The chicken tractor is the modern homestead version of a chicken coop

Chicken Tractor

by Pamela Parks

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What has no wheels, is about the size of a large dollhouse, will keep your grass mowed and neatly trimmed, and give you some food, all with very little effort? It's a chicken tractor!

For those of us "urban homesteaders," a chicken tractor may be the answer to our organic egg quest. Keeping a couple of chickens in your backyard hasn't been fashionable since the Victory Garden days of World War II, but it is now making a comeback. And it's easy food in exchange for 10 minutes a day.

What is a chicken tractor? It is sometimes called a chicken ark, and you can understand why by looking at the most common A-frame shape. (Although some people do build them as rectangles.) It is basically a big wooden-and-wire cage with no floor. For those of us intimidated by the thought of keeping chickens, this is a way to keep them contained, out of the neighbors' yards, and safe from predators.

The main problem with the traditional chicken henhouse that we all imagine is that it gets messy and very muddy. Chickens decimate every square inch of foliage that struggles to grow near the normal henhouse. When it rains, you've got a giant mud pit. A chicken tractor solves that problem. It is just a mobile, contained henhouse.

Our chicken tractor is a very simple lightweight A-frame with two nesting boxes. There is one box in each top apex and the roosting bar running between. The hens have the whole ground for themselves. Each hen needs four square feet of space, so for us that was 6 X 4. We only have hens, no roosters. (Roosters are too loud!) Every morning, I slide the chicken tractor one length. That gives the chickens fresh new ground, and keeps the grass neatly clipped, but not destroyed. As a bonus, the grass also gets fertilized for free! Also remember that chickens are omnivores (not strict corn-feeders, like the grocery stores advertise), and they love the bugs in the fresh grass. I don't have to buy grit, because they get that from the ground naturally.

Every morning, I replace the water (I use an open ice-cream bucket for their water dish. I'm cheap!) and give them food and kitchen scraps. They eat 20% less of the expensive pellets than henhouse chickens do, because they always fill up on fresh grass and insects. I also check for eggs. Sometimes, I replace the bedding in the two nesting boxes. It takes about 7 minutes. In the evening, I bring them more kitchen scraps and check for eggs again. Usually, the kids have beaten me to it. After a year, it is still a big deal to my kids to run into our house with a warm egg in their hand.

Do the chickens like living this way? I have read countless books from the Victory Garden days that write about how easy it is to keep chickens in battery cages in your garage, so this is definitely a giant leap ahead of those days. My chickens are obviously thrilled every morning to move to fresh grass. They are clean, they are safe (we have a lot of coyotes here), and they don't get into the neighbors' gardens or onto the street. I find that this is the perfect answer to my urban homesteading urge.

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