For the past couple of years, we have been experimenting with chicken and rabbit tractors. When we first arrived here, we had little experience with building these things, but now with some experience under our belts, it’s getting better. The amount of 2x4s put into these projects is enough to make us seriously consider buying a small sawmill, but luckily our friend Mark down the road is a expert sawyer and we will happily use his services when the time comes to fell our own timber. Meanwhile, the trips to the lumberyard are numerous.
Our first choice was PVC pipe, for ease of construction and durability. We used screws instead of glue, just in case we wanted to take it all apart. Well, so far we haven’t because there is so much else to do. It was about 10′x10′ using 10” lengths of 1 diameter pipe. We wrapped chicken wire around it and covered it with a tarp that collected water and sometimes lay in the middle of the chicken tractor like a big old slip and slide. We quickly decided that we didn’t like this type of tractor for a number of reasons, but it was cheap and did raise up two groups of 60 chickens.
This is it’s final resting place now…
After some more research, we thought the best thing would be to follow Salatin’s lead and make our chicken tractors out of wood, 2x4s ripped into 2x2s. This has been our method now, and we are continually making each tractor a little more easy to use.
The first one was a 2×2 frame that was 4′x8′ and 2′ high, with a middle 2×4 support, like an arch. This one was made into a rabbit tractor, so we surrounded it with hardware cloth instead of chicken wire. One half of the top was OSB, and the other half was some old fencing. This was a pretty sturdy one, but it had no rabbits. Soon it was going to need some modifications…
This was then:
After having rabbits escape underneath the sides we added an inner ring of 2x2s. They still escaped out the ends so we added some board on the ends. Then, when we forgot to adjust these board after moving the tractor, which left a gap on the sides, they escaped out that way. Luckily we caught all but 2 of the escapees but this was no good, for a number of reasons. We finally gave in and added slats on the bottom, as in the Salatin model. Oh yeah, and since they were pretty dang heavy, why not add a 2×4 harness for us to pull or push. Works pretty good so far.
The rabbit tractors are almost good enough, but some small wheels would be helpful as that is a lot of rabbit weight on those slats. Also, they really only want the shade, so we will add a hinged wooden lid as well. Which brings us to the chicken tractors.
It seemed obvious that the chicken tractors didn’t need to be as sturdy as the rabbit tractors, so we did not add the middle bracing. This doesn’t makes a sturdy frame, but it has held up for 60 chickens so far.
When you pull it around you just sort of pull it apart as well. All we did for the roof was a piece of steel siding and a 2×8, strapped down with 2 bungee cords. That is awkward. So chicken tractor 2.1 is this:
The main new features are: used 2×2 bracing in the middle, full OSB roof with hinged door, reinforced bracing with osb triangles and 1x4s, and definitely the most important, a 2×4 harness attached to the bottom so that all the pressure of pulling or pushing doesn’t just rip the top off. Also the angle makes it easier to grab and pull, which is better because then you can watch and make sure you’re not crushing a chicken. The only downside is that it is quite heavy an requires 2 people to pull it.
We’re pleased with this design. 70 new chicks just went into this one, after brooding in hoophouse. And then it’s off to building more of these tractors. The next big question is: Should we make them bigger? Right now we like the compact size of 4′x8′, but does it make more sense to use less material to build a larger tractor? We shall see…