Monday, September 29, 2014

DIY Chicken Tractor



This post is long and long overdue. I built a chicken tractor over the spring. What's a chicken tractor you ask? Well that depends on if you ask a green tractor chicken or a red tractor chicken...

Most people look at me funny when I say I have a chicken tractor. I think they imagine a dozen chickens tethered to a plow or something. A select few probably imagine an actual chicken driving a tractor. If you fall into the latter camp, I would love to know what you think a cock fight is. Leave a comment down below.

A chicken tractor is simply a chicken coop and run that can be moved. Most people build the tractor with the bottom open to the grass and move it every couple days. This allows the chickens to graze fresh pasture and bugs while being protected from predators. 




I bought three 4 ft x 16 ft cattle panels from our local agriculture store. I am surprised I didn't get pulled over driving like this. Make sure you have some pads and good ratchet straps if you are going to attempt something like this.










DISCLAIMER: I built this chicken tractor too heavy and it is a pain to move. If you are going to follow the design in this blog you should seriously consider moving it with a riding mower, instead of by hand. 

Material list: ( I am sure I am missing something, but this should be most of the supplies used.)
  • 3 - 4ft x 16ft cattle panels.
  • 2 - Pressure treated 12ft 2x4's.
  • 2 - Pressure treated 8ft 2x4's.
  • A lot of untreated 2x4's. I seriously went back twice to get more. Maybe a dozen or so.
  • 1 - 4ft x 8ft x 1/2 inch plywood.
  • 3 - 4ft x 8ft x 1/4 inch plywood.
  • 3 rolls of 25ft hardware cloth with 1/2 inch squares.
  • 2 rolls of 25ft chicken wire.
  • 3 - 2ft x 8ft galvanized steel corrugated metal roofing sheets.
  • 1 Box of "U" Grip-Rite staples.
  • 1 Box of self-tapping metal screws.
  • 1 Box of neoprene washers for self-tapping screws. 
  • 1 Box of exterior screws. 
  • 8 - 6 inch lag bolts with washers and nuts.
  • Metal cutting blade for circular saw.
  • Spool of galvanized wire.
  • Exterior paint.
  • Ratchet straps
  • Various power tools.









Everything I read about building chicken tractors said "DO NOT BUILD IT TOO HEAVY". I figured I could build the tractor on sleds and pull it around the yard with no problem. Boy was I wrong. If you actually keep the finished weight of your tractor manageable, you could move it around the yard on sleds. Before I put the coop in, I could pull it around easily by hand. 








Once you have the ends of your 12ft 2x4's rounded off, you can now attach the cattle panels. I overlapped the panels to fit inside the runner boards.You can make your tractor longer or shorter than this, its up to you.








I used Grip-Rite staples to attach the cattle panels to the 2x4's. I ended up going back and putting two more staples in each square. I measured half way down the 2x4 and lined the cattle panel up so it is in the center of the 2x4.








You will want some help bending the cattle panels. Once I had them in a "U", I used ratchet straps to hold it in place. I then attached the 8ft 2x4's to hold it together. Make sure you have the sides you stapled the cattle panels to, facing in. You don't want the panels pushing out against the staples on the outside.








I used two, 6 inch lag bolts on each corner. Notice I cut out a 1 1/2 inch section on the 8ft 2x4's , leaving a 1/2 inch on the top. This is so when you move the tractor, the front and back boards are not dragging on the ground. Make sure you do this to both sides on the front and back 8ft 2x4's.








Here is the frame all bolted together. At this point it was easy to move around on the sleds. If you didn't want a coop in your tractor, I think you could move this by hand pretty easily, even once all the hardware cloth and chicken wire is attached.








Here is my solution to crafty critters like racoons. Racoons have been known to figure out slide locks and other closing mechanisms. To my knowledge, they haven't figured out carabiners yet. I will let you know if they do.








One of the hardest parts of building the tractor was cutting the plywood to fit on the ends of the coop. I cut it perfectly round, then had to adjust it multiple times to get it to fit. An easy way to get a perfect half circle is to tie a string the length of the radius of the half circle you want, to a pencil. Place the open end of the string in the middle of your board and pull the string taut. Move the pencil to the left and right until you have your half circle drawn.








I spent a lot of time "shaving" off wood to get the ends of the coop to fit. I didn't want to go to far, you can't add wood back on, so I had to cut a little, go check the fit, and cut some more.








You can use whatever you want for a roof. I chose metal for longevity and I think it looks cool. I bought a metal cutting blade for my circular saw and cut these 8 ft galvanized panels in half.








I then screwed them together using self driving metal screws with water tight washers. I overlapped each panel so water will run down the outside and not leak in. Make sure the overlaps are going the right way when you put the roof on.









Here is a close up of a self driving screw with rubber / metal washer. Buy a magnetic bit for your drill, it will be worth every penny.








You should end up with something like this. Some people use plastic tarps for chicken tractor roofs. That would make a much lighter roof, but it would need to be replaced every couple years or so.








I ripped a lot of 2x4's to make this tractor. I attached the roof to three ripped 2x4's that I ran at the height I wanted the bottom of the coop to be. I then screwed the roof into more ripped 2x4's along the inside of the roof. I off set these in about 2 inches on each side. I used these to attach the front and back of the coop walls.








