Chicken tractor design


(click images for full size)

My six Plymouth Barred Rock chickens are about 8 weeks old. They seem happy in their coop, but I feel sorry for them when I see them futilely scratching around in the wood shavings that are bereft of tasty grubs, beetles, worms, weeds, and seeds. I want to let them roam around freely in my yard, where they can aerate the soil, gobble the weeds and vermin, and fertilize the grass. But I think they’re still too young and small to let loose in the yard. For one thing, a couple of semi-wild, semi-friendly cats like to visit our cats and kids regularly, and I don’t think my young hens would stand a chance against them. Also, even though our property is completely fenced in, the chickens are still small enough to squeeze through openings.

After a little research, I came across two solutions that would allow the chickens to safely spend their days in the yard. One is electric net fencing -- a kind of mesh that has fine exposed wires woven into it. You can move it around anywhere in the yard, and the shock it delivers will keep the chickens in and the predators out. According to Harvey Ussery, the “21st Century Homesteading” columnist for Mother Earth News, electric net fencing “carries an unpleasant (but not harmful) surprise for unwelcome curiosity seekers.” I don’t like this idea, partly because I don’t want to be the cause of animals receiving shocks, but mainly because I’m certain I’d be the frequent recipient of “unpleasant surprises” from coming into contact with the fence while it was activated.

The second solution, a chicken tractor, was much more appealing. These are basically portable pens without a bottom that you can move around to different spots in your yard so your chickens can eat all the scary bugs crawling in the grass and dirt. This seems like a good solution. The top hit on Google is a gallery of 140 chicken tractor photographs, compiled by Katy of The City Chicken. It’s neat to see all of these hand-made tractors. No two are identical. Many are made from salvaged materials.


(The tractors remind me of the coconut scrapers I came across in Rarotonga. Everybody made them from scratch and so they were all different, reflecting the skills, patience, and temperament of the maker.)

After perusing the photos in the gallery and using Amazon’s Look Inside! feature to read a portion of Andy Lee and Pat Foreman’s book, Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, I went to work designing my own. I liked the A-frame style the best, because it seems easier to make and more stable than a box-shaped tractor.

This was a good excuse to get acquainted with Google SketchUp, a free application that lets you create 3D models. I downloaded it and watched a few of the training videos, which were enough to get me to the point where I could design a humble tractor. My goal in designing the tractor was to come up with something that was very basic, used as few components as possible, used as few different dimensional-sizes of lumber as possible, and provided a comfortable and shady shelter for my hens. Here’s what I have so far.



(It will be made from lumber and plywood. The open areas will be covered with 1/2-inch wire screen.) You can download the Sketchup file here.

If you have any suggestions of how I can simplify or improve my design before I start building it, I would be grateful to hear them.


  1. Those are some pretty pollitos. And a mighty fancy mobile pen!
    I made something much simpler for my chicks when I lived in Mexico – out of durable, straight branches and 3/4 in chicken wire and some staples.
    I could move it about in the fallow areas of my garden where they chowed down and cultivated without wiping out my crops or being exposed to danger.
    Also keeps them safe from those older pullets who just seem too intent on the pecking order (and whose beaks whacking heads probably hurt a whole lot worse than that electric fence).

  2. I would think you could add some low profile wheels to this that would make it much easier to move around the yard but not lift it up high enough to create an escape hazard.

  3. An addition I remember coming across *somewhere* for chicken tractors involved continuing the chicken-wire siding down off the siding and onto the ground for 8″-12″. The reasoning for this as I recall, was to prohibit coyotes and the like from digging under the side where their natural inclination would be to dig – at the edge of the tractor where the side met the grass.

    Thinking about it though, a heavier gauge wire mesh affixed to the bottom of the mobile home and laying on the ground may be more effective than the 1/2″ wire mesh.

    Cute chicks!

  4. I was totally hoping for something like a farm tractor when I read the title. Sadly no. But, an interesting article anywho.

  5. If you think they’re cute now, just wait…they’re going to be some handsome birds when they get some growth on them. They’re all hens, right? My lone barred rock turned out to be a rooster, which was a surprise but not a bad thing, as he is great at keeping the flock more or less together.

    Have you read Gail Damerow’s “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens”? It’s a concise and detailed introduction to keeping your birds healthy and happy. Recommended. “Your Chickens” is Damerow’s version of the Storey book for children and is also quite good.

    My girls just started laying a few weeks ago and there’s just no comparison between store-bought eggs and fresh-from-the-nesting-box eggs.

    Thanks so much for the chicken tractor gallery link!

  6. You’re probably going to have feather picking problems with six hens in a tractor of those dimensions, unless you let them loose in the yard regularly or move the coop every week. I’ve had bad hen pecking with just three in an eight foot long and 4 foot wide tractor before.

  7. Suggestions:
    – Solar panels
    – Wheels
    – Electric motors
    – The brain from a roomba

    I think you know where I am going with this…

  8. oh boy mark, you’re hens are lovely and look a lot like my cuckoo marans.

    i concur you should add wheels because regardless of how sturdy the tractor is, dragging it might tear up your lawn and the tractor itself. but the hens will go in their big coop at night, right? i’m thinking of soggy wet grass in the rain. best wishes and good luck! i look forward to seeing the final.

