Nothing runs like a Chicken

Ron has been working on our chicken tractor. It’s kind of an A-frame contraption on skids. One end will hold nesting boxes, and the other will be open, with chicken wire nailed on to keep them from taking off. We’ll move it all around the garden before we plant anything, and then after we’ve planted, we’ll reserve the west end of the garden for crops and let the chickens scratch around in the east end. Next year, we’ll switch the garden to the east end and the chickens to the west.

Rotating it like that will dramatically reduce the available space for planting, but I figure the chickens’ efforts — fertilizing the soil and eating the weed seeds and bugs — will result in substantially higher yields (and substantially less work weeding and trying to figure out how to get rid of stinkbugs and Japanese beetles and whatnot), and we won’t have to spend all our time cleaning up after the chickens to keep them from smelling weird if we’re moving them around every couple of days.

Our tractor is based more or less on the “Cadillac poultry ark” design, which you can find on this page. (Scroll down to see the graphic. There are tons of interesting designs on the page.)

I’ll keep you posted on how this experiment goes. If it doesn’t work out according to plan … well, that’s why God made Hooters sauce.


5 thoughts on “Nothing runs like a Chicken”

  1. We want to build a chicken tractor but cannot find any plans to build from. All the sites have lots of pictures but no plans. Can you help?

    Thank you!

  2. Ron built ours from pictures, I think. He read one of Joel Salatin’s books — Pastured Poultry Profits, I believe — and then modified the design to fit our space. The first poultry ark was really heavy and unwieldy, and it was too small for our flock. It was built from 2x4s and didn’t have enough height to allow the girls to perch comfortably. We have a new one made of 2x2s, poultry wire, and corrugated plastic. It is much lighter and gives the hens more space.

    Based on our experience, I’d suggest a fairly large, rectangular structure with a flat roof (ours is corrugated green plastic screwed to a 2×2 frame) and poultry wire sides, with a perch about halfway up, hinges and a hook so you can open and close the roof, and a nesting box or two made of a 10-gallon plastic tub turned on its end, with a big hole cut in the lid so the hens can come and go. The dimensions will depend on the size of your garden, width of your gates, number of hens, etc. It’s not really a one-size-fits-all thing, which is probably why you see very few actual plans. You’re better off looking at pictures and then designing your own to suit your specific needs.

    If you really can’t figure something out yourself, try the Mother Earth News archives. They’re online for free, and I know I’ve seen chicken tractor plans in there before.

    One big suggestion: Make sure your structure is designed so you can access it easily from both ends — and from the top or side if it’s very long. You want easy access to all parts of the tractor so you can retrieve eggs easily and catch your birds easily if they need attention for some reason.

  3. How is your chicken/garden rotation system working out? I had a look around your site, but couldn’t find an update. We have very little space, so I’m trying to figure out how best to combine our chickens and vegie patch.

  4. Thus far, it seems to be working well. I can’t tell any dramatic difference in our crops, but we’ve had extreme weather conditions the past few years, so we don’t have a good baseline for comparison. I usually judge the quality of a garden by its tomatoes, but we haven’t had decent conditions for tomatoes in five years. We had a good crop of cucumbers this year, for whatever that’s worth. The girls get really excited when they see Ron coming with the hoe, because they know they’re probably going to get some grubs, which are apparently the chicken equivalent of filet mignon. We’ve gotten a lot of eggs, too, although the girls quit laying a couple of months ago when they went into a molt. They’re just about done with that, but the sky has been pretty gray lately. Hopefully we’ll get some sunshine to get them going again pretty soon. If not, we’ll have chicken and dumplings next spring and start over with a new flock. I’d recommend rotating in a couple of new birds every year just to keep your egg production up.

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