The floor of the coop is then screwed into the ripped 2x4's on the bottom. You want to use the 1/2 inch plywood for the floor of the coop. You will want to do most of your interior work on the coop before you attach the final wall.








In my attempt to keep the weight of the chicken tractor down, I used very thin plywood and ripped a bunch of 2x4's to build the nest boxes.









I ended up going with 6 nest boxes for my 16 laying hens. Each box is approximately 12 inch x 12 inch at the opening with head room once they step into the box. I designed a small incline you can see in this pic on the bottom of the nest boxes. This will hopefully make the eggs roll back to the collection door. 









Here I am installing the nest boxes. I ran some more ripped 2x4's on the floor of the coop to screw the front and back wall into. Make sure these are set back as far as the ripped 2x4's the roof is screwed into so the walls fit straight. The nest box is screwed into the ripped 2x4 in the back. I had to put another ripped 2x4 under the front of the nest box to keep my slope. Make sure your nest box roof has a steep pitch on it, or your chickens will hang out on top of it.









Dara and my sister helped attach the hardware cloth and chicken wire to the cattle panels. You can use plastic zip ties for this if you want. I opted to go with a more permanent solution and used galvanized wire. Make sure you attach the hardware cloth securely and not allow any part of it to be able to be pulled away from the cattle panels. Critters that want to eat your chickens are diligent and crafty.








I decided to go up the cattle panels 4 ft with hardware cloth. I used chicken wire, which is cheaper, to cover the top. The main reason I chose hardware cloth is; raccoons have been known to put their arm through chicken wire and kill chickens if they get too close to the wire. If a raccoon climbed the hardware cloth to put his arm into the chicken wire, he would not be able to grab any chickens.









Here is the interior of the coop all finished. I put a temporary board over the entrances to the next boxes. If you are raising your birds from chicks, you want to keep them out of the next boxes until they are ready to lay. Once I attached the front coop wall, I cut out this entrance and used a larger piece of plywood as a door. I want to replace it with plexiglass one day so I can spy on them. You can see the hinge and door on the bottom right of the pic. I harvested some saplings for the roosts. You want them to be about 2 inches wide.








Because I made the coop to heavy to pull on the sleds, I decided I would put wheels on it to move it. Another mistake. Drilling through 1/4 inch steel is hard, I went through 4 bits drilling all the holes.








The wheels are on the bottom of the steel bars. The holes above them are where they get attached to the tractor. This creates an offset so when you lift the steel bar handle, the coop raises off the ground about a foot. In principle, this is a great idea. When I actually tried to move the coop, it wouldn't budge. The wheels are to small and narrow for all the weight of the tractor. I plan on taking these off of the chicken tractor and using them on a much lighter tractor for broiler birds next year.








Sorry about the bad photos, I can only move the tractor at night when the chickens have gone up to roost. This pic shows how the wheels raise the tractor off of the ground. I have a small hole drilled in the steel bar where that piece of 2x4 is. Once I have the bar perpendicular to the ground, I put a nail through the bar and into the 2x4 to hold it in place.








The solution I finally came up with to move this beast was to use the wheels to raise the tractor off of the ground, and then lay 3 inch PVC pipes under it. The tractor is movable at this point. I am not saying it is easy, just movable. You have to stop after you pull the tractor over the PVC and reposition the PVC to move the tractor again. A real pain in the cloaca. 









Here is the tractor all done except for painting the coop walls. I moved it around the yard every three days or so for about 3 months. A post coming soon will explain why I stopped moving it and what I did with it.

Learn from my mistakes and either use these plans to make a stationary coop, or build a lighter version that can be moved by hand. If you have a lawn tractor you may be able to move a coop like this. Hope this helps. Leave a comment if you have any questions or if I left something out you would like to know about.






6 comments:

  1. It's a very cool looking and useful stationary coop! Now you get all the free compost you want and can start building Tractor v2.0.

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  2. If I ever buy a riding mower I can resurrect the tractor.

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  3. Wow! So much stuff! Im not surprised you cant move it. All those nest boxes seem unnecessary. A-frames are a lighter solution that can have just as much ground space. You have to crouch to get in them though.

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  4. Looks great! Will you be making a run anytime soon? I made a tractor for my rabbits and it ended up being much heavier than I expected. I have to slide PVC under it as well to move it.

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    1. Hello,

      Our "run" is our fenced in 1/4 acre back yard. We let them out on the weekends and when we get home from work, when it is still light out of course. I don't feel comfortable yet letting them out during the day when we are not home. I plan on making a rabbit tractor in the spring, do you have a link to yours anywhere on the web? I need some ideas. Thanks, Patrick

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  5. I'm thinking you need to aim at a smaller design for a laying flock tractor... and cut out the plywood if you ever do one for meat birds! I tried plywood on my first one and I think it was a mistake, so I replaced it with some tarp and scrap sheetmetal I found on the side of the road one day. Currugated plastic is another option that I need to look into. Also, the wheels are a good attempt, but with that much weight, you need more wheels. Hopefully this spring I'll be able to have a post on how I made that work...

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