I got the desire to move our chickens to a mobile tractor when I read Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry for Profit. Now we don’t really aim to make a profit with our poultry, but he gives great advice even for a backyard operation like ours. The idea behind a mobile chicken coop, or chicken tractor is that every day you move it one space ahead onto new pasture. This allows the birds to eat fresh grass and bugs and allows that space of land to receive a proper amount of fertilization from the chicken poop. If you leave chickens in one spot too long, not only will they eat everything that grows until it dies, but also the nitrogen from their manure will completely deaden the soil. By having both their food and their manure on the move, you are making both the chickens and the land healthier.
You also eliminate that pesky chore of coop cleaning if you can keep them mobile. Having chickens live in a dirty, dusty coop raises their chances for catching disease. And let’s be honest, it’s one of our least favorite jobs to tackle on the weekends.
I researched a lot of chicken tractor plans and wasn’t happy with anything I saw. I wanted to build this myself and I’m pretty new to construction so many plans were either intimidatingly difficult, or they were too simple and not easily moved. Then there were some that were frugally made, but just plain ugly. Then I found this YouTube video and knew it was the perfect plan for us. A few days later and we started building. I did have Scott help me build this in the end. He’s a great building partner because he doesn’t like unfinished projects laying about, so he’s a good motivator to get out everyday and work some more on it. In all it took us one full weekend day and a few evenings to build it. We followed the directions of the video pretty exactly.
We ended up using mainly wood we already had on hand. We did have to buy hardware cloth, fence boards, and two eight foot boards along with the wheels and a whole bucket of nuts, bolts and washers. Our grand total for what we need to buy for this was just under $200. It’s not a cheap project. To lighten the load the video suggests ripping 2×6 and 2x4s in half lengthwise to 2x3s and 2x2s. This helped a lot. And while it’s still heavy, it rolls so well on it’s wheels, that I can easily move it around. Can you see how the wheels work on those levers. You can position them to raise the coop and move it or by swinging that 2×4 over they lay down flat. It’s a pretty cool design.
The only thing we haven’t figured out fully yet is the watering and food situation. The video suggest putting in a 5 gallon square bucket next to the laying boxes and hooking up a PVC extenstion with chicken watering nipples. That all sounds well and good, but how we can refill that bucket is a mystery to us. That is our puzzle to solve. In the meantime we just put their water container in with them along with their grain container and that works for the meantime.
Now our field is as dead and dry as it gets, so we ran them along our septic leach lines for a week to eat down the dock that grows like crazy there. They’ve eaten it all down and for now, we’ve placed them back in the main coop. Because of the timing of the season we have giant bowls full of produce and kitchen scraps for them to enjoy. As soon as we (ever!) get some rain and once the vegetable garden is finished, we will move them back into the mobile coop to enjoy their salad bar. Hopefully this next spring we’ll be all ready to keep them in there moving along. If luck plays a part and we get decent rainfall, we can keep them moving all over the backyard, helping Scott to mow the field.
And the empty chicken coop left standing? Well, it is big enough to fit a few sheep I suggested to Scott…..