A chicken tractor is a mobile coop that you can move around easily in your yard. It is called a “tractor” because the scratching and pecking motions of the birds can loosen the top inch of soil and help remove weeds.
For some of you newer to homesteading, it’s hard to imagine how one might look like, and why it is useful. So you may be wondering: what exactly is a chicken tractor?
A chicken tractor is a lightweight, mobile home for chickens that provides your poultry with direct access to the ground (instead of having a floor). Moving it every day or every few days, allows your birds constant access to new bugs and grass, and fertilize the area in the process.
Want to learn more about how to build a chicken tractor – and use one on your farm? We’ll dive into the details of chicken tractors below.
You might be wondering what the purpose of a chicken tractor actually is. The truth is that these contraptions have lots of benefits!
Direct Soil Access
If your flock can get to the pasture to forage, they’ll have a much easier time getting fresh bugs and grass. Of course, they’ll even be able to consume small rocks, which go into the gizzard and make it easy for them to grind up what they eat.
The more soil access you give your chickens, the healthier they will be. Simple as that!
Keep Chickens Contained
Putting your chickens in a tractor means they can free range – without destroying your lawn and garden. No more chickens digging up your tomato plants or getting into your neighbor’s flower bed (or pooping on your front porch!).
Lack of Predator Pressure
One of the biggest benefits of keeping chickens in a chicken tractor is that it reduces predator pressure.
Since everything is enclosed with mesh or some other predator-proof material, you can allow your girls to free-range all the time without having to worry about raccoons, foxes, or other predators.
These coops can also help keep out rats.
When chickens are moved to fresh ground every day, it results in a much cleaner area. You’ll have fewer problems with worms, parasites, and diseases. It also gives the grass time to regrow to prevent overgrazing.
No More Cleaning
When you put your chickens in a chicken tractor, the manure goes exactly where it is needed – and nowhere else. You can fertilize your lawn and backyard with nitrogen without having to clean the coop and shovel the poop to where you need it to go.
Basic Components of a Chicken Tractor
Frame and Run
Obviously, the most important part of a chicken tractor is its frame. The run and enclosed nesting area (if you have one) will be built around a single wooden frame that is either rectangular or triangular.
This gives you some sort of structure to attach chicken wire or wire mesh netting to.
The base can be built in a variety of designs but often, it will have two stout beams that serve as skids to slide the tractor across the grass.
You may also need to add a rope or cable to the end to pull by hand or with a tractor. Some people even use dolls to move the chicken tractor every day, eliminating the need for skids or wheels.
Most chicken tractors are made out of lightweight wood like pine. For the roof, a similarly lightweight material (like tin) is needed. Tin can also be used as cladding for the sides if you don’t want it to be chicken wire all the way around.
On smaller chicken tractors, wheels may not be necessary, but they’re helpful for larger ones that aren’t going to be moved with dollies or large machinery. You can buy wheels that are used for lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, garden carts or even tractor tires.
Most chicken tractors don’t have wheels on all four corners, as this lifts it off the ground and lets chickens out (and predators in).
Instead, most people just mount wheels at the heaviest end of the frame.
You can use chicken tractors for raising chickens for meat, if you’d like – this is a great way to spread manure around (and meat chickens produce lots of it!). However, you can also choose to raise laying hens in chicken tractors.
For this, you’ll need to add nesting boxes. These nesting areas can add some weight to the tractor and they may also serve as the spot where your chickens sleep at night (which can be problematic if you need to transition your chickens back to a coop for the winter).
In any event, if you’re going to raise laying hens in chicken tractors, make sure there are nesting boxes.
Here’s my example of how it worked on my farm. I made a separate sleeping and roosting area so that they wouldn’t be tempted to sleep in the nesting boxes – my work-around to the common dilemma of hens being drawn to the nesting boxes at bedtime.
You’ll notice the girls underneath, next to the ramp they go up to roost and to the nesting boxes.
The nesting boxes are on either side of the tractor. Just flip up the wooden “thingy” and the door opens on hinges to get at the eggs. There is a door on each side, with a total of 4 nesting boxes. The one side of the tractor is permanently down, but this side opens on hinges, to get at the roost area.
In this design, there is a small section of floor around those nesting areas. Some people choose to have their nesting areas directly on the ground. We are able to clean the poop out of ours easily, since the floor is cut into 4 pieces that just pull out.
Whichever style you decide on, make sure the nesting boxes are still filled with clean bedding or the eggs might get grimy (although it’s important to note that the rest of the chicken tractor, of course, does not require any bedding – another benefit!).
After reviewing the issue on how we had to remove the boards to clean it, we decided to take the boards out completely and the hens just jump from the ramp to the roosting bar at night, or to get into the nesting boxes.
You’ll need some sort of access door to do things like collect eggs and fill the feeder and waterer. In some cases you may also want to use this as a pop door to let your chickens in and out.
Here’s our design. On the bottom of the tractor, is a door that we open to put their food and water in. Yes, it’s held on with a bungee cord, but the girls haven’t figured out how to open it themselves yet.
Can Chickens Live in a Chicken Tractor Year-Round?
Most chicken tractors are floor-less. That is, after all, the point of building one. The lack of a floor means your chickens have access to the ground to get bugs, snails, slugs and grass and to fertilize it.
Because the bottom is open, however, it means that a chicken tractor might not be the best year-round solution. If you live in a warm climate without any snow, you might be able to keep the tractors out all year.
However, if you receive snow or cold temperatures, move the chickens back to the coop until the chicken tractors can be used once more.
Even if you don’t use chicken tractors year-round on your farm, there are clearly lots of benefits to building and using them. Give them a try this year!
What do you use for a chicken coop? Will you try a chicken tractor this year? Be sure to pin this for later!
last update: Jan 23rd 2022 by Rebekah Pierce
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.