Sunday, May 9, 2010
Pictures of Our Chicken Tractor
Our chicken tractor with annex. One wing is up so the girls get lots of sun and fresh air.
Many people are building chicken tractors this spring and there are dozens and dozens of plans on the internet about how to build them. We, too, studied all those plans before we built ours. We read every university poultry page we could find, followed all the blogs, read all the backyard chicken pages, etc. We were assured that four to five square feet per bird was more than enough. We were even more generous. The total floor space of our original chicken tractor is 40 square feet. With six birds, that is about 6.7 square feet per bird. That was fine for pullets, but by the time the ladies were full grown, they were cramped and the pecking and other bad behaviors began in earnest. Our chicken tractor is very well built and as predator proof as I think you can make one to be, so we didn't want to compromise the integrity of that. We chose to add an annex that we can pull up to the end door of the chicken tractor. It doubles the space for our six hens. They are okay with that amount of space and most of the pecking stopped, but if I had to do it all over again (and we might build another one in a year or two) I would give them even more space.
A view of the chicken tractor with both wings down so the girls have a protected run area and an open area.
A few details about our system. The original chicken tractor has chicken wire all over the sides AND bottom of the coop and run. We have lots of raccoons, skunks, etc. in our area and wanted to prevent any of those mammals from digging under the edge of the tractor to gain access. We later added hardware cloth on the top of the run area because our horse put his foot through the chicken wire trying to gain access to the chicken scratch. Turns out that was a really good idea because two big dogs got into the pasture one day and threw themselves against the sides of the run. I don't think the chicken wire would have held up, but the hardware cloth did.
The annex is just chicken wire on the tops and sides. The bottom is open so the girls can scratch in the dirt to their hearts' content. The annex does not provide complete protection; I think a dog or coyote could get through it or work its way under it pretty easy. But our whole system is within a pasture with a six-strand electric fence, so we feel like the girls are pretty secure during the day and when the fence is on. Hawks are our biggest concern in the daytime. At night the chicken tractor is secured; the end door on the run is shut and the drop down door on the coop is lowered.
The coop part of the chicken tractor has an open area below and roosts and two nest boxes up top. The original structure was a simple A-frame as you see in so many plans. But the girls were really cramped for space at night. They all wanted to be on the highest roosts or in the nests and did not use the lower roosts at all. So we put a dormer on and put the two nest boxes in that space giving more room for high roosts all on one level. They like that much better. It also gives us easy access to the nests, the roosts, and the ladies. So when we need to check them for mites or pick up a broody hen and move her, it is easy. You have to be able to reach your birds!
Our whole coop area can be accessed for cleaning. The roosts and nests slide out for cleaning. About every four days, I lower the side of the coop and use a leaf rake to break up any droppings that have accumulated on the bottom wire. We move the tractor daily. The nests have flexible plastic sheets in the bottom that are easy to remove, wash, and replace (no wet wood).
The "wings" on the run area are wonderful. Both sides can easily raised and lowered. The usual configuration is one up and one down. Originally we only put the plastic on the run in the winter; that allows us to give them a greenhouse so they are protected on really cold, windy, or snowy days (without the plastic, they just stayed in the dark coop all day). But now we leave the plastic on all year round. Since we can raise and lower the wings easily, we can provide protection from wind and rain by raising and lowering the appropriate ones. We have a piece of polypropylene shade cloth that we put on the west side of the run during the summer to give them shade. The run and coop actually stay cooler this way than they did when we did not have the clear plastic on and only had a shade cloth. The girls really don't like the rain or high winds, so this set up has worked well.
Chicken tractor open, raised, and empty for spring cleaning. Both wings are up.
This shows all the parts of the tractor dismantled for cleaning. On the left you see the roosts, the nest boxes, and the waterer support block.
As you can see from the photos, we have a lever system that lets us raise the heavy end of the chicken tractor. We then have two rings on the other side that we slide a fiberglass pole through. That is the handle we use to lift that end and move the tractor. Because of all the additions we've made, the chicken tractor is heavy. My big, strong son can move it pretty easy and since I am a tall, fairly strong woman, I can, too. But my daughter cannot move it by herself. Hubby is creating a plan to put two drop down wheels on the front to remedy that.
All in all, this set up works great for us right now. It is very secure and gives year round protection from predators and the elements. It has stood up through hurricanes, blizzards, and severe summer storms. We will redesign our next one though. This one is too heavy and having two pieces is a wee bit of trouble. And I'm still working on an automatic door opener for those rare mornings when I want to sleep in a little but my conscience won't let me because "the girls need to come out".