Chicken Tractor Basics & What to Consider When Building One

by | May 16, 2020 | Farm

Having a chicken tractor is a great way to allow your meat chickens or your egg-laying chickens to free-range in a protected area from weather, sun exposure, and predators. Find out what is most important when buying or building a chicken tractor.

Photo of an a-frame chicken tractor with a feed bucket and watering bucket inside.

Are you raising meat chickens this year? Chickens are designed to get outside, scratch the ground and peck bugs. It’s in their makeup.

The nice thing about this is, when managed correctly, the pecking and scratching help spread manure and aerate the ground without allowing them to completely destroy one area of your yard because you’re moving them around.

You won’t find plans or a step by step tutorial in this video, but rather I’m sharing with you all the must-haves when making your affordable chicken tractor plans.

What is a Chicken Tractor?

Essentially, it’s just a portable chicken coop that’s protected from the sun, weather, and predators. It’s a frame with an open floor so chickens can free-range, eat bugs, peck, scratch, spread their manure, and loosen the ground.

A chicken tractor is also portable so you can control where the chickens roam and allow them to benefit the land instead of destroying it from being cooped up in one area.

They work well for egg layers, meat chickens and even raising baby chicks.

A man walking through the door of a chicken tractor.

Features of a Chicken Tractor

If you look around you can find many different chicken tractor designs. Some of the basics will be:

  • Moveable
  • Adequate space
  • Access to the ground
  • Light-weight
  • Roosting area and nesting box (if being used for egg-layers)

Moveable

Chicken tractors must be moveable to be a true chicken tractor. By this we mean it is not fixed to the ground. It either needs skids or wheels on it to move around (watch the video to see how we move our “Idaho A-Frame Chicken Tractor”).

If your chicken tractor isn’t moveable, then it’s essentially just a chicken coop.

Adequate Space

Chickens need to have adequate room to move around and gain access to the ground. A general rule of thumb is to have 4 square feet per chicken for egg layers, and 2 square feet per chicken for meat chickens.

Our Idaho A-Frame is 10×12 feet which is just about perfect for 50-60 chickens. Of course, we have three chicken tractors to accommodate our large number of meat chickens. Whether you have a large flock or a small flock, building a tractor that’s the right size for your backyard chickens is a good idea.

Open to the Ground

Your chicken tractor needs to be open to the ground, or “floor-less”. This allows chickens to roam around for bugs, as well as to peck and scratch to spread their manure.

Photo of an a-frame chicken tractor.

Provides Protection

What we love most about chicken tractors is that it allows our chickens to free-range in a protected environment.

A chicken tractor must provide protection from the sun, the weather (severe rain or wind), and predators.

Be sure the roof of your chicken tractor blocks not just the rain, but also the sun. You don’t want your chickens to over-heat, so your roof needs to be dark to provide shade.

Depending on where you live there may be coyotes or other predators and you want to be sure your chickens are protected from them. Having chicken wire around any open parts of the frame will keep both chickens in and predators out.

If you live in a particularly windy area, you may want to provide protection from the wind on two out of the four sides of your chicken tractor so the chickens have a place to get out of the elements.

Durable

One of our requirements when it comes to building a chicken tractor is that it needs to be durable. We don’t want to have to spend a lot of time each year fixing up our chicken tractors.

Because of this, we chose to use a solid wood frame and metal roofing. You don’t necessarily need to build one as sturdy, but just know by using less expensive materials (such as PVC and tarp) that you’ll need to maintain your tractors year after year.

Roost & Nest Boxes

If you’re using your chicken tractor for egg-laying chickens, there needs to be a place for them to roost and lay eggs.

Adding some nesting boxes and a few extra supports where they can roost can transform your chicken tractor into a moveable chicken coop combination.

A man kneeling inside of a chicken tractor with a feed and chicken watering bucket.

Idaho A-Frame Chicken Tractor

The tractor you see in the video above is what I have coined the Idaho A-Frame. When researching what kind of chicken tractor would suit our needs best we didn’t find any exact plans that met them all.

I started with a basic Joel Salatin style chicken tractor. However, these plans are only 2-feet high and I wanted to be able to have access to the chickens for an easier harvest of our meat chickens or to care for any chickens needing attention.

I also wanted to have a structure that could hold the snow load in the winter, or that would promote the snow to slide right off. I didn’t like the idea of having to take the roof off each year, so I went with metal roofing.

A-frame chicken tractor with snow sliding off the roof.

It’s definitely not the lightest structure, but the way we have it set up works well for the spaces we like to move it.

Chicken tractors are also best if they’re lightweight, which is why many people use PVC pipe, tarp and chicken wire. All are very lightweight, but not very durable longterm.

For my frame I wanted to keep it as lightweight as possible, but also keep it sturdy enough to hold well when being moved.

I used some larger, pressure-treated boards as the base and frame, but the rest of is is built from 1×2’s so it’s still light enough for me to move.

I like our design because it works well for our meat chickens, but if we ever needed to use it for our egg-laying chickens, all we would need to do is add a few nesting boxes and another brace or two as roosts.

A man opening the door of a chicken tractor.

How We Move Our Chicken Tractor

Because our chicken tractor is on the heavier side, we’ve added simple lawn-mower wheels to the back portion of the frame (see video). Then, to the front two sides, we’ve cut out the skids so they won’t get caught on any rough patches of ground.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the angle we cut out of the baseboard skids, and the rope that we knotted and thread through holes in the skids. Watch the video to see how I pick up the rope and push with my body to move the chicken tractor easily.

It’s important, no matter which chicken tractor you’re buying or building for yourself, that it’s easy to move on your own. Different designs are moved in different ways. Some are moved with skids, some with wheels, some a dolly or some even need to be loaded up on the bed of a truck (which is not the most ideal).

Have Food & Water Available

And finally, but perhaps most important when getting a chicken tractor (or building one yourself, is to be sure your chickens have food and water available at all times.

For your watering buckets, you’ll want to make sure you have at least one watering nipple for every one to two chickens. And be sure your feed container is sturdy that it won’t get knocked over.

Go out and find what’s going to work well for you, do your research and build the best chicken tractor for your needs.

Wondering what to do with all those chicken eggs?

With all those backyard chickens you’re sure to have quite a few eggs on your hands. Check out all our resources on preserving eggs, including our most popular video on water-glassing eggs for long-term preservation.

Great to meet you!

It is our goal to encourage you in the path to a more healthy, more secure and free lifestyle by sharing and teaching the skills that lead to greater sustainability and self-sufficiency for you, your loved ones and your community.

– Carolyn and Josh 

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