Keeping poultry can be challenging, and for many homestead properties predator pressure is one of the biggest threats to flocks.
Standard Chicken Coop Problems
Traditional chicken coops certainly keep animals safe, but they have their own issues:
- Manure - All animals make it, and in a traditional chicken coop much of it ends up accumulating in the same place. Whilst this is a fantastic composting ingredient, regularly clearing out hundreds of pounds of manure is never fun.
- Cost - With lumber and sheet pricing hitting all time highs, these structures now cost more than ever: a basic 6-hen coop can cost around $800.
- Flexibility - Traditional poultry coops are fixed in-place for its lifespan, eventually rotting away.
- Predator’s - Fixed Coops are target to persistent repeated attempts to eventually root into the structure. Be it tunnels, wire mesh, having the coop fixed can eventually help the local pests work night after night to make their way in, often unknown till one discovers dead animals, and possibly a few a in the the coop one morning. (Speaking from our experience of the first year in our fixed coop)
What is a Poultry Tractor ?
A mobile coop designed to be moved regularly. The size and type varies depending on a few factors (see "choosing a design").
By moving the tractors daily the chickens will have constant access to fresh grass, bugs, and entertainment.
We can move the chickens to where we want to grass cut, ground cleared, scratched up, and fertilized.
Safe and Sound
Predators should have a hard time getting to the chickens in the tractors. Hawks will no longer have an opportunity to attack with the whole poultry tractor now secured with poultry netting, tarps, and 1/2" hardware cloth.
To protect against predators that could try to dig under, we can use an electrified wire low to the ground, or electric netting around the whole set of tractors. Moving the coop daily helps evade burrowing pest pressure too.
We can split up the poultry into specific groups for breeding, ensuring we have a good stock to raise new birds from each year.
Feeders and waterers provide food and water for 3 days between filling allowing less work each day for the animals.
With the constant threat of wildfire, we need the ability to relocate our entire flock quickly and safely. This chicken tractor design will fit easily on a standard trailer bed when we need to move our flock to safer ground.
Choosing a Design
We spent any hours researching various designs, sizes, materials, and costs. The requirements for our chicken tractors were reasonably simple:
- Mobile, with one person (otherwise why make it?)
- Tall enough for humans (makes a world of difference being able to comfortably stand and walk around inside)
- Accommodate 12 full size laying chickens
- Have nests/egg boxes
- Hold enough food and water to for a few days
- Fits on a standard sized trailer (and in the back of our van)
From this we specified a size of 10' x 5'3" exterior, and 9' x 5' interior with a ridge height at 5'6".
The build process is fairly straightforward: Two sides, a front and back panel are made using 2"x4" standard lumber and half-lap joints. Then, the panels are assembled to create a 2ft high box with a door frame. Finally, 1/2" emt is bent to create the roof frames to accept a chicken wire roof.
Once assembled, wheels on one side allow us to lift and easily move the mobile coop.
With the structures built it's time to put them to use. The best location is more about our needs for the land, and where the best grass is on our property.
We don't use vehicles to move feed, water, or chicken tractors. All of these are moved by hand, which becomes a major consideration to how far away we want to be hauling these each day. For us, this means our nearest pasture is the best location for them at least for this first year.
As our farm expands, our processes will likely grow and evolve to make work easier to manage more animals.
Right now, the first set of tractor is built, and after this next few days of heavy rain ends they should be moving to the first pasture to enjoy this heavy watered new spring grass.
The current design is working well for our chickens, but modifications may need to be made for ducks. (More to come on that soon)
Coming soon to the Amador Farmers Market 2022:
Buy our eggs and fresh produce from May 15 at Sutter Creek every Saturday Morning and later in the season, Plymouth every Thursday Evening from August.