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Cheapest, easiest to build, but still secure chicken tractor?  RSS feed

 
master steward
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I love my ducks, and I love how they can free range without destroying my garden. When we had a chicken, it would destroy our garden super quick, so I haven't gotten another since it got eaten by a bobcat.

BUT, my neighbors have two chickens (rooster+hen) that have spent most of their lives in a little tiny coop/run (about 2 foot by 4 foot with the coop above)...and their landlord want them to get rid of them. And, my kids have loved visiting the chickens over the years. I reeeeeeaally don't them running loose and getting (1) eaten, or (2) eating my gardens. So, I'm thinking an enclosed chicken tractor would be nice, so they'd be safe and have a bit better life than just living on bedding and never eating any greens...but still wouldn't be destroying my garden.

Anyone have any ideas?

My ground is kind of bumpy grass...so I'm wondering if that might make having a chicken tractor really difficult....
 
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What building resources do you have? It is easy to build for free if you have the resources available, but if you need to buy everything it is more complicated.
 
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For two chickens I think an IBC tote could be upcycled with a minimum of purchased materials and modification.  I wanted to try this but it would a bit small for my flock.  I'd use the cage as the frame and raise the plastic box two or three feet within the frame to make a run area underneath. Cut an opening in the bottom with a short set of stairs for them to get up inside.  Replacing more of what is now the floor with chicken wire would keep manure from accumulating inside, letting it drop through to the ground instead.  The plastic body would need lots of ventilation cut in but roosts could simply be a few long branches pushed though holes cut in the plastic at different heights and angles.  A minimal amount of chicken wire down low would be needed since the metal frame they come in has large openings.  It would be heavy enough to need wheels, maybe from an old bike. Lots of other little improvements I can think of but hopefully you can picture it from this description.
 
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Honestly I would look at fencing in an area vs. a tractor. You can spend a lot of time/money building a tractor and then quickly decide it is too much hassle or not big enough etc... If that happens there often isn't much use for the structure.

If the same money can be invested in some quickly put up fencing (which can be enlarged/moved/reused later) that may be the better solution. Plus the likelihood of you getting more chickens is VERY high, its referred to as "chicken math".

I hope you take them either way!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I already have a fenced in yard for my ducks, but my last chickens flew right over it. I'm not really keen on making another fenced area, especially since they're chickens and will merrily tear up everything in the fenced area...unless I make it a huge run, but I don't really want make another big run for two chickens.

I guess I could probably take their current coop+"run" and have them live in that and move them around in a separate PVC pipe+chickenwire "tractor." But I'm imagining that it'd be hard to move that thing around and put the chickens in and out of it without them  escaping. I honestly don't need more time spent right now on that sort of thing.

I could potentially set up their run over where I want a garden bed, but most of my "lawn" is 1/2 buttercup, which I'm pretty sure isn't too good for chickens.

I guess I'm trying to find the easiest way to manage the chickens while still giving them a good, chicken-y life.
 
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I think I would build them a hoop house with a coop on one end.
Chicken wire, EMT or PVC zip ties, sheet plastic or cardboard, and your done.
You probably know chicken wire offers little protection from outside predators grabbing the chickens,thus the coop end will need hardware cloth.
I would make the hoop house tall enough to stand in, for your own convenience.

A little googling shows plenty of hens eating buttercups when free ranging to no ill effect, but yes buttercups are toxic.
As you know, chickens will  will destroy any annuals in short order, so  I would turn all the soil under inside their new home, and their behavior will do the rest.
Feed them scraps,compost, etc, add carbon(Autumn leaves) occasional dig, and the chooks will stay busy scratching for food in leafpiles while the soil will become rich instead of the usual desolate chicken yard soil.

When ever you are ready move the whole thing, start again, and seed the old chicken yard with clover, buckweat, rye, whatever.

 
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I have zero experience with raising chickens myself, but the farm where we buy our chickens uses an electrified mesh fence and it works well for them.  However they do have farm collies who deal with predators, so without protective farm dogs, I'm uncertain how safe the birds would be, during the day in such an enclosure.  (Presumably they will be in a secure chicken house at night.)  I think that this sort of electric fence is pretty easily moved from place to place.

https://www.facebook.com/EarthwiseFarm/photos/pb.241722076633.-2207520000.1424487855./10150975928481634/?type=3&theater
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I already have a fenced in yard for my ducks, but my last chickens flew right over it. I'm not really keen on making another fenced area, especially since they're chickens and will merrily tear up everything in the fenced area...unless I make it a huge run, but I don't really want make another big run for two chickens.



If these birds are older (i.e. 2 yrs plus) flying over a fence is usually not a problem. Most  laying breeds don't really fly at all once they are full grown and have put on their adult weight. A few breeds can fly their whole lives but that is pretty rare (oeg bantams, and some very light bodied breeds are good flyers). Plus if these birds hve been penned up in a tiny cage their whole lives and they are older they probably don't have the muscle strength or desire to be too daring.

