few chickens can demolish a run full of grass.  We used to let them out before we went to work, but then a few things happened.  First the dog started helping herself to chickens (we’d come home to find a very “sorry” dog and a chicken is varying stages of being eaten).  Then the chickens started crossing the road and scuffing up the neighbour’s garden.  So from then on we had to keep the chickens locked up to protect them from the “killer Kelpie” and threats to “call the council”.  Then we started to notice mice around the chicken coop.  The mice were not only eating the chickens’ food, but potentially attracting snakes to the area, and as the chickens were stuck in their run and creating a dustbowl, we started looking for another solution.

The original chicken coop was a extended several times
before we decided to use chicken tractors
My husband had already built a couple of smaller chicken tractors for our baby chickens to live in until they were big enough to live with the big chickens, and for fattening roosters for the pot.  If we were to get rid of our permanent chicken coop, we were going to need some bigger versions of these tractors to keep 6-8 chickens in each.  Luckily my husband decided to size them to fit on the car trailer, because almost as soon as we finished them, we had to move them to Nanango!  It was nice to know when we were looking at houses that we had accommodation for our chickens organised already, and wouldn’t have to rush to build something for them after we moved.  Actually the property that we moved into had a very messy chicken area in the house yard that we couldn’t wait to demolish in case it was a sanctuary for snakes. 


The original of the small tractors being used for the baby turkeys
The tractors measure about 2m wide by 3m long by 1m high.  The frame is made from box section, with corrugated iron over the roost and nesting boxes to provide shelter and shade, and chicken mesh welded to the rest of the frame.  The nest box is folded up from a sheet of galvanised iron, which means its easy to keep clean and free from mites/lice.  The front has handles, and the back has large wheels, for moving it around.  They turned out to be a bit heavy for me to move on my own, but then we tried our trusty SuperCheapAuto trolley under the front and I have no trouble at all!  We painted them with old green house paint, so that they blend in the scenery.  You can buy something similar from a few difference places (for example), but I think we saved about half the price or more by making them ourselves (again, my contribution was limited to passing tools and cutting box section, my husband did all the hard work!). 

One of the large chicken tractors - sized to fit on the car trailer.
Inside the large chicken tractor
The side door of the large tractor
The back of the tractor has wheels for easy moving
and a back door to collect the eggs
Having the tractors means that we’re able to keep a number of roosters separated from each other, or rest hens that are looking scruffy, which we couldn’t do with only one pen.  Also we can move then around onto long grass or paddocks that need some extra fertiliser.  We still let them out when we are home, but the tractors are suitably dog-proof to keep out the “killer Kelpie” and any wild dogs or foxes that take an interest overnight.

Do you use chicken tractors or a fixed pen?  Any suggestions or questions?

8 comments:

  1. Hi Liz - we use tractors too for our meat chickens. Like Emma said, they're an ingenious little thing. We have electric wire around them too to keep the raccoons and skunks out. (Not sure if you guys have such things but they're good at digging.) Thankfully we don't have to worry about snakes.

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  2. That is so smart! I saw something like this on a BBC show called "Victorian Farm". And thanks for the tip on my blog!

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  4. I love this! I would so love to have chickens this maybe my solutions. I really love the idea of chickens just not sure about the reality. May still have to have a think about this one. Thanks for the great idea though. Oh and we don’t have snakes or raccoons or skunks in NZ.

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  5. Hi Liz, I would love some more detailed instructions on building the chicken tractors as we need to build some new accommodation for our girls for our new property at Gin Gin. Also, do you find your girls go back in to their tractors each time you let them out, with them being moved around? And do you let the chooks from more than one tractor out at one time, if so do they go back where they are supposed to or try to intermingle into each others tractors? Thanks very much for your info, Deb

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  6. Hi Debra, great questions! I have a post coming up with lots more details, so you will see how we build the tractors (as we had to make another one recently). When we first put the chickens in the tractor we don't let them out for a couple of weeks, they then get used to living there. The first time we let them out, they don't always know exactly how to get back into the tractor, but they head back in the general direction and might need some assistance to get in the door. After that, they seem to work it out. If we move them too far, they go back to the spot where the tractor was and look really confused, so best to just move them by a few metres each time. We do open up multiple tractors and the chickens tend to go back to where they came from, only problem is if we've swapped some around, sometimes they go back to their old tractor instead of the new one, but that's easily fixed by catching the naughty ones. They do tend to spend time in other tractors pinching the food as well! My advice is to start small and get to know your chickens, then it will all become clear. Cheers and thanks for following, Liz

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  7. Hi Liz. Just came by your site on the internet as i was researching mobile chicken tractors/coops. As it turns out, we live in Mackay but our son has a 250acre farm in Nanango. Eventually we want to shift down and live on his farm but until then we help him out whenever we can. He grows mostly lucerne and this is why i'm interested in making these mobile tractors. It would be very beneficial i think if he had quite a few of these on his fallow ground before he gets ready to put in a paddock of lucerne. I have a fair idea what i need to do to make them. I have been in my trade for over 40 years (fitter & turner) so making them would be no big deal. I'm envisaging making them as flat packs at home here and transporting them to his farm. I'm not sure how many to make but i'm guessing around a dozen to start with would be ok. What do you think ? He already has one tractor he bought but it was very expensive !! Any ideas and help you can give me would be greatly appreciated !! Thanks Liz. Cheers.

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, if you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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