Chicken Tractor 101
Updated: Jun 23
Chicken Tractors Benefits and Build Guidelines
Looking to give your backyard chickens all the benefits of free-ranging while keeping them safe from predators and other potential harm? A chicken tractor might be the solution. These trendy livestock systems let you safely transport chickens around the yard for consistent access to fresh pasture space.
There’s a lot to consider when setting up your own—here’s a primer for getting started.
What is a Chicken Tractor?
Though designs can vary, all chicken tractors are floor-less, mobile chicken coops. They are called “tractors” because they allow the chickens within to scratch up the top few inches of soil, like a plow, looking for seeds, sprouts, bugs, and other treats. By moving the tractor every few days, you give the flock continuous access to fresh pasture space. Chicken tractors will work for egg layers, meat birds, and even baby chicks. Many farmers use them for ducks, turkeys and other poultry depending on space.
Why Raise Chickens on Pasture? Four Benefits of Chicken Tractors.
Compared to traditional coops, are chicken tractors really worth the extra effort? These portable poultry containment systems have many benefits you might want to look at for your farm.
1. Healthier Diet for Birds—and You!
Chickens raised on pasture eat more than pre-made feed. Instead, they spend their days pecking through the grass for protein-rich bugs and seeds. Not only can this make the birds healthier in the long run, but they will pass the benefits on to you through their nutrient-rich eggs or meat. Even better, it can help cut down on feed costs overall.
2. Boosts Soil Health
Keeping birds on pasture offers benefits for your backyard. Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, a natural fertilizer that aids the growth of green foliage. It’s their natural habit to scratch up the ground, which aerates the soil, disperses their droppings, and adds a boost of necessary nutrients. And, since the tractor gets moved every few days, you don’t have to worry about overloading the soil.
3. Protects Chickens from Predators
Chickens attract many predators, meaning you risk losing your flock if you don’t keep them protected. A chicken tractor offers the best of both worlds by keeping birds contained while providing continuous access to fresh pasture space. Another benefit? Chickens in a tractor can’t freely roam your yard, which protects your wood chips and flower beds from their scratching.
4. Reduces Chicken Pest Populations
Keep your chickens on pasture, and you may soon notice you’re dealing with fewer insect problems in the garden or orchard. In fact, many farmers move their birds into their garden during the off-season so they can snatch up insects hibernating in the soil and reduce infestations the following year.
Chicken Tractor Features
There are as many designs for chicken tractors today as people who use them. This means you have creative license to design your system as you see fit. But even so, the majority will include these features.
Moveable All chicken tractors should be easily portable. If they are made to stay in one spot, they are essentially just chicken coops. They may be built with skids or wheels for transportation. Four wheels are usually unnecessary—you can get by with two on one end.
Adequate Space Chickens require space to move around without crowding each other. Generally, plan to provide at least four square feet per egg layer and two feet for meat chickens. Make sure it includes enough roosts for all the birds to ensure they stay comfortable as they sleep. Nesting boxes are also necessary if you’re raising layers.
Access to the Ground Most chicken tractors are “floor-less,” which gives the birds direct access to the pasture space below. Otherwise, they won’t be able to forage or spread manure. Even better—it minimizes coop cleanup for you!
Protection from Predators and the Elements Chicken tractors should provide an enclosed box for the birds to get out of the sun and away from potential predators—especially hawks and coyotes. The perimeter of the tractor should be chicken wire to keep the birds in and bird-eaters out.
Chicken Tractor Build Plans and Inspiration
Jump online, and you’ll see dozens of different versions of chicken tractors. Some farmers make theirs from scrap materials such as used pallets or repurposed cars, while others go the prefab route and purchase them from trusted manufacturers.
Before you finalize your design preferences, consider the merits of these popular designs.
1. Floorless Portable Field Shelter
First up, is the floorless chicken tractor. This design offers a relatively large area for birds to graze, easy access to feed as well as protection. We've added some examples of how other farmers are building floorless chicken tractors below.
• Polyface Farms Pastured Broilers Tractor: Regenerative farmer Joel Salatin keeps his meat birds in 10 ft. X 12 ft. X 2 ft. floorless, portable field shelters that fit 75 birds each.
• Mason Dixon Acres PVC Chicken Tractor: Popular YouTubers demonstrate how to build lightweight and cheap structures for their birds.
2. Mobile Chicken Coops
If you're looking for a more traditional coop just on wheels, take a look at the mobile chicken coops. These give your hens a little more protection, they come with the nesting boxes inside and might hold up a little better over the long haul depending on how they're made.
• Sadie Lane Brooder Tractor: A two-story coop that offers a place to nest and added protection as well as floor space for birds to roam.
• Barn Tractor: For those who prefer a more traditional chicken coop design, this barn tractor offers all the benefits of a permanent structure, but with wheels.
3. Greenhouse or Hoop Coops
If winter is harsh in your climate you might want to consider a hoop coop. These are very versatile, can be light-weight and large. You can also make them with lot's of different materials to wrap or protect them for the season.
• Sixth Day Ranch Hoop Coop: Large enough to walk inside, this lightweight coop easily fits 50 or more meat birds.
• Grit and Grace Cattle Panel Hoop Design: This video gives you all the directions, tools and motivation for your hoop design build.
4. A-Frame Chicken Tractor
Coop and photo credit: Kelsey Jorissen Olesen of Green Willow Homestead
• BGS, A-Frame Chicken Tractor: The A-frame is light weight and gives predator and weather protection to your hens. You can always add a small moveable chicken fence around this for added protection.
• Green Willow, Homestead, Mobile A-Frame Chicken Tractor If you want specific directions on how to build your coops, take a look at their site. The design isn't free but sometimes it saves you time starting with the whole picture before you start your build.
5. A little something else
If you've tried some of these other coop plans with poor results it might be time to get creative with one of these other options.
• The Suscovich Chicken Tractor:The paid step-by-step instructions on this tractor mixes a little A-frame, a little hoop house and a little floorless tractor all together into one.
How to manage chicken tractor:
Now that you have your tractor, one key piece to remember is the management and movement of the chickens or other types of poultry you might keep there. You want to keep up to date records and you don't want to over-graze.
Movement: You want to move your tractor often so the chickens can take advantage of new areas to graze and scratch. Make sure that the tractor you build is one you can move easily. That might be with a truck or by-hand, it depends on the size and the space you have. Just remember to keep that in mind.
Management: Keeping your poultry in a chicken tractor is one part of tending a flock—you’ll also need to track where you put it to ensure your birds get regular access to fresh pasture space, how long they've been there, what other feed you've given them, how much they weigh, how much they've cost you and more.
One method for managing your poultry is through software, like Farmbrite. This easy-to-use program makes it possible to manage your entire agriculture business in one place. It provides insight into ways you can improve farm productivity, reduce inefficiencies, and increase production and sales. Don't take my word for it though, you can try for free here.
As you can see there are a lot of options out there for chicken tractors but hopefully this article has given you the information you need to get started and manage chicken tractors on your farm.