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Chicken Tractors; Free Range Chickens Safely!

Updated on February 1, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

a simple tractor, photo courtesy of The City Chicken
a simple tractor, photo courtesy of The City Chicken

The Problem With Free Range Chickens

When we moved to our dream farmhouse I had no idea what a chicken tractor was. I just knew I looked forward to getting heritage breed chickens so that I could gather the organic eggs every day. I dreamed about watching them scurry across the yard, chasing bugs, and scratching in the dirt of the driveway. To me this was the ultimate joy of country life.

And then reality hit.

My bucolic scene was often gruesomely interrupted by marauding raccoons, unattended dogs, and a neighbor that did NOT appreciate my chickens in his yard. Sighing, I kept them in the pen, or tried to. Somehow those chickens always found a way out of their confinement and I would look out to see them placidly scratching in the dirt of the neighbor's driveway. My heart beating fast I would run out the door, jump the fence and shoo them back home, looking all the while like a mad woman, I am sure! I hate confrontations and ill feelings between neighbors!

The other problem was eggs. One week the chickens stopped laying eggs totally. I couldn't find one egg in the nesting boxes and I was at my wits end. They had been laying regularly for weeks. Toward the end of the week I happened to be walking through the pasture checking on something and I saw an amazing sight. There in a hollow, created by the roots of a large tree, were eggs. Lovely, brown, large, organic, who-knows-how-old eggs. One of the chickens had decided to lay in that spot and the rest of them followed suit.

I needed to do something!

A Great Chicken Tractor in Action

a pvc pipe based tractor, photo courtesy of The City Chicken
a pvc pipe based tractor, photo courtesy of The City Chicken

Chicken Tractor To the Rescue!

I did not want to keep the hens locked in the pen, I wanted them to roam as much as possible and have access to fresh, green grass, insects, and whatever else they found in addition to the feed I was giving them. At the same time, I did not want to have problems with the neighbors or continue to find my chickens dissected in the yard. I researched on the Internet and found something called a chicken tractor. This is an interesting contraption that solves so many problems it is not funny. Best of all, it is easily made by the homesteader.

I have seen many of them for sale for $500.00 to $1,000.00 but this seems a waste to me when the design is so very straight forward. It is, basically, a large, bottomless cage with a small shelter attached. It is kept as lightweight as possible so that it can be moved from place to place on the homestead on a daily basis, providing the chickens with a fresh environment. Because it is completely enclosed the chicken cannot get out, nor can predators easily get in. I prefer to lock my chickens up in the hen house overnight as a safety measure, however during the day a chicken tractor is the perfect spot!

How To Make A Chicken Tractor

There are numerous instructions on the Internet on how to make a chicken tractor, or mobile coop. The materials vary, as does the size and shape of the structure. You will need several if you have many chickens, most of the ones I have seen will handle no more than four to six chickens. Four would seem to be the best number to me, so that they would have plenty of room. When chickens and contained in close quarters it encourages fighting, cannibalism, and egg eating.

A Simple Mobile Coop

The simplest way to construct a movable pen is by using 2x2 lumber and chicken wire to cover the frame. Make a rectangle approximately four feet long and two to three feet high. Cover it with the chicken wire on three sides, leaving the bottom open for the chickens to be able to eat the fresh grass and bugs. Make it sturdy enough that it offers protection for the chickens but light enough that you can move it easily. You can cover part of it with canvas or plastic to shade the chickens and provide shelter from the rain. Be sure and add a water dish so they can have plenty of fresh water.

A Sturdy Structure

A more difficult, but sturdier structure can be made by using that basic form and adding plywood to create an enclosed housing area. The house should have hinges on the roof, or some other way to get into it to clean it and collect any eggs. When the chicken tractor is more substantial, you may want to add wheels on it to make it easier to move. In this type, you could potentially leave your poultry in it all night but I would not recommend it. Raccoons are pretty intelligent creatures and have ways of finding their way in to get at one of their favorite meals.

I have seen many mobile coops that are triangular shaped, with the base resting on the ground, and they seem to be a favorite design. The shape gives a sturdier product and uses less material, plus it keeps it lighter and easier to move. In the triangular shape there are also those that have a coop area at the top of the triangle, with a ramp for the chickens to go up into it! If you look around you will find many different types to choose from, or to base your own design off of.

Other Benefits

One of the other benefits of a movable pen is that you can utilize the chickens as natural, eco-friendly, labor saving, garden tillers! In a few days, if left on one spot, the chickens will have scratched up all the grass and weeds and be on bare ground,. During that time they will have naturally fertilized as well! Because of the amount of scratching the chickens do everyday the chicken manure will be well worked into the soil, enriching it without any work on your part. A few weeks of moving your chickens around in your garden area will result in a fabulous garden in the spring.

With the chicken tractor backyard poultry are possible for almost anyone.

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    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Really funny and interesting! Thanks for sharing!

    • carolinemoon profile image

      carolinemoon 5 years ago

      Interesting and wonderful hub!

    • profile image

      Chicken Tractor Plans 6 years ago

      Thanks for the article!

      I built a chicken tractor myself and it was the best thing i ever did!

      Chicken tractors ARE the best ways to raise your chickens!

    • Gyspy Writer profile image

      Gyspy Writer 7 years ago from Midwest

      Great article! I too favor movable pens and mention them in my post. I live in town and cannot keep chickens, but I wish I could!

