When it comes to housing poultry, your options are truly limited only by your imagination. Most poultry, chickens especially, are hardy and readily adapt to a variety of housing setups.
All coops will fall into two major categories: the permanent structure or the tractor. By definition, a chicken tractor is any bottomless pen or cage that can be moved from one area to another. This allows the poultry to eat things on the ground, such as vegetation and bugs, while still keeping them contained. Chicken tractors may have wheels or skids to be pulled along the ground, and are an excellent alternative to free-ranging if you live in an urban/suburban setting or an area with a large number of predators.
There are several good reasons to think about adding a chicken tractor to your homestead. Here are a few of the best reasons:
- Allowing the birds ground access cuts feed costs. Every blade of grass and every grasshopper is just that much less feed you must provide.
- Droppings fertilize the ground. Just remember to move your pen often enough to prevent manure build-up.
- Saves on gas for the mower. We spent an entire summer moving bird pens around one one-acre section of lawn at our last house. We used three tractors and mowed the whole thing twice in six months.
- Tractors can be moved to new property or sold if you don’t need it anymore. This is not always the case with a permanent structure.
- No ugly, bare chicken run.
Tractors can be made of just about anything. On our homestead, we have used five different styles, and all of them were made from recycled/upcycled materials. To inspire your own chicken tractor ideas, let’s look at the ones we have used.
The Cattle Panel Hoop
This was our first design for tractors, and is the one we still prefer. We’ve made them in 8-foot and 12-foot lengths, with an 8-foot width. We have housed everything in them, from chickens to ducks, geese, turkeys and yes, even a goat or two. The premise is fairly simple. It’s just a framework with cattle panels bent from one side to the other to create a tunnel, ends finished with plywood or netting, and a tarp over the top for a roof.
Hoops are fairly quick and easy to create, and I have built quite a few in just a couple of hours. They are lightweight enough that one person, attaching a rope from one skid to the other, can move it. They also can be moved quite easily with a quad or even a riding lawnmower.
There are a few things to consider before using this style of pen. Strong winds can move or even flip them over. Additionally, because of the raised cross pieces, small predators such as skunks, weasels and even smaller raccoons are more likely to try and get into the pen.
The Upcycled Dog House
We had an acquaintance contact us about a doghouse they needed to get rid of as they were planning a move. It was a cute little thing, and had actually been used as a house for ducks. We built a skid framework, added a floor and mounted the house on skids, then added a simple run along the front. I did a little work to the roof, added a nest box and perch, plus built a new closing door and cut a smaller door to the run. I had the whole project done in just a few hours, and we’ve used it successfully for two years.
My biggest regret with this one is simply that I didn’t put a door into the run for us! This has been inconvenient on the two occasions that the birds have managed to get their feed bowls outside. Fortunately, it is lightweight enough to be lifted fairly easily.
The Little Red Coop and The White Hen House
The next two tractors we built were made from a couple of small hen houses we picked up off of Craigslist for next to nothing. The Red Coop had a detachable yard made left over interior house trim and covered with rusty pieces of assorted wire. The White Hen House had a lovely set of yard panels that were only two-feet tall so the chickens kept hopping over the panels and destroying the owner’s garden! Both of these little coops were made to be permanent structures.
Essentially, we did the same thing as with the Dog House. We built a skid system and just mounted the houses on the skids, then built a yard. I was fortunate with the White Hen House that when arranged carefully, the yard pieces actually made a contained box! With some hinges added to the top panels and a hook to close it, the yard is accessible if we need to open it up for any reason. With the Red Coop, I made the same mistake as with the Dog House and didn’t add a door to the run for us to be able to access it. Again, the pen is very light and can be lifted up if we need in it.
The Shipping Crate House
This is by far the heaviest of the houses we’ve built, and it’s the only chicken tractor that cannot be moved by hand.
The house frame itself is made of a shipping crate that was used to send in a special order tub surround. Basically, we just added some OSB scrap to make a floor, sided it with leftover plywood siding, built a roof and a nest box and cut in a couple doors. The whole thing is mounted on skids, and the yard is made of PVC pipe with some used plastic chicken netting attached to it via zip ties.
The roof doesn’t have much pitch, but was built to be strong. We’ve had a foot of snow on it and never a problem!
The faults with this pen are pretty minimal, the biggest being the weight. As with some of the other pens, I do wish I had added a door to the run. I’m also not sure I would use the plastic netting again, as it does rip after three summers in the sun, and will most likely need to be redone in the next year.
The options for building tractors really are endless. I have seen some very ingenious ideas on Google and other sites using old swing-set frames, units made entirely of PVC and wire, and even out of an old lawn cart. With the versatility of these great pens and the benefits they provide to the small homestead, we are sure you’ll want to add one or two of these to your own setup.
Do you have any unique chicken tractor ideas? Share your tips in the section below:
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