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How to use a chicken tractor

Every day I get heaps of page views from people looking for information about chicken tractors (I can see the search terms that led people to my posts) and my post "Mobile chickens vs fixed pen" is always one of the most popular of all time.  I thought it was time then to give you all a bit more detail about how we use chicken tractors, with more about how to build them in another post.

See part 2: How to build a chicken tractor.


As you will see from the other post, we now keep all our chickens in movable chicken tractors (so called because the chickens till the soil a little as the cages are moved along).  We are absolutely happy with this system and can see the trails behind the tractors as proof that they really do work to improve the soil.  The grass directly behind the chicken tractor will be very short (and sometimes down to the dirt) and then as you move away from the current location, to the areas that have been grazed earlier, you will see long, lush green grass.  We have seen huge improvements in the two areas where we have kept the chicken tractors so far.  We move the large tractors about once a week and the smaller ones more frequently.


The main requirement for using chicken tractors is to have reasonably flat ground to facilitate moving the tractors easily, and not too many stumps or clumps of grass that the tractor can get hooked up on.  As we have cleared trees and slashed areas of our paddocks, we then move the chicken tractors over those areas and watch the grass grow!  The other requirement for tractors to work is a mild climate and the right type of chickens.  We have summer high temperatures up to 30degC and winter lows below freezing, but no snow.  I think for climates that have snow, the chickens really need a fixed pen, with no drafts, to make sure they are warm enough, but you could use a tractor in warmer weather.  We choose heritage breed chickens with full plumage, so they can keep warmer in winter (Rhode Is Red and White Leghorns).


The main problem we have with the chicken tractors is the chickens spilling food on the ground.  When its time to move the tractor because all the grass has been eaten, there is often so much grain on the ground its tempting to leave the chickens there longer to finish eating it, but then the chickens will have no grass.  The grain is usually cleaned up by either the cattle or the dogs (dogs should not eat grain, it just comes out in their poo, but they won't listen) or wild birds if there's any left.  I think it also attracts mice, and even though we move the tractors, we don't move them far each time, so it seems that the mice follow.  We have tried a covered feeder that the chickens have to activate by stepping on a plate, but they didn't seem to like using it, and managed to spill heaps anyway!


We keep the chicken water in buckets for the full-grown chickens, hanging waterers for the babies and shallow tubs for the in-betweens.  We can leave six full-grown chickens with two buckets of water for several days.  If we want to go away for a week, we just leave an extra bucket.  We did think originally about incorporating the water dish into the design, but worried that it would be too heavy.  The buckets are good as we can just carry a new bucket of water out to the tractor and swap it for an old bucket.  The old water gets tipped on the garden.

We currently have three large tractors and two small ones.  We don't always have a full-house, but it can be very useful to have the extra tractors when we are raising young chicks, when we need to fatten roosters and if we have a broody or injured hen that needs some time to herself.  We built the small tractors first and when we were happy with them, decided to move on to the larger ones so that we could get rid of our fixed pen completely.






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. This is really interesting. I was thinking about getting some meat chickens and using a chicken tractor. We get too much snow to use one for our layers. But, I hope to just let them out around our yard.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd love to have one but we're rocky and not a flat place on the ridgetop! I can't let them out because of the number of hawks hanging around just waiting to snatch one up. They sit in the trees and watch the chickens in their enclosed yard.

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  3. I really like this idea. We are kind of doing this with our 8 little chicks in a pen, moving it every few days so it doesn't start smelling until we can get them in a coop. I would do the larger scale, but our yard has hardly any flat surfaces! Love this though :)

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  4. It's so cool hearing about how the grass is improved where the chicken tractors have been.

    Did you guys design the tractors yourself, or did you get plans from somewhere else?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't raise chickens and AM NOT presenting this as any expert, but I was reading something last week (I wish I could remember what!) about it, and they recommended using a taller chicken feed container (about the height of the chicken's back if I'm not mistaken) only partially filled with feed. This forces the chicken to point its head up to swallow. So the feed goes into the chicken, instead of on the ground.
    Again, I haven't tried it. I'm still doing chicken-owning-research. But thought I'd throw it out there in case you want to test drive the idea for me. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is great information - I keep thinking I need to make one that will fit between my garden beds...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for the comments everyone, sounds like our design wouldn't work for all areas - for those on rocky or sloping properties, consider larger tyres for an "off-road" version :) If you want to move them in the garden or orchard, you can make nice small ones that fit btw the rows. Emma, we designed them ourselves, starting with the small ones and trying new things with each one. I have a post next week about how to make them. Monday's Child, that is an interesting idea which I will try. We do find that hanging food is not as wasted as baldly as food on the ground, I guess the food on the ground is scuffed out by feet as well as beaks, naughty little chickens!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Guys, how do you go with periods of rain running across the ground and seeping under the tractors? I am about to build a couple for breeding and this is the only concern I have. I dont like the idea of birds having to stand on wet ground for too long when they arent roosting etc.

    Great site though and glad I stumbled across it.

    Justin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Justin, good question, this is only a problem when we have 200-300 mm of rain in summer. At that time, when there is water EVERYWHERE, I just try to let the chickens out to free-range as much as possible and we try to move the tractors to relatively high and dry areas. We also leave them there for longer and just sacrifice that patch, rather than ruining large areas by moving them around (they tend to create a muddy mess by walking around in the wet). I think this would be an issue even with a fixed run, as we have a sloping block, I don't know where we could build something permanent that wouldn't flood. I hope that helps. Cheers, Liz

      Delete

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