Raising Meat Birds in a Tractor
Tractors are a great option to use when raising meat chickens. I have personally raised broad breasted turkeys, and Ranger chicken varieties in a tractor with great success. There are so many benefits to raising your birds in a tractor as opposed to a coop or completely free range. In this blog, I am going to talk about what has worked for me and some helpful tips to make raising your delicious meat birds a success. Also, for more information about raising the Cornish cross specifically read “Successfully Raising the Jumbo White Cornish Cross Broiler”
Deciding on a Tractor
There are several different types of tractors ranging from very simple to more elaborate. No matter what design or material you choose, be sure to consider the following things:
- Is it easy to move frequently?
- Does it provide enough shelter to keep your birds out of the elements?
- Does it allow for your birds to have a minimum of 2-2.5 square feet of space each?
- Will your birds have at least 3” of feeder space each?
- What kind of water source will you be using to keep your birds hydrated?
On our homestead, we use two types of tractors. Our largest is an 8×12 foot tractor shown below. This is made out of 2×6’s and ½ in. EMT conduit. We were able to put some spare roofing panels to good use by using them for the covered portion of the tractor. Roosts were also placed inside the tractor as well as a 4-inch PVC pipe feeder. In order to help protect our birds from predators, we used 2×4 square wire around the perimeter. For additional protection for smaller birds, adding chicken wire may be needed. A combination of bird netting and a tarp is used to cover the top portion to create more shade during the hot summer months and also to keep the meat birds from trying to fly out. Covering the top of our tractor was necessary in order to keep the hawks from invading our meat flock. This tractor ended up quite heavy but is easily moved with a riding lawn mower. The height of our largest tractor is great for keeping turkeys, but we used it for our broilers and rangers with great success.
The other type of tractor that we use is an 8ft x 8ft x 2ft high tractor with a hinged lift off lid. Roofing panels were also used for the covered portion in order to keep the birds out of the elements when needed. With this tractor, we also used the 2×4 square wire around the perimeter and over the top in order to keep the predators at bay. This tractor is much lighter than the other and can be moved manually or by riding mower. Due to its height, this tractor is perfect for raising different varieties of meat chickens.
Feeders and Waterers
There are many options as far as waterers and feeders go, and it really depends on what works best for you and your homestead. We use a combination of a few different types. In our large tractor, we use a 4-inch PVC pipe feeder along with a trough feeder. We have found when raising 15+ birds in one area providing multiple feeders creates less of a fight for food between the birds. For the waterer in the large tractor, we use a 5-gallon fount waterer, which we hang from the top of the tractor. Keeping the waterer off of the ground helps in keeping it much cleaner.
In our smaller tractor, we are currently using a 3-gallon fount waterer. We have plans to run ¾ inch PVC pipe around the inside edge and install plastic poultry watering cups attached to a 5-gallon bucket located on the outside of the tractor for easy filling. This water source is also off of the ground and will help to provide clean water much easier. We use a Deluxe Reel Feeder which works great for providing plenty of feeder space. Depending on a number of birds we are housing, we do occasionally need to add an additional feeder to make sure all of the birds are getting adequate feeder space.
Benefits of Using a Tractor
Chickens and other meat birds love to eat grass, weeds, and bugs and leave their nitrogen and phosphorus-rich manure behind them. The reason they call this form of a house a chicken “tractor” is because the birds scratching actions quickly strips the ground and loosens the top layer of the soil. This is a great way to clear weedy areas or to prepare a patch of land for planting a garden.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rim00e-V9y0]
If you do not want the land to be stripped, simply move your tractor more often. We have found that the grass is lush and green after having the poultry leave their deposits. Our birds not only provide meat for our family but also help fertilize our field and control bugs.
Another benefit of using a tractor is not having to build a separate permanent structure to house your meat birds. This is cost effective, especially if you raise them seasonally.
We have been incredibly happy with the outcome of all of our meat birds and feel that it is due to the way they were raised in a tractor. We love how we can provide a healthy, clean and spacious environment for the birds we raise, and firmly believe that happy and healthy birds provide the healthiest and most delicious meals.