Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chicken Mini-Tractor

We began researching the idea of using chicken tractors because our little flock had outgrown the original chicken coop. Joel Salatin, as well as many in the backyard chicken forums, recommended using chicken tractors. The whole concept seemed to be just what we were looking for: Give chickens fresh pasture to graze on as well as efficient poop management. We should be able to use these to raise our chicks to laying hens before moving them to permanent quarters. The chicks will be adults before our first freeze in mid-November so no winterizing will be necessary.

The design above is our first mini-tractor. 2x4's along the bottom edge are 6' long by 5' wide (5' board is cut to 57"). Corner braces are 1x4's cut at 45 angle and 14" along the top. Use a speed square to put these in. Use nails and screws of appropriate length on all fastened edges. The doorway is made with 1x4's 31" across the top and 41" tall. The 1/2" electrical conduit is 10' long and bent with a hoop bender. The conduit on the top has been cut down to 7' to provide an easy handle for moving the chicken tractor. I used pipe clamps to fasten the cross member to the hoops and pipe straps to fasten the conduit to the 2x4's and one pipe strap to fasten the top of the door frame to the 1x4. Self-tapping screws hold the conduit to the pipe straps. The wire is 2x4x36"x50'; you'll only use about 30' to do this job. Tack the wire in with small fence staples and a hammer.

Next, add a door. We built this from 1X2's and metal corner braces. Make sure it is 36" tall from the middle of the boards so that you can use only one piece of wire to cover it. Use the same small staples to secure the wire. Notice the 2X2 roost inside the chicken tractor. Be sure to add that before securing the tarp. Use the small fence staples tapped into each end to hold it in the proper location.

Make a little hatch in the back out of the wire so that you can easily add food and water. Make a small latch out of left-over wire. The food pail is held upright with a length of string trimmer line and a spring clip. This keeps the chickens from knocking it over. Also notice the zip ties that hold the tarp in place. The 8'X10' tarp has been doubled over to cover 4'X10'. The front of the tarp is held with bungees (the kind with the little ball) secured to the bottom board. Buy the thickest, best-made tarp you can afford.

Chicken tractor in our newly established orchard.

Happy chickens (3 month old pullets) get fresh grass every day and don't have to stand around in there own poop.

Use any old discarded beverage bottle as a water bottle. Drill a small hole in the bottom to allow a wire hook to hang from the tractor roof. You can make your own hook from surplus fence wire. I bought chicken nipples to fit into the bottle caps. These are easy to fit with a drill and bit. Try to find the largest water bottle possible so that your chickens have a fresh supply. These are small bottles so I am using two of them.

I'm moving these chicken tractors twice a day on bad grass and once a day on good grass. I believe that Salatin's idea is to allow the chickens to use up 30% of the grass before moving on. You'll need to adjust the number of chickens and time between moves so that they are beneficial to your pasture. Currently I've got about 12 pullets per tractor based on feeding and watering once per day. That count will decrease as they get larger.

This method has been modified. See pic below.

I use a 6' length of PVC pipe to move these tractors. Just raise one end and tap the pipe under with your toe. Go to the other end and push the tractor. Sometimes it rolls and other times it just slides on top of the pipe. Be careful not to roll it on top of the chickens' legs. If there is a way to get their legs caught up in this thing they will find it! A little patience goes a long way here.

Chicken tractor predator protection!

7/24/2013 update: I forgot to mention how our chickens are protected in these chicken tractors. Meet Hanna and Sadie. Our Great Pyrenees farm dogs protect the chickens as well as all other parts of the farm.

Use two 20" sections of 1 1/2" PVC pipe to roll the chicken tractor.

8/1/2013 update: The 6' length of PVC pipe was still running over their legs too many times. I cut two 20" sections of 1 1/2" PVC to use on each side that seems to work much better. It's also easier to remove after rolling the tractor.

Next up: we'll be building larger chicken tractors with wheels and layer boxes to permanently house adult hens.