Mine don't do any damage in the grassy part of the yard, but of course even one bird can lay waste to a vegetable garden covered in soft and fluffy mulch.

I don't see them doing a tremendous amount of damage even if you didn't have perfect fencing set up especially since it is winter (in spring with freshly planted beds it would be different). If you had an area sectioned off and they did get out it wouldn't be a disaster, you could work o a solution.

And yeah if they will give you the current setup, or at least current little house that they sleep in at night I would take it as it will help them settle in faster (so they don't wander off trying to go "home").

 
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At our school we made a chicken tractor of two-by-fours and chicken wire, but the local feral dogs eventually dug or squeezed under the side and got 'em all. Next time we added 4 inch spikes (big nails) sticking straight down into the ground all round the base of the frame, and that worked for a while, but eventually something else happened and we stopped keeping chickens so I don't know if that would have been a long lasting robust solution.

Unfortunately chicken tractors too often end up getting left in one place for years at a time. It's hard to make them robust enough against predators and mobile enough to want to move frequently.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Nicole one easy/cheap solution that I would consider in your situation is to take the chickens AND their current setup/cage, then run some cheap plastic deer fencing around their setup to create a larger pen. It would only cost $20-$40 for a 4'x100' roll of the fencing and would be super quick/easy to put up (especially if you just put in 4 stakes and then ran a cord through the top of the plastic fence to keep it from sagging). Would probably be easy to mow under to if the netting can be lifted off the ground.

It would NOT keep predators out, but if it was inside your regular fenced yard you could just let the birds into the bigger area for a few hours a day, then keep them in their current setup the rest of the time to protect against attack. Would be cheap, easy, and you could come up with something stronger/more permanent in the future when you have a better idea of exactly what you want (ideally this spring after you end up buying chicks at the feed store which will almost certainly happen especially since you will go there to buy chicken feed).  You could probably always find a use for the netting too, would be useful to protect parts of the vegetable garden etc...

 
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Nicole, I've seen many of your posts about chickens destroying your gardens. That has not been my experience at all. Mine will sometimes scratch around looking for bugs but they have never destroyed much. A few young transplants & a few stolen tomatoes is all that comes to mind. I've come to the conclusion that chickens are creatures looking for new & creative ways to die. Please don't give up on them, especially those potential "rescue" birds.

We built a small chicken tractor once. Simple 2x2 & chicken wire construction. Wheels would have been added later but ...  We put two birds inside & all seemed well. About 5 minutes later we noticed one standing on top of the other. Rushed back outside & one was dead. Never used it again for chickens. The following year I used it to protect the season's first young pumpkin from deer. Then the pumpkins went beserk & grew all over & on top of the cage. Couldn't find a pic of the end result but here's a few from earlier.
tractor1.JPG
[Thumbnail for tractor1.JPG]
tractor2.JPG
[Thumbnail for tractor2.JPG]
 
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I think this is a good design: https://youtu.be/HPCYnxbjxQQ
 
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Well for ducks I would just let them go as they don't scratch and wont eat the veggies like a chicken they are actually good for the garden as they eat the bugs without eating the plants, once they are no longer sprouts. My chickens found my garden and destroyed 32 tomato plants in one afternoon the best way I found to keep them out of it and my flower beds ins just fence those sections off. What do you want to move your chickens 2 times a day in a restricted cage or let them free range the yard basically eliminating ticks and other pest? I found it was just easier to close my garden off then build a new tractor for them and have to move them and limit the range they had also cost wise the tractor needs to be built good and for example my rabbit tractor is made from heavy wire and wood frame to prevent any predators from getting to them in the cover of night but for fencing off the garden I used old cheap plastic fence a simple barrier will detour the chickens away and they return to the coop for laying and to roost each night I just shut the door.
 
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I've built several kinds of chicken tractors over the years.  Some were too heavy for me to move by myself.  Some were so lightweight that high winds flipped them over.  Some (with chicken wire) were vulnerable to dog attacks.  

The ones that have worked the best for me were built out of rabbit wire -- the one by two inch wire used for building rabbit cages.  If you are going to have baby chicks, you would want to use a smaller mesh, but the one by two mesh works well for young chickens and grown ones.  I built them exactly as you would build rabbit cages, fastening the wire together with J-clips, using no framing.  Build them two feet tall unless you are only raising bantams (rabbit cages are usually only eighteen inches high).  I put the doors on the top -- one big door in the middle of a six foot long cage works pretty well as you can reach into both ends from there.  Thirty inches wide is about as wide as you would want to make it.  

