The chicken tractor is one of the latest innovations in agriculture globally. It is a low-tech agriculture solution which allows your chickens access to fresh food while fertilising your soil at the same time. This innovation has caught the attention of the internet. You can now see a chock-full of chicken tractor plans, with designs that range from ramshackle contraptions constructed with used pallets to models that repurpose old cars to sleek, modernist egg mobiles.
In other words, chicken tractors have come to stay in agriculture. In Nigeria, where there is a food security crisis, chicken tractors may be the best thing to happen to farmers.
Therefore, let us take a look at this latest invention and how to use it.
What is chicken tractor?
According to Foodtank, a chicken tractor is a chicken coop on wheels, which farmers can move from place to place. It has no floor, allowing chickens to scratch and till the topsoil and eat grass, weeds and bugs. Due to the absence of a floor, the manure drops directly onto the ground and helps fertilise the soil.
Research from the Kansas State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, as quoted by Foodtank, opines that free-range chickens with the necessary space to forage are healthier and taste better than chickens raised indoors.
Use of chicken tractor
Permaculture expert Andy Lee, says: “Animal tractors bring into harmony the relationships between farmers, the agroecosystem and animals.”
With that said, let us take a closer look at the use of a chicken tractor.
Chicken tractors allow farmers to maintain the health of their land through rotational grazing. Rotational grazing is the practice of containing and moving animals through pasture to improve soil, plant, and animal health. Only one portion of the pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture “rests”. To use this agricultural method effectively, pastures are subdivided into smaller areas, referred to as paddocks, and livestock are moved from one paddock to another. Resting the paddocks allows forage plants to recover and deepen their root systems.
The same system applies to chicken tractors. Only this time, chickens are moved from one location to another. Therefore, the grazed lands are given periods of rest to regrow. The chickens, on the other hand, mix and fertilise topsoil, which is a better method of fertilising the soil than mechanical tilling as it leaves the soil structure intact and preserves the soil life.
To fertilise the soil
Chickens are essential recyclers by consuming weeds and insects and converting them to fertiliser. As you may already know, fertilisers are essential for farming. Chickens excrete approximately 75 per cent of nitrogen, 80 per cent of phosphorus, 85 per cent of potassium, and 40 per cent of organic matter contained in their feed.
To widen the chickens’ diet and reduce the rate of diseases
With the chicken tractor, the chickens get to enjoy a variety of diets, unlike the fixed coops. The bonus is the moveable coop does not have a floor, so you do not have to worry about doing any cleaning. The mixed feeding of grasses, weeds, weed seeds, fallen fruits, insects and their larvae improves the health of the chickens. Not only will your chickens be eating fresh food, but they can also live in better conditions where the risk of being exposed to dangerous diseases is reduced.
More humane method of managing chickens
Unlike the limitations of fixed coops, the chicken tractor is often considered a more humane method of managing chickens. Your chickens have access to fresh air, sunlight, fresh plant matter and more free range to exercise. Also, the chicken tractor protects them from weather and predators.
How to make chicken tractor
There are different designs on the internet. However, all chicken tractors comprise these basic components – an enclosed nesting area, a chicken “run” covered with wire mesh to keep predators away and a frame with wheels so you can pull the tractor around.
You need the following materials to build a decent chicken tractor:
- Twelve 2x4x8 lumber
- Three 4×8 sheets of 1/2-inch plywood or similar material
- One 25-foot roll 48″ chicken wire or hardware cloth
- 1 pound 3-inch screws
- 1/2 pound 1-inch screws
- 1 pound small chicken wire staples
- Hinges (if desired)
Step 1: Construct the side walls
Use the 2×4 lumber to construct the walls. Attach the side braces to the bottom and roof brace using 3-inch exterior-grade wood screws. Then, cut the bottom brace at an angle 3 inches from the end so it will slide easier over the ground.
Step 2: Attach the front wall brace
Use the 3-inch screws to attach the brace to the side wall framing.
Step 3: Attach rear wall braces
Like the front wall brace, use the 3-inch screws to attach the rear wall brace to the side wall frame.
Step 4: Attach roof supports
Attach roof braces to side wall framing using the 3-inch screws.
Attach the side braces to the side wall frame. Then, attach the rear wall box brace and front box brace.
With the 1/2 inch plywood or similar material, attach the box bottom panel to the box frame using 1-inch exterior-grade wood screws.
Step 7: Attach side wall panels
Use 1-inch wood screws to attach the side wall panels to the braces.
Step 8: Attach the rear wall panel
Using 1-inch screws, attach the rear box panel to the frame and braces.
Step 9: Attach the box front panel
Attach the front panel with the door cutout to the frame.
Step 10: Attach the roof panel to the coop
Attach the roof door to the pen using a hinge for the door or just set the panel on top.
Use the ½ heavy-duty staples to attach the chicken wire to the frame and braces. Note that the chicken wire is placed on the inside of the braces and goes to the bottom of the floor braces. Also, do not forget to create a ladder or ramp for chickens to get in and out of the pen door.
Install nest boxes and roost bar. The roost bar is made from 2×2 lumber which is then placed so chickens can roost off the floor. However, you can modify the construction to suit your own specific needs.
Finally, put a 3-inch bed of straw or wood chip bedding in the pen box and nest boxes to help insulate the pen. Check for eggs and remove them to safety if any.