How to use a chicken tractor

by Liz Beavis

Chicken tractors are a great alternative to fixed chicken pens if you want to be able to move your chickens around on fresh pasture, while providing protection against predators.  My eBook A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors has more detail about chickens and chicken tractors.  Get your copy here.


Chicken tractors are good for chickens

The main advantage of a chicken tractor is that you can move it around your pasture, so your chickens always have access to fresh grass and insects.  If you can't free-range your chickens, a chicken tractor is the next best thing as it provide protection from predators and contains your chickens in a safe location.


Chicken tractors are good for soil fertility

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.


Requirements for using a chicken tractor

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).


Problems with chicken tractors

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!


Water for chicken tractors

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.


More information about chicken tractors:

My eBook A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors has more detail about chickens and chicken tractors.  Get your copy here.

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