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How to build a chicken tractor

As I said in my previous post (How to use a chicken tractor), I've had a lot of interest in our chicken tractors, so I wanted to write more about how we use them, and in this post, how we build them.

Chicken tractors can be constructed from many different materials, but with my husband being a welder, our material of choice is always metal.  All the tractors are built using "box section", metal mesh and roof sheeting.  I've seen tractors made from wood (very good example here) and from poly pipe, so if you're not into metal, then there are plenty of other options.  You can also size them to fit on your garden beds or between rows in an orchard to till the soil and catch bugs.  If you make them from light material they will be easier to move.


What you start to plan a chicken tractor, look for materials that are cheap or free.  We got the roll of mesh for our first tractors at a closing down sale, and sized the tractors to fit the mesh.  All the roof sheeting has been second hand from demolition yards and the box section is "down grade" (which means its a little warped or defective).  Some of the wheels were bought new, but others have come from an old cart, a BBQ trolley and from the dump shop (old mower wheels).  For some of the tractors we cut down sapplings to use as the roosting pole.  For one of the small tractors, Farmer Pete welded in a shelf from an old fridge instead of the pole, so the wee ones can all hop up onto the shelf to sleep.  The size and shape of your tractor will depend on the materials that you can source.  We also made the larger tractors to fit onto the car trailer, so that they can easily be moved, and it was lucky we did, as they came with us from the Lockyer Valley to the South Burnett.

Most of our tractors have two doors, one large door for the chickens to get out to free-range, or for us to crawl in and catch them when necessary.  The other, smaller, door is for refilling food and collecting eggs.  You will also need hinges and catches for the doors, but these don't need to be complicated, one of ours broke recently, so I just use some wire to secure the door now.  On the last large tractor we made, we only used one door to save on materials, if you are clever about where to put everything, you can get away with one door.


All the tractors have some kind of nesting box.  The best ones in the large tractors are made from folded sheet metal, and were made when Farmer Pete had access to a metal folder.  They have been good as they are easy to keep clean and there's nowhere for mites and lice to hide (which can be a problem with wooden boxes).  In the tractor we made more recently, we just cut a section out of an old 20 L jerry can to produce a nesting box and screwed it into the wall of the tractor.  Another box has an old wooden box with a section cut out so that the chicken can get inside.  I've also seen old mower grass catchers used, so visit the dump shop for inspiration if you don't have anything suitable at home already!

We found that the chicken tractors got too hot in summer, and its hard to have them parked under a tree all the time, when the purpose is to move them, so we clipped shade cloth onto the mesh at the top to keep the tractors cool.  This blocks the midday sun, but the chickens can still enjoy morning and afternoon sun.

this one only has one door at the back
We have painted our two large tractors, because it took us several weekends to build them, we wanted them to last, with the other ones we've been a bit slack about painting (as they needed to be occupied right away!) and they remain unpainted, but its on the list!  We filled all the holes in the roof sheeting with silicon to make sure that they wouldn't leak.

Our chicken tractors have been perfect for our needs and would suit any small acerage property that had a bit of flat land (and the small ones would work in a normal house block), but now that we have a larger property and would love to one day keep pastured poultry to clean up after our cattle (a la Joel Salatin) one day soon we will be designing new chicken tractors on a larger scale.  Our experience with small tractors for 3-10 chickens will help us to make something that can house 100 chickens.

shade cloth clipped on the top mesh

Do you use chicken tractors?  What are they made out of and how to you build the?  Any clever ideas?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Comments

  1. Thank you for the post, great info!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the detailed descriptions. When you get more chickens, do you think you'll modify the design, or just build a bigger version of what you have? I designed a not-yet-built, modified version of Salatin's scissor truss tractor for hens, but am considering building something more like what you have.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How exciting to find this! We have 10 chicks right now and need to build something for them to live in. We will be going the traditional hen house route since they are layers, and we live in Maine, but I might try and do something like this for meat chickens we are thinking of getting this summer!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice to see what you are doing with your chicken tractor. I built one that I use for 5 hens and a rooster. It is 10'x12', and ok for now, but too heavy for me to move on my own. Not a problem now because my son moves it, but when he moves out, I need to come up with something else. Here's the link if you want to see it:

    http://beyonddirtmycreativejourney.blogspot.com/2011/11/my-new-project.html

    I like how you have the shade cloth. I bought some reed stuff to put on mine, and not real happy. I'm worried about air flow. Do you move the tractor every day? Are you able to do it by yourself??

    Thanks for posting. I like to see what other people are doing with their chickens.
    ~~Lori

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really good post Liz. We're building a chicken run at the moment but if we ever need a tractor I'll be back going over your instructions!

    ReplyDelete
  6. thanks everyone hope my design tips help. For the larger tractors we are thinking of building it on a trailer frame so it can be towed by the tractor (the real tractor!).

    We do move these tractors every couple of days, they are too heavy for me to move very far, but if I need to move one by myself I put a small trolley under the front and they are then easy to move.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have such a silly question - we've seen the Salatin films, but I can't figure out how you *move* these things without scraping a chicken under a wall. Does that make sense? I'd love to make a chicken tractor that would fit between my garden beds to allow the 'girls' to weed for me, but I can't sort out how you drag them without hurting the hens.

    ReplyDelete
  8. NEATO! I tell people to get one of those dog runs off craigslist and put wire over the top. I'll send them here for other options. Please come link up at my DIY Linky at www.littlehouseinthesuburbs.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. A friend uses old little caravans, pulls the floor out of them, and put serious grate like floor, and builds roosting shelves inside, and makes the ends layer boxes that you can lift and collect from the outside, so cool. Uses electric moveable netting fences

    ReplyDelete

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. 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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