And the one improvement I will incorporate next time I build some of these is to use some kind of light framing around the bottom.  Otherwise the wire gets bent out of shape when you drag the cage across the ground.  

I just laid scraps of plywood on top of the cages for shade for the birds -- it was easy to lay this aside while I moved the tractor down a bit, and then replace it.  For winter use, you might want to wrap the cage in a tarp, or maybe three sides of it, leaving one narrow end open and facing away from prevailing winds.  

It would be a good idea to attach a five-gallon bucket nest box to one end of the tractor, rather than letting the hens lay on the ground.  

It's best to keep their feed and water containers on the outside of the pen, with holes in the sides just big enough for them to reach out to eat and drink.  Cover the feed, though, or wild birds will eat most of it.

Kathleen
 
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We kept some meat birds in a temporary lightweight set up like Lucrecia described. The only addition was netting over the top because we have hawks nesting in the woods behind our house. It was light enough to move around, but was easiest and less floppy with two of us moving it, but I could do it myself when needed.  Less wear and tear on the yard and protected the garden and berry patch when I couldnt keep an eye while they were free ranging.

For a while, we had it almost right outside the front door for training the puppy around the chickens.  That might help the chickens be more acclimated to their new family since these sound like they maybe more like the kids' birds.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Today I had a bit of a revelation. Chickens eat bindweed/morning glory, right? I've got a nasty patch of the stuff that I've been trying to keep from reaching my garden. I've tried pulling it, out compeating it with blackberries (it's no longer in the blackberry patch, but is in my) grass, and planting buckwheat to inhibit it. Each thing has made a dent, and kept it from spreading. But, it's still there in my grass, mocking me.

The area is pretty large. It's the area below my wellhouse. I'll try to get a better picture later, but here's two that I already have (the first is a close-up from when I planted buckwheat in attempts to inhibit the bindweed):





I'm wondering if I could just put their existing house there, and fence in Bindweed Land (which is probably 500-800 sqft) and let them do their chickeny thing there for a while, eating the bindweed and tearing up the roots. And then, after they've done their merry destruction for a year or two, I could think about a tractor system or something else and replant the area with buckwheat, oats and other feed?

Would this kill the bindweed for me? Or, would it just kill the grass and then the little bitty roots that the chickens left would re sprout into a bigger, worse mess?
 
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I think the chickens will get rid of the bindweed through multiple mechanisms.  They will eat some, they will scratch up some, and they will spread manure over the area.  As more sprouts, they will eat it down again.  My bindweed issues always disappear when my soil gets better.  It has happened even when I made no real effort to remove it, just kept pulling the parts that were growing on plants or trees where I didn't want it.  When the soil gets better, the bindweed just stops growing there, at least in my experience.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Today I had a bit of a revelation. Chickens eat bindweed/morning glory, right? I've got a nasty patch of the stuff that I've been trying to keep from reaching my garden. I've tried pulling it, out compeating it with blackberries (it's no longer in the blackberry patch, but is in my) grass, and planting buckwheat to inhibit it. Each thing has made a dent, and kept it from spreading. But, it's still there in my grass, mocking me.

The area is pretty large. It's the area below my wellhouse. I'll try to get a better picture later, but here's two that I already have (the first is a close-up from when I planted buckwheat in attempts to inhibit the bindweed):





I'm wondering if I could just put their existing house there, and fence in Bindweed Land (which is probably 500-800 sqft) and let them do their chickeny thing there for a while, eating the bindweed and tearing up the roots. And then, after they've done their merry destruction for a year or two, I could think about a tractor system or something else and replant the area with buckwheat, oats and other feed?

Would this kill the bindweed for me? Or, would it just kill the grass and then the little bitty roots that the chickens left would re sprout into a bigger, worse mess?



In my experience, it will weaken the bindweed, but not eradicate it.  Bindweed has huge roots hiding underground and can regrow from them for several years.  Other than chemicals, about the only thing that works -- and chickens can definitely do part of it -- is to keep it chopped out/eaten down to nothing for several years, until it stops trying to come back up.  It will probably try to escape out the sides, so keep a close eye on it.  A really heavy mulch will help, too -- maybe have the chickens eat it down into the ground, then put three or four layers of cardboard over it, topped by a foot or so of heavy mulch.  If you see any vines trying to come up through that pull them out and re-mulch that area.  In about three years or so, you should be able to plant that spot with other things.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Thankfully, we have the type of bindweed that doesn't make deeproots, just shallow roots along the surface or at most three inches deep. So, we might actually be able to remove it. I'm planning on making the fence at LEAST three feet out from the bindweed's vangaurd, just to make sure there aren't any outside the fence. Of course, I can't really fence in the blackberries, and there's some still growing in the edge of that, so, it'll probably keep growing into bindweed land, but at least the chickens will HOPEFULLY keep the bindweed from coming closer to my gardens!
 
