Skip to main content

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}

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


  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.

  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.

  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 :)

  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?

  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. :-)

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

  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!

  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.


    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


Post a Comment

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

Popular posts from this blog

Getting started with chickens - Tanya from Lovely Greens

Sign up for my weekly email updates here, you will find out more about soap and our farmlife, straight to your inbox, never miss a post!  New soap website and shop opening soon....

Farmer Liz: You will remember Tanya from Lovely Greens from the first series, she lives on the Isle of Mann and added chickens to her garden about a year ago.  You can leave comments for this post on Tanya's blog.

How many chickens (and other fowl) do you keep, what breed and what do you use them for (meat, eggs, slug control etc)?
Tanya: Around the same time that we were initially thinking about having hens another friend beat us to the punch. She went to the local pet store and bought a flat-pack hen house and chicken run combo and found a local farmer who had dozens of semi-feral chickens running around his property. One night he pulled three down from the trees and my friend took them home in a pet carrier. She named them Miracel, Carmen, and Geraldine and though they’re probably related they were all…

What to do with eight acres

Behind the scenes of my blog I can see the search terms that led people to find my blog.  It can be quite interesting to look through them occasionally and see what people are looking for.  Most of them involve chicken tractors, but another question that comes up regularly is “what can you do with eight acres?” or “how much land is eight acres?”.  Today I will try to answer this question.

Of course it is a very broad question, there are lots and lots of things you can do with eight acres, but I’m going to assume that you want to live there, feed your family and maybe make a little extra money.  I make that assumption because that’s what I know about, if you want to do something else with your eight acres, you will need to look somewhere else.

If you haven’t chosen your land yet, here a few things to look for.  Focus on the things you can’t change and try to choose the best property you can find in your price range.  Look for clean water in dams, bores or wells, either on the property …

Growing mushrooms in my kitchen!

I’ve been wanting to try growing mushrooms for some time. I LOVE mushrooms and we buy them from the supermarket every week, so I was keen to find a way to produce them at home to reduce waste and potentially cost as well.

A few years ago I found out that you could grow mushrooms from the spent mushroom compost from mushroom farms. So we dropped in to a farm on the Sunshine Coast and picked up a couple of boxes for $2 each. I diligently kept them dark and sprayed them with water, but in our climate, I just couldn’t keep them damp enough (and I had to keep them outside because our shed was too hot). I never managed to produce any mushrooms from those boxes, but when I gave up and tipped the compost out onto the garden, mushrooms sprang up everywhere. I wasn’t confident that they were the right mushrooms though, so I didn’t harvest any of those. As the proverb says, All mushrooms are edible, but some only once! I am generally a bit nervous about unidentified fungi.

Since then, I had…