If you’ve been paying attention to homesteading magazines and farming websites lately, you may have noticed the term “chicken tractor” a time or two – or twelve!
But what exactly is a chicken tractor – and why do you need one? If you raise chickens, using a chicken tractor is one of the best things you can do.
Chicken tractors are essentially lightweight chicken coops that are meant to be moved every single day (or several times a week) so that your chickens always have fresh areas to roam around in.
A chicken tractor is essentially the best of both worlds – it makes it possible for your chickens to free-range without predator pressure.
Plus, there’s now to Arnab out your chickens wandering into your garden (or your neighbor’s garden!) and messing with the flowers.
Chicken tractors come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. In this 101 guide to chicken tractors, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about them!
Table of Contents
What Exactly is a Chicken Tractor?
As I mentioned earlier, chicken tractors are essentially just portable chicken coops and runs that provide your chickens with everything they need.
They offer protection from predators (and the sun and precipitation) along with a place to roost, nest, eat, and drink.
Chicken tractors almost always have an open floor design, allowing the birds to free-range, get to rocks and bugs, and to spread their manure while they’re tilling up the soil for you.
Chicken tractors allow you to control where your chickens can – and cannot – go.
If you’ve ever walked by a chicken coop and seen bare, manure-covered dirt and found yourself shaking your head in despair, then a chicken tractor is the new housing facility you need to consider designing for your birds!
There are all kinds of chicken tractors you can buy or build, including:
- A-frame tractors
- Barn tractors
- Chicken tractors with roost bars
- Hoop-style chicken tractors
- Chicken tractors with bottom floors
- Box-style chicken tractors
- Chickasaw tractors
- Geodesic chicken tractors
- Brooder chicken tractors
- Pallet chicken tractors
…and much more!
Here’s a quick video to show you more about what chicken tractors have to offer small- and large-scale chicken farmers alike:
Why You Need a Chicken Tractor: Benefits
Still not convinced that you need a chicken tractor, even after watching the video linked above? Consider these main benefits of building and using a chicken tractor.
The first benefit of having a chicken tractor – it can go wherever you do, or wherever you want it to. The whole point of having one of these contraptions is so that it can be moved whenever you need it to.
If the land is looking a little ragged or you just want to tote your girls into the garden for a day, a chicken tractor will make it easy for you to do so.
That’s why most of these are designed to be built on wheels, skids, or dollies. You can transport them by hand or with a vehicle like a truck or a tractor.
Another benefit of using chicken tractors is that they provide your hens with the space they so desperately need – and deserve. They vary in size depending on your goals and needs.
However, they are beneficial in that they give your chickens room they need to forage and to prevent overcrowding.
Although you’ll still need to allow around four square feet of space for each chicken, your chicken tractor will likely ultimately take up less space than a regular coop because the tractor can serve as both the coop and the run, letting you perform double duty.
Lower Feed Costs
Chicken tractors can help you save a ton of money when it comes to feeding. Of course, you do still need to provide your birds with some feed.
Unless you’re raising your chickens on magic pasture, it’s unlikely that they’ll get everything they need from the ground beneath them alone.
Naturally, this is also assuming that your chicken tractor does not have a floor. If your chicken tractor has a floor, you are going to miss out on one of the biggest benefits of this kind of structure – it lets your birds forage for their food on the ground beneath.
Otherwise, as long as the bottom is open your chickens will be able to scratch and peck for grass, bugs, and rocks (which they need for digestion).
Just make sure you continue to put feeders and water in your chicken tractor. A high-quality feed is essential, particularly if you are raising meat chickens who have higher caloric and nutritional needs.
Use sturdy feeders that aren’t easy to knock over (you may even be able to use hanging feeders and waterers, depending on how your chicken tractor is designed) and consider nipple waterers with one for every two chickens.
Lots of fresh, clean water is essential every day, even if you find that you don’t have to refill the feeders every day.
Don’t miss out on one of the biggest benefits that chicken tractors have to offer – they can work wonders in your garden!
If you find yourself overwhelmed with garden clean-up tasks at the end of the season, it’s chickens to the rescue! Put your chicken tractor in your garden beds and let your birds go to town.
They’ll remove any lingering weeds, get rid of overwintering pests, and of course, deposit nitrogen-rich manure everywhere they go.
You can even use chicken tractors during the active growing season, too. Since the manure is spread all over the place, you don’t have to worry about the nitrogen burning your plants.
Chicken tractors also provide your birds with a level of protection against predators of all kinds.
There are things you’ll want to do to your chicken tractor to make sure the structure is shored up appropriately – for example, you’ll need to use wire mesh and hardware cloth (not chicken wire) around the outside to keep out digging and clawing predators.
You’ll also want to make sure there aren’t any gaps around the bottom where digging animals like skunks might be able to get in.
Otherwise, you’ll find that your chicken tractor does an excellent job at protecting your birds from all kinds of predators, including those on the ground (like coyotes and foxes) and those in the air (like owls and hawks).