    • GreenGoodsGuide profile image

      GreenGoodsGuide 7 years ago from Lehigh Valley PA

      Wow, great stuff! Thanks! I live in a small city, but there are groundhogs and opossums around. I was really wanting to freerange in my fenced yard, but if those critters are getting in, my future chickens can get OUT! This is the perfect solution.

    • profile image

      Tracy 7 years ago

      For coyotes and other ground predators you can put up one strand of hot wire around the base of your pen or tractor with a pet strength battery or solar fence charger. I use rebar and screw type insulators to put up a single low strand of hot wire. I had lost 30 hens one by one to foxes, and ended the problem after one night with the hot wire. There was fox poop as proof of it's surprize.It also trains your dogs.

    • profile image

      jjohnson 7 years ago

      I enjoyed your information- I am a novice blogger and I really appreciate the flow of your post

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Super stuff! I needed to smile! Thanks!

    • DeannaDylanScott profile image

      DeannaDylanScott 7 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      Interesting!! I am a huge animal lover and intend to have a country house soon. I love chickens and will want to keep them safe. It's crazy all the things that come up in country life. I have been a city girl for so long.

    • profile image

      edith 7 years ago

      any ideas for 200 chickens? we're having a major fox problem...

    • nicko guzman profile image

      nicko guzman 8 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      How much space per chicken.Can I put a rhode island red and silkie.

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 8 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      I wouldn't mind raising chickens,But,I live in A big city,and would have to move to the country,o well,win some lose some.As kong as I can buy fresh,free range chickens and eggs, I'm happy!

    • Ken Devonald profile image

      Ken Devonald 8 years ago from Edinburgh

      Thanks Marye, great information. I use a static hen pen and let my chickens free roam, but in the uk they used to use these coops for rearing chicks or pheasants under hens.

    • pacwriter profile image

      pacwriter 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Are there coops that are coyote proof? We are having quite a problem in my neck of NC. One of my frineds is losing a chicken at least once a month.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Thanks for sharing that info. I am thinking about getting a few chickens and I know I have foxes on the farm. This is an excellent solution!

    • profile image

      Chicken coop plans 8 years ago

      I've also seen chicken coop plans for chicken tractors for sale on ebay. you can even buy chicken tractors there in flatpacks.

    • profile image

      chicken coop plans 8 years ago

      I agree, the most important thing you need to consider when selection your chicken coop plans is the protection of your chickens from predators. Go the extra mile to begin with and you'll be thankfull in the long run.

    • Marye Audet profile image
      Author

      Marye Audet 8 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      IN order to keep predators like fox out you will need to rin a base of chicken wire so they can't tinnel under but the grass still is available to the chickens.

    • profile image

      Clance McDonald 8 years ago

      Great hub Marye. Great looking chicken coops with some good instructions. Do you think they will keep predators out? We get lots of foxes in my area and I'm a bit unsure.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 8 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      Thanks,I just started raising chicks--I have 25 heavy pullets and I will surely use your hub--Thanks

    • WeClick2Travel profile image

      WeClick2Travel 9 years ago from Northern Michigan

      When I read the title I thought it was a joke, like a left handed screwdriver. Interesting article. My brother raises chickens and has had some trouble with preditors. I'll pass this hub on to him.

    • profile image

      Philip 9 years ago

      Hi I own a chicken tractor. It is in my back yard, and on our Bermuda grass. The tractor is on wheels on one side and is lifted with a dolly on the other for moving. It moves pretty easily. I built it in May of 2007 and i have 23 hens in it. they are on the grass in the day-time and go up into the roost at night to sleep, were they are protectd from any predetors. They also lay eggs in the 14 nest boxes that are in the roost. The hens don't lay to well in the winter but since it is spring they are laying more and I am getting anywhere from 15 to 23 eggs per day. I am sixteen and don't have a lot of time to care for them (although it takes less than 10 minutes a day to feed, give water, and move the coop) so i am looking to sell my tractor. I am selling it for the price of the materials that was used to build it. I am selling the chickens to but already have people that want to buy them. For more information and pictures you can e-mail me at philipuys@bellsouth.net Thanks Philip

    • flread45 profile image

      Frank 9 years ago from Montana

      I raised free roaming bantams and it was easter every day as I had to look under the house in the brush,anywhere a chicken can hide to lay an egg.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 9 years ago from America

      I love chickens. I would like to have a few at least just for eggs. I have a big barn for them to go in but hubby is not so happy with the idea of having chickens. Where we use to live we had two very big white roosters. Peter and Mark they ran everyone out of our yard.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 9 years ago from Around the USA

      So cool! This brought back memories of collecting eggs on my grandparents' farm in the summer. (I also remember the mean old rooster.)

    • profile image

      Anthony Hurt 9 years ago

      Thank you so much for this information. It has given me great ideas for keeping my chickens.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 9 years ago from North Carolina

      Funny Marye, I doubt think that way, keep up the good work. Cheers :)

    • Marye Audet profile image
      Author

      Marye Audet 9 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      LOL! Thanks! See, writing saves my family from my endless chatter. by reading adn commenting you all help my husband and kids to live a more peaceful, quiet life...for which they will be forever grateful. ;)

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 9 years ago from North Carolina

      Fabulous blog Marye, you should write in Squidoo.com, you have so much wealth of information. You should also publish a book about your experiences, will offer a lots of guidance for novices like me. Cjeers

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