Chicken Tractors; Free Range Chickens Safely!
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
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!
Resources for Raising Poultry on Amazon
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.
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.