When I first started at The Land Connection, we had an event on the calendar titled, “Chicken Tractors.” For weeks I thought this had to be an inside joke because I had never come across the term, but I didn’t say anything and knew the meaning would surface at some point. Sure enough, it did, and it turns out a chicken tractor is not a chicken on a tractor, a chicken driving a tractor, or even a tractor made of chickens. A chicken tractor is a chicken coop on wheels that moves around your pasture or backyard every day. It’s called a chicken tractor because the birds loosen up the top inch or so of earth underneath the moving coop… much like a regular tractor. This edition of Grow With Me is to help understand why chicken tractors can be an innovative solution to raising your chickens.In the organic and sustainable movement, we often hear of free range livestock and the many benefits free range offers animals, as well as humans that consume meat or byproducts from the animals. (For those new to this, free range is a technique that allows livestock to freely roam a pasture gathering plenty of nutrients from the natural world, versus a commercially raised animal, which may only ever eat grain that does little in the way of providing a varied diet.) Unfortunately, chickens can be a fairly vulnerable animal to have free range. They could easily be scooped up by a hawk or fox while out foraging in the pasture. An alternative to free range that provides chickens safety while allowing them to continue foraging is the utilization of a chicken tractor. The idea behind a chicken tractor is that the coop is on wheels allowing you to move the tractor around your pasture on a daily basis, providing your flock of chickens with fresh vegetation and bugs. As the chickens forage, they fertilize the soil with rich nitrogen from their manure, control pests on your lawn or pasture, and even “till” your soil as they scratch and claw at the ground looking for nutrients.
Chicken tractors can be designed any way you would like: large or small, long or short cheap or expensive. The most important consideration is that the chickens are comfortable and safe. The three basic components of a chicken tractor are:
- An enclosed nesting area
- A chicken “run” covered with wire mesh to exclude predators
- A frame with wheels for you to pull the coop around
It’s not enough to simply build the tractor and shove the chickens in, though. When building and maintaining your chicken tractor, you should take into account the following:
- Provide enough space for the number of chickens you have in the coop.
- Make sure temperature and ventilation are appropriate so the birds do not overheat or freeze.
- Keep the nesting area and run clean so the chickens stay healthy and the coop doesn’t attract pests such as mice.
- Provide a constant supply of feed and fresh water. Chickens are always hungry, so you want to make sure they have enough to eat!
- Always move the tractor if the ground underneath is bare.
- Don’t put the tractor in an area that floods or doesn’t have flat ground.
- Ensure the wire around the tractor can prevent predators from entering.
If it seems a chicken tractor would be an innovative solution to your garden, lawn, or pasture, I urge you to do the research and make sure it is the right choice. The health and safety of these special birds should be the number one priority in making this decision!