Howdy family, Jeffrey Helton here, VISTA at the Grow Appalachia headquarters in Berea. Assuming you’ve forgiven me for the ridiculous title of this blog post, I’m writing y’all today to talk a bit about chicken tractors, which are a small but interesting element of our organization’s work. Without further cock-a-doodle-ado…
Before you can talk about chicken tractors, you’ve gotta talk about chickens. What’s their appeal, anyhow? Well, while the plants in your garden are certainly alive biologically, there’s something special to be said for having walking, squawking creatures in your yard. They’re just dang entertaining. (When I was a kid in North Carolina, my neighbors owned chickens that would sometimes trespass into my yard, but I didn’t particularly mind because I thought that they looked like funny little feathered dinosaurs.) Chickens allow you to ease into the world of small livestock, if that’s something you’re interested in. Other perks of owning chickens include:
- Eggs! Which you can ultimately “harvest” daily for your own consumption or for selling.
- Excellent lawn care services. (Assuming that you have enough chickens and they’ve got plenty of space to roam, they can actually keep your grass at an acceptable height.)
- A natural, organic form of pest control. Chickens love to seek out and destroy unwanted critters that have the potential to compromise your garden.
- A minimal investment. Chickens are both cheap and require relatively little maintenance.
While the term might tempt you to imagine a rooster bobbing through your greens on a John Deere, a chicken tractor is technically nothing more than a movable coop. (On the other hand, it received its name because its controlled, concentrated movement of chickens allows it to perform some of the same functions as a tractor, which I find kind of neat.)
Benefits of chicken tractors include:
- Shelter from the elements and from predators, like dogs, foxes, and racoons.
- Eggs are easily located in the tractor’s nest boxes
- A reduced need for fertilizers, courtesy of the chickens naturally fertilizing the area, which you don’t need to clean, since these tractors typically don’t have floors
- Control over where and when your chickens forage
- A reduced need for chicken feed–lowering your feed bill by up to 30%
Since I’ve never built one myself, I’m not going to pretend like I’m qualified to instruct anyone on how to do so, but I will say that the design possibilities look to be endless. For example, you can build a chicken tractor from wood, a metal frame, or even PVC pipe. Your chicken tractor might have nesting boxes that are nearly two feet above the ground to maximize the area that your chickens can graze, or you might go ahead and make them accessible right from the dirt. The truth is, how you design your tractor is going to be unique to your own situation, the number of chickens you’ve got, how long they’ll be in the tractor, how light you need the tractor to be, etc.
If you want an example of what materials you might need to create your own chicken tractor, below is a list of parts required for a tractor that Oklahoma’s Kerr Center built in 2010, costing them just under $300. (A link to a detailed description of their process is included in the Resources section of this post.):
- The floorless box that forms the main part of the structure. To determine the size of this, think about the number of chickens that you want. Each chicken should have about 5 – 10 sq. ft. of space, so too many chickens can lead to a rather immobile tractor, perhaps tempting folks to skimp on the size. Try to avoid this, however, since it can lead to sick birds.
- Nesting boxes, so that your chickens will have a place to lay their eggs. Depending on who you ask, you need anywhere from 3 to 5 of these per bird. There are many creative ways to create a nesting box for your small critters.
- Roosts. Chickens feel most comfortable sleeping up at least a foot off the ground. Each chicken should have just under a foot of roosting space.
- Welded wire or some other form of protection against hungry predators.
- Feeders and waterers, since your chickens won’t be able to thrive only on what they peck up on the ground.
- A wheel system of some sort so that your tractor is actually mobile, otherwise you won’t be harnessing some of the benefits of the tractor!
If you like what you’ve read about chicken tractors and want to build your own, your best bet is to review some of the following resources. Try to find tractors that would seem appropriate to your needs and mix the different ideas contained here as needed. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, which is intimidating but also part of the fun:
Have a lovely day,