The $5 chicken tractor

Chicken tractor. Even if you know what one is, the term conjures amusing images of a rooster on a John Deere, working the throttle with a wing and shooting tobacco juice out the side of his beak. OK, so what IS a chicken tractor? It's a movable cage with no bottom, allowing the birds to enjoy the bugs and grass in a chosen area while simultaneously tilling and fertilizing…without flying over to visit the neighbor's dogs or ripping up your new blueberry bushes (we had 4 in the spring, now it's more like 1 1/2; chickens can't resist a good, deep mulch!) In addition to giving chickens a chance to enjoy natural foods and activities without getting into trouble, a chicken tractor can be used to prepare garden beds. Make it the width of your intended planting area, and the chickens will gobble up the weeds and seeds while tilling in some excellent fertilizer. (Be sure to give chicken poo plenty of time to decompose before planting, though – it's strong stuff and can kill plants when fresh.) Tractors can be made in any size or shape. The considerations: you should be able to move it yourself, it should be high enough for them to hop over each other if they get bunched up in a corner, and of course if you want to do it for $5 the materials you have on hand will dictate the size. The assembly should be pretty self-explanatory. For this one, the $5 represents an investment in screws and chicken wire; the rest of the tractor is made of a used shipping pallet, some wheels off a dead lawnmower, an extra tie-down cleat from a pickup truck, and a square of scrap plywood for the door. Here's the side view. How long is it? However long the slats on the pallet were – about 6 feet:



Front view. Door slides between scrap-wood tracks; handle is the aforementioned tie-down cleat.



This is the cool feature…lawnmower wheels often incorporate a doodad that allows you to change the height. I placed them in such a way that when they're fully up, they don't touch the ground (see the wheel spinning freely?)



Here's the wheel hardware in the raised position:



Here I am moving the little tab to lower the wheel:


With the wheel on the lowest setting, there's about 2" of clearance, making it easy to lift the other end and move it around like a wheelbarrow: chicken_tractor-wheel_lowered

Screws were used rather than nails, because they hold a little better (especially when the frame might flex a little) and they allow you to disassemble and reuse the materials later. The chicken wire was attached using a staple gun, which is an indispensable tool for making poultry housing. There should always be water and shade available, and ideally grit and a bit of regular chicken food in case the bugs aren't cooperating. In a larger tractor, you can cover the corner that's pointed toward the sun, or you can just put a pet crate in as we've done here. Happy tractoring!

8 thoughts on “The $5 chicken tractor”

  1. Jay Solis

    Dude, this is sweet! I love the use of the lawnmower wheels.

    I can use something like this in my backyard. I spent 3 days preparing a small area for planting new flowers and I have another small area to go. I can totally build one of these, minus the cool wheels because my lawn mower is brand new. All I need now are the chickens. I can check the farm in town, but if that doesn’t work out, there’s always this:

  2. Lara

    I also like this a lot. I’m wondering how the flock would do if we put them in several tractors to make new beds and then brought them back together again later.

  3. Peter

    Wow Jay, that site makes me want to place an order, thanks!

    Lara – we’re far from experts, but have observed that acclimating new chickens takes a while and works best when they are in a big enough space to avoid each other if they like, and it seems to be the same process when some are separated temporarily…so i guess you’d want a big pen of some sort for the reintegration…

  4. teri

    And also, when re-integrating, it helps if they’re near enough to see and get used to each other, but fenced so they can’t fight, for a few days or even a week or two. Though if your garden beds are near enough to each other you may not need this step…

  5. Lara

    Thanks guys.

    We’re going to be moving up to that cabin after all (did we mention it at the wedding?)and I’m starting to look in to guinea fowl among other things. We got our birds from McMurry, by the way, and I would go with them again in the future.. very healthy happy chicks and excellent layers so far. Our girls are laying just about every day.

  6. teri

    Wow, eggs every day – I’m jealous! Our banties have been busy going broody all summer, so while we’ve had brief periods of egg abundance, for the most part we’ve counted ourselves lucky to get one a day.

    While I do love our girls, I’m contemplating adding in some less broody breeds (perhaps even a couple of full-sizers) to up our egg supply.

  7. Lara

    We have a buff orpington who tries to go broody every day but she’s such a sweetheart that I can pet her and massage her into getting off the eggs. (For several months she insisted on roosting inside Neil’s tool box and I’d give her a “chicken massage” each night.) She goes and eats and then gets back on the next eggs that appear. I’m assuming by your description that most broody hens are not so charming? 🙂

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