Monday, June 11

The New Chicken Tractor

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been working on a chicken tractor for the new Red Sex Link chicks we have been raising. They have been living in a sectioned off area of the main coop so they have some space, but they have no access to the outdoor pen because they can not mix with the older girls until they are bigger.

My mission was to make a solid chicken tractor that could comfortably hold 6 to 8 birds until they were large enough to integrate into the existing flock. In the tractor they would have food, water, shade, sunlight, fresh air and grass under their feet. They would also have a safe place to roost at night.
I used mostly materials that we already had around the farm - cedar boards left over from the raised beds, netting from the outdoor pen cover, various scrap lumber and screws, staples and hinges that we already had in the workshop. The only items I had to purchase were the wheels and bolt assemblies to attach them, the latches and the corrugated vinyl roofing.

I made the tractor 8 ft. x 4ft. to minimize the cuts I would have to make with cedar boards that were 8 ft. to start with. I braced the corners with 2 x 4's and also framed out the base for the raised roosting box area.

I covered the sides with the heavy poultry netting using the staple gun to attach it. (I attached the netting to each panel before I put the tractor together which made it much easier.) I made the door from 2 x 3's and put a bracing piece horizontally across the middle and attached it with hinges on one side and a sturdy latch on the other. It is large enough for me to get in and refill the food and water and to check on the girls when I have to.

The roosting area is completely enclosed with ramp access. The front wall has hinges on the bottom and a latch on the right side, near the top so I can open that area for cleaning. I lined the bottom with an old rubber doormat and then placed a generous amount of straw on top of the rubber for their bedding. I think having the rubber mat there will help with cleaning out the poop in that it will not go right onto the wooden floor on the roosting box. And I can always replace the mat if I have to - it will be a lot easier than replacing a floor.

The top is vinyl corrugated sheeting from the local hardware store. Very inexpensive and lightweight. I anchored it with some sturdy screws and it works well. I chose white instead of a dark color because I thought it might help keep the area a little cooler with the hot sun.

Roy and I installed the wheels just high enough to roll so I would be able to move the tractor by myself, but low enough to discourage predators who might try to dig under the tractor. The bolts we purchased were a little short for the length they had to go through - the wheel, some washers, the cedar board and a 2 x 4 - but it just made it.

We were able to push the tractor very easily on the driveway, but that is where easy street ended. With the un-even ground, the sticky wheels due to short bolts, and the fact that we placed them just a little too low, grounded our tractor. It was a heavy monster, and no wheels rolling along to move it easily. I could not even budge it. Roy tied a rope to the front and managed to pull it into position near the existing coop.

He came up with a few different ideas for the wheels but it was getting late and I wanted to get the girls outside into the fresh air as soon as possible. So I brought them out - one at a time - and they felt grass under their feet for the first time.

All 7 of them, after fighting to be caught and not liking to be carried, took to their new home quickly. I had to climb in and show each bird the roosting area and how to get to it, but after that they were going up and down the ramp and pecking at every inch of the green grass.

We will devise a new wheel strategy soon, but for now the girls are out in the sun and the fresh air and they seem to be thriving. With any luck they will be integrated into the flock and laying eggs around the middle of August.

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