How to Build a Chicken Tractor for Raising Broilers
Daniel Olsen talks about how to build a chicken tractor for raising broilers (and laying hens) on pasture.
These free-range chickens are foraging outside of their tractor.
Photo By iStockphoto.com/luna4
A “chicken tractor” is a portable enclosure that allows backyard chickens to be rotated across a pasture in a controlled pattern. It also helps protect your flock from predators and provides shelter from severe weather.
A viable chicken tractor must be durable, lightweight, animal friendly and inexpensive. Finding a way to balance all of these qualities to fit your needs is the key to building a chicken tractor that will work for you. Many successful poultry farmers have adopted various styles of chicken tractors that incorporate these concepts and allow them to efficiently raise lots of healthy, happy birds.
The first chicken tractor I built was framed with 2-by-4s and was very roomy and durable. It also was incredibly heavy, and moving it regularly was a Herculean chore.
We next tried tent-type shelters framed with metal rebar and covered with tarps. They were light and inexpensive. They did a superb job of keeping the chickens in and the predators out, right up until we had a big thunderstorm. Have you ever tried to catch 200 wet and wild chickens cavorting around a 10-acre pasture? Not fun. If you anchor these down, they might endure high winds better, but then you’ll have to remove the anchors with each move.
Our perfect chicken tractor
I finally found the perfect chicken tractor while visiting Shankstead Eco-Farm in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The owner, Edwin Shank, was building a batch when I visited his farm, and I was impressed by the simplicity of the structures and how well they worked.
When I got back to Wisconsin, we immediately built one and have since added a few more. We modified Edwin’s original design slightly to better fit our needs. While the chicken tractor plans that follow will give you an excellent place to start, I encourage you to tweak them until you find exactly what works best for your situation.
The tractor we built will comfortably house 50 to 75 broilers if it is moved regularly. It is 8-by-16-feet in area and is constructed out of lumber and lightweight 3/4-inch galvanized steel conduit. The frame and chicken wire cost around $140; you can decide what kind of cover you want to use. We have a source for used billboard signs, which we have found to work very well as “tractor tarps.” They are durable, and this is a neat way to recycle them. They are black on one side, and if you turn them with the graphics to the inside, the chickens can spend time becoming more familiar with the ways of the world. (Just kidding!) Ours spent hours last summer staring at Andre Agassi, and they all think Wimbledon is a wonderful venue for tennis … they definitely prefer grass courts to clay.
Anyways, if you’re planning on raising broilers, this design also can double as a cold frame. Just trade out the opaque summer cover for some clear plastic, and you have an ideal, portable cold frame for winter greens or early spring produce. Our tractors are about 6 feet high at the peak, so we can easily work the crops growing inside.
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