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 Chicken 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 lawnmower. 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 using a riding mower. Due to its height, this tractor is perfect for raising different varieties of meat chickens.
Chicken 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 the 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 Chicken 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.
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.
The Coop Podcast with Meyer Hatchery
In Episode 9 of The Coop we talk all things Chicken Tractors! We cover our very different experiences with chicken tractors, essential elements of a chicken tractor build, including the pros and cons of raising poultry in this method. Listen today on your favorite podcast app or through the link below!
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Love the tractor! This is the kind of ingenuity I’d like to feature in my upcoming blog post if you would let me!
Destiny, You are more than welcome to share any of our blogs, as long as our name and link going to the same blog is used. Thanks!
Thanks Meghan! Will absolutely do that Xx
Absolutely, thank you! Xx
What are the dimensions of the tractor in the video please?
Hi Kevin. The chicken tractor digital plans can be purchased here. It is approximately 8 ft by 4 ft.
you didn’t show how the chicken tractor is moved daily on the video. Do they use a dolley? Tractor?
HI Michael. I move the tractors by hand each morning. If you look closely, you’ll see the handle bar across the end opposite the wheel end of the tractor. To move, I prop the lid open so I can see the birds to avoid injuring them as I lift the tractor by the handle and walk backwards slowly as the birds also walk forward. I feed them as soon as I get them moved onto fresh grass. They learn very quickly that moving time means feeding time and they really get up and go when I open the lid in the morning!
Hello, Marie. Would it be possible to show the wheel end of the tractor? I saw the handle, but not how you attached the wheel(s). I am very interested in making something similar, but I am not sure how to attach the wheel(s). Thank you! 🙂
Hi Mary. We have yet to come up with the best way to attach the wheels so that they are sturdy and hold up to daily moving in the pasture. All three of our tractors have a slightly different way that we have attached the wheels, but they all involve using carriage bolts and the 2 by 4’s that make up the base of the tractor.
Do meat chickens require roost and possibly a floor to keep dry?
Hi Kip! Meat chickens generally do not need a roost, and the Cornish cross broilers are so heavy in the breast meat that roosting will be difficult for them. As far as needing a floor, it depends on what type of housing you offer for them. In chicken tractors that are moved daily, a floor is not necessary. But if you are raising them in a barn then some type of litter is needed and therefore a floor does make cleanup easier.
My thought is to raise the chicks in the same area as my 1250 sqft veggie garden. The area will be built with 6ft posts every 10ft with chicken wire with 1″ gap all the way around, i am going to bury 2×4’s about 14″ deep,going from post to post, to keep digging predators out. My questions is, should i still build a tractor inside that area to move around? or can i just build a small stationary coop and let them walk around ? I am hoping they eat all vegetation and insects they want, so that isnt an issue. the more dirt they turn up the better. Suggestions? Concerns? I am hoping to start out with a small flock of 25 and see how it goes. TIA !!
Hi Dustin. Thanks for reading our blog. Your plan sounds like a good one, but I have a few things to think about. If you are growing veggies at the same time that chickens are in there, they will tear up plants and eat things like tomatoes and peppers. Chickens can really wreck a garden in short order! Also, from a human health point of view, chicken manure may harbor pathogens that you would not want to come into direct contact with your produce. Hot composting the manure and litter for several months before using in a garden is recommended. If you are letting your chickens run in the garden area in the non-growing season, then they probably only need a coop-type shelter for protection from predators and the elements. Just be sure to remove them from the garden area completely a few months before you intend to plant the garden so the manure in the soil can decompose and not “burn” your plants with too much nitrogen.
Hi. What do you all do with the chickens at night time? Do they just stay in the tractor just like that? Or do you put them up in a coop.
Do you secure the tractor in anyway during high wind days?
Hi Anya. Thank you for reading our blog. I keep the meat chickens in the tractor at night. I use hardware cloth (not chicken wire) that is secured with crown staples which are much stronger than regular staples to prevent raccoons and other predators from ripping the hardware cloth to get to the birds. For high winds, I make sure to face the solid side of the tractor into the prevailing wind direction, add cinder blocks to the top, or use stakes in the ground and ratcheting straps to secure the tractors during storms.
I love the info in this blog! We have foxes that frequent our property and have many measures currently in place that keep predators away from our Laying hens. How do you keep digging predators like foxes away from meat birds in a tractor?
Hi Desirae! Thank you for reading our blog and for posting your question. For tractors that are moved daily, I use the Nite Guard blinking red lights hung on the hardware cloth sides of the tractor. I have also used 6-inch wide strips of hardware cloth attached to the lower edge of the tractor walls as a sort of skirt to deter any digging under the tractor. The hardware clost skirt does make moving the tractor more difficult, however.
Do you have plans available for the 8x8x2?
Hi Janessa. We do not have plans for a chicken tractor that is 8 ft by 8ft.