Chicken tractors are movable pens without bottoms. The pens provide shelter and predator protection while allowing the chickens to forage on a new area each day. Sizes of chicken tractors can vary greatly as can their design. Most tractors hold 3-4 chickens on up to 80 broiler chickens. Generally tractors are no larger than 10’ x 12’.
The advantage of chicken tractors to the gardener is a sustainable source of eggs, meat, and nitrogen. Chickens excrete a high percentage of the nitrogen they consume. Raising chickens on green forage in tractors will also reduce your feed bill by 30% on average.
The method is simple. When your garden is not in use such as after you have harvested a section or you have planted a cover crop that has grown up, move your chicken tractor to a different section of your garden each day. The result will be a healthy dose of nitrogen for your garden. If you have an area where you will be planting a heavy nitrogen feeder such as potatos you might want to run your chicken tractor over the spot twice. Just make sure you let the spot grow up with some kind of vegetation before you return the tractor to the spot a second time.
Chicken tractor designs are usually very basic. Our first chicken tractor was made to fit 3-4 laying hens. The attached box contains two nesting boxes that provide shelter and nesting space. The attached yard is 3’ x 5’. This design is suitable for people in town that want 3-4 laying hens and have a small to medium sized yard and do not have predator problems. Those living in the country need a more predator resistant and slightly heavier model than those living in town. A roving raccoon can put you out of the egg business very quickly out where we live. This prototype chicken tractor was a bit heavy but we have since figured out how to halve the weight. One person should be able to pull the new lighter design with ease. We use this tractor during the day but not so much at night because of raccoons, skunks, opposums, ect that visit us. If anyone is interested in a chicken tractor we can help you pick out a design that is suitable for your needs and build it for you for a fee. The chicken tractors you can order through poulty suppliers and hatcheries are very, very overpriced. I guarantee we can make you one much more economically.
Another method for using chicken tractors is the “Deep Mulch Method”. If you would like to establish a very rich raised bed, you can place your chicken tractor on the area you want the bed to be and add straw or hay daily. Throw the chickens feed in the tractor. The chickens will scratch through the hay and/or straw and defecate on it. The chickens will be scratching it up daily so you will not have the odor issue you might think. As the layers get thicker and compost you will start to get good earthworm activity even if you did not have much at all before. Keep the tractor in one place until the bed is as deep as you want it. Oh and you do not have to use new straw or hay. Check with any neighbors or local farmers that keep a lot of hay. Chances are you can get some old or rotting hay for free if you look around. Just make sure it is not too far gone.
You will get some of the best eggs you have ever had by using chicken tractors I cracked an organic egg from the supermarket next to one of the eggs we got from our hens using the chicken tractor method. I was amazed by the difference in yolk color. The supermarket organic egg was a medium yellow color while the tractored egg was almost orange. The difference is all in the diet of the hens. Pastured hens in tractors get fresh grass, bugs, ect resulting in eggs high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. A richer diet means richer eggs and richer colored yolks.
“But wait you might ask, I thought hens laying organic eggs get a natural diet?”
Actually that an organic farm has to do to produce an organic egg is make sure there hens receive an organic feed daily and are never given any hormones or antibiotics. There is no rule saying that hens ever have to be given natural forage. It is also easy to be fooled by the term “free range”. On large farms organic or otherwise this usually at best means
that the hens are kept in a large hoophouse of 20,000 hens or so. There is a strip of green grass approximately 15’wide and 500’ long or so. There are a few doors open but the hens never go out to scratch because they are still quite crowded but not near as crowded as traditional battery farm egg layers. At other farms “free range” can just mean the door on one end of the hoophouse is left open. It would take super chicken to get through all her neighbors and get outside. I applaud those that are able and trying to make better food choices but I do not like the terminology used in the all natural and organic marketing schemes. I do not like people with good intentions getting duped and tricked by misleading terminology.
Anyone interested in a custom made chicken tractor should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-582-1878.