A chicken tractor is in its simplest form a mobile chicken pen. They can be built as a simple enclosure, or as elaborate coops complete with nest boxes and feeders.
There are two theories on the origin of the name. The first is that the name comes from the larger enclosures being dragged behind a truck or tractor. The second is that the chickens will dig up and fertilize the ground, thereby replacing the tractor. Both theories work; maybe they’re both true.
Chickens can survive on almost anything, eating everything from grass and grain to bugs and carrion. Ideally, they will eat a varied diet of forage plant materials, bugs, grain, and dirt. The dirt is necessary for the digestion of their food. Birds kept indoors require a grit supplement for digestion.
As with all animals, chickens benefit from regular exercise and fresh air. If allowed to roam they’ll dig for bugs, eat grass and weeds, and take dust baths. Dust helps remove moisture and excess oil from the feathers and deter lice and other parasites.
A chicken tractor allows the birds to be moved to a new area as often as needed to maintain fresh pasture and to keep your yard from being mutilated. If left in one place, as with permanent runs attached to stationary coops, the chickens will obliterate the grass and dig holes to dust themselves in. While they’ll still get fresh air and exercise they’ll miss out on the varied diet of bugs and plants.
My preferred tractor design for raising chickens is this simple 10x10x2 tractor made with 1 inch PVC.
The fittings were ordered from FORMUFIT. They can also be used to build all kinds of other things. The prices seem a little high at first, but consider that you would need two or three regular plumbing fittings to do the same thing, and that doesn’t work nearly as well. Trust me. I’ve done it. FORMUFIT has the best prices I’ve found and I was very happy with their service. You can order their ridiculously expensive UV resistant furniture grade PVC pipe, but I just bought 200 PSI (lighter weight and cheaper than Schedule 40) from Lowe’s.
My previous design was less than half the size and cost almost as much. I also used 1/2 inch PVC which isn’t nearly strong enough to hold up over time. I still use the tractor, but it’s getting pretty rough.
PCV is inexpensive, durable, easy to work with, and extremely lightweight. Bethany can move the 10×10 tractor by herself easier than she can move the 4×9 wooden tractor.
I haven’t kept laying hens in a tractor, although I plan to this year. I’m not sure how I’ll incorporate nest boxes.
My designs have the feeders and waterers sitting on the ground instead of hanging which means they have to be removed every time the tractor is moved. That’s not a big deal since they’re empty when we move the tractor, but I would like to build those into the tractor to save a little time.
As a contrast to the backyard poultry raised in tractors, here’s a picture from the USDA showing how commercial broilers are raised. Look closely at the picture. Hungry now?
Here’s a fact you didn’t want to know. Meat birds are bred to be white because it’s impossible to pluck all the tiny pin feathers. White feathers are harder to spot so the customers don’t realize they’re there. Look closely next time you buy a chicken at the store. You’ll probably see a few.