It’s not just predators that you can use your chicken tractor to protect against, either – these structures are also phenomenal at guarding your chickens against the elements, like the sun and the rain.
Chicken tractors are remarkably durable – especially if you spend the extra money to buy quality materials that you don’t have to replace year after year.
Choose a design and building materials that is strong and tough (rot-resistant or pressure-treated wood is my top recommendation, along with a tin or aluminum roof).
Easy to Tow and Move
The final benefit – though I’m sure there are more not listed here! – to mention is that chicken tractors are lightweight, a feature that makes them remarkably easy to tow around.
You can build a chicken tractor with materials like lightweight wood and metal roofing – or you can go even lighter with PVC or tarps.
The latter will make for a chicken tractor that is easily towed by hand, though of course, it won’t be quite as durable.
Nevertheless, no matter what kinds of materials you choose for your chicken tractor, you can rejoice in the fact that these structures are super easy to tote around.
What to Consider When Building A Chicken Tractor
I could have titled this next section, “disadvantages of using a chicken tractor,” but really, this style of chicken housing has so few disadvantages or “cons” that I’d be mistaken in doing so.
That said, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you want to use chicken tractors correctly.
Chicken tractors can be used with all kinds of chicken breeds, but you’ll have to pay special attention to the design depending on the specific kind of breed you’re housing there.
For example, if you plan on raising egg-laying chickens, it’s essential that you include nesting boxes and roost bars (more on this later).
You’ll need to give them a place to lay their eggs and you’ll also need a way you can get the eggs out.
If you’re raising broiler (meat) chickens, this won’t apply. However, you do have other things to keep in mind.
The good news is that meat chickens don’t usually require as much space in chicken tractors as egg layers.
The bad news is that they are easily overexerted and therefore, need more areas in the tractor where they can lie down to cool off – shade is essential.
More aggressive chicken breeds, as well as those that are easily bored, may also need more space in the chicken tractor to limit negative behaviors like egg eating, feather pecking, and cannibalism.
Whatever the case may be, keep your chicken breed in mind as you design and build your chicken tractor!
No two chicken tractors will be exactly the same in regards to their cost. Much of the expense will have to do with whether you build one yourself or use a prefabricated version.
You can pay anywhere from $300 to more than $500 for your chicken tractor – much more if you buy a fancy premade one from the stores!
If you DIY your chicken tractor, then rest assured – you’re probably going to pay much less than if you bought one.
That’s especially true if you use refurbished, recycled, or upcycled materials.
You should still focus on finding quality materials to build your chicken tractor – that way, you won’t be faced with as much repair and maintenance later on – but ultimately, there are plenty of ways you can cut down on the costs of building a tractor.
Everything from old tires to bicycle wheels to old moving dollies can be moved in building your chicken tractor.
Hang on to things like cladding, mesh wire, or even old pallets. You never know what might come in handy!
If you decide to use these sorts of recycled materials to cut down on costs, though, just keep in mind that some may add a significant amount of weight to your chicken tractor – be sure to plan accordingly!
Not All Seasons
Unfortunately, chicken tractors may not be meant for all-seasons use, depending on where you live.
If you live in a place that gets cold, snowy winters as I do, chicken tractors usually won’t provide the same level of protection from the frigid temperatures that stationary coops do.
After all, these structures are meant to be open on at least one or two sides – it’s going to be all too easy for the wind to blow through and insulation is likely going to be nonexistent.
Not only that, but moving chicken tractors in the snow is going to be cumbersome and challenging.
Not to mention the fact that they’re not going to get much benefit from free-ranging when the grass is covered in snow and all the bugs are dead!
Instead, you can do what we do and keep your chickens in chicken tractors for about half the year – and then move them into permanent housing to keep them warm over the winter months.
One other thing you’ll want to keep in mind – again, not necessarily a disadvantage, but something to pay attention to – is that you’ll need to find some way to anchor your chicken tractor so it doesn’t move around with the wind (or when predators knock against it).
Even something as simple as cinder blocks or heavier boards can be used to hold your chicken tractor in place when it’s not being moved – just make sure you add these to your building plans so you aren’t caught off guard by a chicken tractor that suddenly becomes airborne!
How to Build a Chicken Tractor
Do you want to build your own chicken tractor? With all the benefits of these portable coops to keep in mind, I don’t blame you!
Here are some things to keep in mind as you build your own today.
You’ll find all kinds of chicken tractor styles and building plans online.
Even if you plan on using your own design – and not buying a plan or purchasing a prefabricated model – it’s important to look at as many different plans as possible.
Doing this will make it possible for you to identify issues with your own design plan or to get fresh ideas for things you may not have thought about.
And if you do decide to use a plan or buy a prefabricated chicken tractor, don’t assume that anything about the chicken tractor has to be cookie-cutter in nature.
You can modify or adapt just about any design to meet your needs – or even add bonus features onto a chicken tractor that you buy from the stars.
