self-powered chicken tractor that automatically provides continuous fresh pasture while delivering water & supplemental feed and monitoring & ensuring chicken health.
Slapping wheels and a motor on a chicken tractor has been done before. With the addition of a controller and software, the tractor can follow a preset path or dynamically pathfind within a defined boundary. Add wireless access and multiple tractors can communicate with each other and a base station and refer to historic tractor movement to optimize pasture use. It can detect when something is in the way and send an alert and reroute. The farmer-programmer can use a computer to view planned paths and correct or optimize tractor pathing. Can anyone say FULLY AUTONOMOUS TERRESTRIAL CHICKEN DRONES.
A PV panel atop each tractor and a battery should provide more than enough juice for the motors, computers, equipment, and defensive weaponry. Power and battery quality can be reported to the central computer and the farmer-programmer alerted to any problems.
The tractor can store several days' food and water, and monitor & report their levels and utilization. When either is low, the tractor either returns to a restocking station or queues a visit from the snack and beverage drone, which performs the same function.
The tractor can have an electric fence to keep away raccoons, feral dogs, and curious cyclists. The rear half of the tractor should have a solid surface for the chickens to stand on when they want to rest or whatnot. When the tractor moves a light and/or a sound should come on to indicate to the chickens that they should get on the surface. The ability of the tractor to move autonomously permits slow movement that should reduce chicken injury, but the tractor should also be able to detect if a chicken is not getting the picture and stop accordingly. Maybe a partition can move from front to back to trap the chickens onto the surface during rapid tractor movement. An internal camera that streams to the farmer-programmer's computer of choice would give a 360 degree view of the chickens. A more sophisticated computer that diagnoses chicken behavior could help monitor chicken health & behavior and identify pasture locations that provide less food, which can be used to optimize the map of the pasture. A thermometer would read the temperature and provide spot heating for younger birds or return to the barn in bad weather. The tractor could be able to determine if the surface is too uneven to safely traverse or enclose the chickens. Microphones could stream the sounds of each tractor and make for interesting internet radio.
Computery stuff would be everywhere. I would like to see software that maps the pastures both spatially and temporally, looking at feeding pattern data from the past and the number of tractors to dynamically optimize tractor pathing. Walking up to a tractor and waving a smartphone should provide information from that tractor. Walking across the pasture and tapping a button on the smartphone should be able to prioritize areas for feeding or to identify temporary obstacles to avoid. Injured, angry, or listless chickens should trigger notifications to the farmer-programmer. Self-diagnosed equipment problems should cause alerts.
Almost all of this (with the exception of behavior-recognition software) should be able to be done with off-the-shelf hardware and software. Would it be more expensive than hauling a tractor around yourself? Sure! But it permits massive scaling of operation. And 80% of the value could be done by just putting on a GPS, a predetermined path, and really slow wheels.
An Automotive starter at each rear wheel will propel it. It could ackwardly turn, but be difficult- one starter on, one starter off will turn it similar to a bobcat. Both starters on would go straight.
Starting with a long field you could have the tractor move 2-3 inches every 20 minutes at night. Night serves a couple issues. The noise/movement will spook off predators all night. For how long is an unknown. The other benefit is they will be in the nest box area sleeping, not on the ground/run area. Less chance for trampling. After a month turn it 180 degrees and start again.
This a simple system. Easily made from off the shelf components. Solar/battery would handle the electrical requirements. Intriguing idea.
Sometimes the answer is nothing
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