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I have had the same Salatin tractor in our pasture for more than 3 years - and it hasn't broken or been broken into and it's been in almost constant rotation of meat birds and layers. Well, it's a variation of the salatin tractor. Not as big.

2x2's for all wood used.
It's 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 3 feet high.
There is a section on top that opens as a door to get down into it and secured by a hook and eye.
Covered completely with welded wire fencing - 3 inch diameter. Sides, top.
The back sides (not the side where the top door is) is covered on the top and sides with rigid plastic sheeting and a brown tarp is thrown over that and secured with bungee cords to the bottom wood slats.
The roost is high up in the covered area.
The top open door is covered in rigid plastic sheeting as well and a 3 sided nest box (covered top and 3 sides) just sits on the ground under the cover and I take it out first before I move the tractor and then replace it.

The trick was the provide enough space and cover for the chickens to escape to in case of: Fox, Weasel, or Raccoon attacks. Dogs don't mess with it for some reason. Although we have coyotes, but they don't often come down from the hills. Weasels and raccoons attack in groups, with one flushing the chickens to the side where the other ones wait to grab them through the fencing. The trick was to provide the chickens somewhere to roost where all sides were covered and little paws couldn't get in.

For meat birds who don't typically roost, I run a length of welded wire fencing around the tractor secured by rebar posts - about 10 inches out from the sides. This keep the other varmints out.

It's light enough for me to drag it all over creation and it has never failed. I attach a rope to the bottom part or just slip my hands through the fencing and slide it around. It's in my staple garden now with a mama chicken and her 2 adolescents who look strangely like Kid n' Play. I think they were the Polish Crested's eggs.

We have 3 acres and 2 of that is in pasture and woods. If the ground is bumpy, I keep a little cache of  short (like - 4 inches to 3 feet long) 2x4's handy to plug the holes. All told, moving the thing takes about 3 minutes of my time. Also with a brown tarp on top, it doesn't look as nasty of some other tractors I've seen. Just looks like a box with chickens in it.

 
Lucrecia Anderson
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So when are you getting these birds? Or did you already pick them up?

Is that little house for the ducks?
 
Nicole Alderman
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I have not gotten them yet. The owners asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted them because they were busy and didn't have time to take care of them. I pretty much said, "Maybe." Then, a few days back, I was talking to another neighbor (who's their landlord) about rats and he mentioned that he'd asked them to get rid of their chickens a while back.

I'd like to keep everyone happy and at peace, and I know how horrible it is to have a landlord unhappy, which got me thinking of ways I could incorporate the chickens. I still need to ask the owners if they would still like me to take their chickens (when I stopped by yesterday, they weren't home).

So, I honestly don't know when/if they'll be re-homed here, but I like to plan things out ahead of time, just in case.
 
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I just had to go looking for the Joel Salatin chicken tractor! It would definitely need downsizing.

 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
So, I honestly don't know when/if they'll be re-homed here, but I like to plan things out ahead of time, just in case.



Is that little house in the photo for the ducks?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Nope, that is my wellhouse . It's down at the beginning of my property (my "zone 3," if you will). My duck house is next to my house. Here's a picture from this thread



One of the downsides of putting the chickens down by wellhouse is that it's so far from the ducks and our house, so it'll take longer doing morning chores. But it'll still save us time if they destroy the bindweed for us. Pulling that stuff day after day for years takes a lot of time!
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

One of the downsides of putting the chickens down by wellhouse is that it's so far from the ducks and our house, so it'll take longer doing morning chores. But it'll still save us time if they destroy the bindweed for us. Pulling that stuff day after day for years takes a lot of time!



Yeah I really doubt that 2 little birds can eradicate a sizeable patch of bindweed (unless they were penned in a really small area of it and then the rest would grow wild).

There may not be enough room, but one thing I would consider is installing a small chicken door on the other side of the duck house and putting their "cage" inside to separate them, or putting their setup next to the duck house for convenience.  If you can hear them the chance of losing them to predators goes way down, I have heard mine and run outside to stop or prevent snake attacks several times (in one case the bird was seeing the white light and mouth-to-beak resuscitation brought her back). Plus they are fascinating to watch since they are always busy interacting with each other, it's hypnotic and lots of people watch them to unwind.

A temp solution that gives you time to plan something better for this spring/summer may be a good thing as structurally sound chicken setups will last many years and planning is everything. When I got my first chicks I had 10 weeks to build their setup and I changed my mind 4-5 times until I hit on the best solution (started off wanting a chicken tractor, then a portable electric net fence, then a prefab house, then finally had a small walk in hen house built and scored a deal on some 6' welded wire fencing). If I had rushed and gone with one of my earlier ideas I would have ended up building something new a year later and wasted a lot of money in the process.
 
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