These portable chicken coops are so incredibly versatile and adaptable, that there’s really no reason not to try and make your chicken tractor uniquely your own!
Building the Frame and Run
The most important part of any chicken tractor is going to be its frame. Although the designs can vary – as you noticed above, I listed hoop style, rectangular, square, and even geometric designs for chicken tractors – they all will have a single frame surrounded by some sort of chicken mesh or wire.
Most people use wood to build this frame, but you could also use materials like PVC or metal hoops.
Basically, the frame will give you something to wrap the mesh around while also serving as a base that you can then attach skids, skis, or wheels to for maximum portability.
Of course, the top of the frame will also have or of. The roof can be made out of wood, plastic, tin or aluminum roofing panels, or even a tarp.
Again, you’ll want to consider your goals in terms of weight, durability, and predator protection as you design this component.
Finally, the run.
Put some serious thought into how much room you want to give your chickens to roam. The run needs to give your chickens room to walk around as well as space for things like feeders and waterers. Again, about four to five square feet of space per bird is ideal.
Some people choose to elevate the nesting area of the tractor so that they can dedicate more space to forage space for the chickens.
Doing this also gives the birds some shade. Either way, make sure your chickens have lots of space!
Do Chicken Tractors Need to Have Nesting Boxes?
Chicken tractors don’t have to have nesting boxes but if you’re planning on raising egg-laying birds in them, I highly recommend that you include these.
Nesting boxes add some weight to your chicken tractors, but if you don’t have them, you may have issues with your girls laying eggs wherever they please – like on the ground.
Ideally, you should provide at least one nesting box for every four chickens.
Try to add a roosting area, too, to prevent the aforementioned issue of chickens sleeping in the nesting boxes, too. Shoot for about eight to nine inches of roost bar space per chicken.
There are a few other features you might want to consider adding to your chicken tractor, too.
These include latches and locks to make sure super predators can’t get in, along with windows that are covered with hardware cloth (if your design has windows).
You will need a way to get into the chicken tractor, too. Our chicken tractors don’t require us to actually get inside the compartment since they sit low to the ground (we’d have to lay down in order to fit).
Instead, we just have a small pop door that lets us put food and water into the housing.
If you have egg layers in your chicken tractors, remember that you will need a way to get eggs out too!
Transporting a Chicken Tractor
Now that you know what goes into building the various components of a chicken tractor, let’s take a closer look at how to move it.
Options for Moving It
There are a few different ways you can go about moving a chicken tractor.
Many people design small, lightweight chicken tractors that can be pulled by hand. For this to work, you’ll need to attach some rope or cables to pull the tractor along.
I would also recommend putting the tractor on wheels or skids so it doesn’t get caught on rocks or rough patches.
You can also move a chicken tractor with a tractor, ATV, or truck. Again, wheels or skids can make towing it easier (and less likely to cause damage to the chicken tractor as you tote it, too).
This is the best technique for heavier, bulkier chicken tractors used to house more chickens.
How Often to Move a Chicken Tractor
One of the most common questions that people ask about chicken tractors is how often they have to be moved.
As is the case with many aspects of raising chickens, the short answer to this question is, “it depends.” And it depends on a lot of different factors!
For example, how many chickens do you have, and of what breed?
Meat chickens may be able to be stocked more densely in a chicken tractor, but they will also have to be moved more frequently (because they produce more manure), too.
You also need to consider what you want the land beneath the chicken tractor to look like. If you put chicken feeders inside the tractor, you could easily get away with never or rarely moving the chicken tractor at all.
But what would be the point of that? The land beneath the chicken tractor will be totally decimated and the grass is going to stink like nothing else.
Because of that, you should plan on moving your chicken tractors at least once every three days – ideally more often for the best results.
In doing this, you won’t have to worry about providing bedding or too much supplemental feed (though remember, again, that some supplemental feed is necessary).
Is a Chicken Tractor Right for My Farm?
If you want to design a structure that’s versatile, affordable, portable, and most importantly, effective, then a chicken tractor is one of the best things you can build for your chickens.
Chicken tractors make your life a million times easier. You can easily move your chickens around your property, allowing them to get exercise, improve their nutrition, and lay plenty of healthy eggs in return for a minimal amount of daily labor.
One of the biggest advantages of chicken tractors – and one that I didn’t mention above in my list of benefits? That’s right – I saved the best for last.
I love chicken tractors so much because they dramatically reduce the stickiness and mess of raising chickens!
You don’t have to worry about cleaning a coop, dealing with heavy, wet bedding, or manure that stinks to high heaven. You can fertilize your garden and lawn – without all the mess.
That, combined with all the other benefits of using chicken tractors, makes this portable coop a win-win-win-win-win (times one thousand!) for your farm.
Consider building a chicken tractor today – either by using your own design or taking advantage of one of the many that you can find online – and you’ll help your chickens thrive no matter where you live!
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.