Backyard chickens have become all the rage in urban areas, but poultry is also making a comeback on Dakota farmsteads. With the revived interest in poultry come new ideas about how to keep them, including innovative designs for chicken tractors—mobile cages that get chickens outside and scratching on grass and dirt (or in unused corners of your garden, where they fertilize as they go) but that keep them safe from predators.
My family got our first batch of laying hens in 2010, and we put together a chicken tractor to get them outdoors and at work in the garden. I was writing a blog then and told the story of our chicken tractor, which we now refer to as “Chicken Tractor 1.0″—it’s still in use, but we’re experimenting with some modifications that would make it more user-friendly. Some of the other chicken tractor designs I’ve seen online are crazy fancy — our goal was far more humble. The chickens are happy enough—they are still keeping us in eggs!
An excerpt from that story is below. If you have your own chicken tractor design, we’d love to hear from you! Comment below, or if you have a photo to share, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave made our chicken tractor completely from scrap lumber and parts, with the exception of the wheels ($6), the chicken wire, and the hook-and-eye closures I made him get after I scratched myself on the wire closures we had before. He had to learn to weld to get it done, too — the base 6×8 frame is welded rusty metal bars with wheels attached. Then he arched hog panels over the top of that to create the shape. He built the front end from plywood, and then I helped him stretch chicken wire over the whole works, and put an apron of chicken wire on the inside along the bottom to discourage Fantastic Mr. Fox and whoever else thinks chickens are tasty. (We did have an attempted break-in the other night — something had put a paw on the chicken wire and managed to rip a few staples. That’s as far as it got, though.) A quick door, and a tarp over the top, and it was ready for mobile chicken containment!
It adds that lovely hippies-live-here touch to the farmyard, I have to say! I am just happy we finally got our little chicken chain gang out to work.
The chickens have been in it for about three weeks now, weeding, tilling and fertilizing the garden at the rate of one 6×8 foot rectangle a day. We move it once a day (well, to be honest, Dave moves it once a day — it’s awfully heavy, and I can’t get it to move over the … let’s just say overgrown parts of the garden), and in that time, the chickens make a noticeable difference in the amount of weeds in that spot. Go, chickens! Get that garden spic and span!
Dave kept saying they aren’t really earning their chicken feed until they start laying, too. I told him he’d better stop wishing for them to lay before he had their nest boxes built! (There are some icky parts about raising chickens — one of them being that if you aren’t vigilant about egg gathering, some chickens start eating eggs, and once they get in the habit, it’s tough to get them to stop. Ew. A rollaway nest box is the best way to ensure the chickens don’t get started down the wrong path, but Dave didn’t feel like building anything that complicated at this point — a plain old box with a slanted, hinged lid helps, too, in that the egg is out of sight, out of mind.)
Anyway, Dave, Sofi and Erik went to check the chickens last night after supper, and what did they find?
One smallish brown egg!
Yes, our little chicks have become full productive members of society. Almost makes you teary when you think about it.
OK, not really. And actually, it’s only one chicken, since we didn’t find any more eggs out there today. But I’m sure the rest will step up to the plate (one with a side of bacon on it, preferably) and start laying soon!
Dave took that one egg as a sign and made two nest boxes last night after the kids went to sleep. I did not observe a chicken in one of the boxes yet today, but that doesn’t mean much. They aren’t very adventurous chickens — it takes them a while to warm up to new things.
So that’s my chicken tractor story. Let’s hear yours!