  9. Yeah definately extend the two longest beams that run along the ground, at one end secure one wheen each side, the other end contoured to use as handles

  10. Beside from adding wheels, I don’t think I can improve your design. Congratulations.

    I’ve seen many people keeping chickens in their backyards, including my aunt from across the street, and I’ve never seen a chicken tractor before. I thought it was some sort of device pulled by the chickens… like a rickshaw (a chick-shaw?)

    1. Semi-wild cats sound like a rabies risk for the kids, though.

      Cats keep down the rodent population, who are more likely to carry diseases.

  11. Sugesstions:
    A fence, wing clipping and a rooster. A fenced backyard is pretty safe for chickens, especially if their wings are clipped to limit their ability to fly. Roosters of any size can intimidate the hell out any housecat. If you’re chickens are spending the night in a safely secured coop, then raccoons aren’t a problem either.

    BTW, wing clipping does not involve hurting the chickens, just take some strong scissors and halve the long flight feathers on the end section of the wing. They won’t be able to fly a foot high. Use a towel to bundle them safe while you do the operation.

  12. additional thought: do you have any sort of rat problem in your area (like here in baltimore)? If so, then definitely consider some tight-to-the-ground deterrent system…

  13. Cool! Someone else that reads Mother Earth News. Have you had the courage to try a composting toilet yet? They have an article about those every few issues it seems.

  14. The friends of mine who have done this built a larger tractor (about 5 feet high and maybe 8 long) and made it also be the chicken coop. The only real change to the basic design was a hatch for easy access so they could get eggs off the roosting shelf, and poles extending off the ends (like a coffin) so two people could easily move it. Well, plus more of the tractor is enclosed so the chickens have a dark safe place to sleep.


  15. Consider using 1/2″ PVC pipe, to build the frame. Just like tinker toys…

    It is cheap, lightweight, easy to assemble, and waterproof. The fixtures available might limit your design options, though…

  16. I like the A frame design for its simplicity. I’ve got a few suggestions, though.

    Since the roosting bar is where they will eventually sleep at night, I recommend shielding it from wind and rain.

    The size of your door is big enough for the hens, but sometimes they don’t always lay their eggs in the nesting box, and sometimes you might want access to crawl in or send one of your little people in to retrieve that occasional stray egg.

    A split PVC pipe makes for an easy surface to drag as bottoms for your side rails. I tried wheels on one of my tractors, but it makes it difficult to turn corners and change direction in the garden.

    A small hatch in the middle near the top makes it easy to dump kitchen scraps in, keeping the scraps away from the edge so as not to tempt other animals nearby.

    Another hatch should be close to the egg laying action for easy extraction.

    Robotic control would be very cool if you could somehow train the hens to decide which direction to go?

    I have a picture of one of my tractors at our little farm blog you’re welcome to visit…

    Feel free to drop me any questions on the above site.

  17. Strictly speaking, your side rails don’t have enough dimensions to build. I think most people would assume they’re symmetric, with probably a 45-degree angle on the ends, but that isn’t exactly what you’ve shown. It’s sort of inconsequential for something simple like this that you’re going to build yourself, but maybe you’d be better off giving the length, an angle on the end (with a “both ends”?), and perhaps a centerline? That would be determinative, and capture your design intent.

  18. Don’t dismiss the electric fence idea immediately.

    My Chooks have free range of my whole suburban block, except the veggie patch. I have this surrounded with a small scale electric fence setup (originally designed to deter possums and dogs). It is nowhere near as strong as the versions used to control livestock, but still gives a fair zap.

    That said, Chickens are not as dumb as some people think and are easily conditioned. One zap will generally do it and they wont go near the fence ever again. This comes with the added bonus that the chickens wont go anywhere near a wire that looks like a fence, so new trees and other areas are easily protected or “fenced off” without having to hook it up to the fence.

    Also, feathers seem to be a fair insulator so they don’t seem to receive a full shock. Case in point, the electric fence doesn’t even slow down the scrub turkeys we have in our neighbourhood…

    Some may still think that even one shock it too cruel, but I reckon one or two zaps, and a much bigger area to roam in, is better than a life in a cage, no matter how mobile. That said, a chicken tractor is infinitely better than factory farming.…

    Cats may be a problem for birds this small, but don’t seem to bother larger birds.

    Also, if you have holes in the fence, they WILL get out. I hate to admit it, but I have been outsmarted on more than a few occasions by Houdini chickens.

    Finally, I have heard that the bugs and creepy crawlies chickens eat when roaming free add omega 3 to the eggs. An added bonus.

  19. I grew up on a farm and we had several hundred chickens in multiple chicken tractors. They were quite a bit bigger (12×12 or so) but were pretty much the same idea.

    The biggest problem you might have with yours is the roosting area. It sounds like you will be putting them back in the coop for night, but the roosting area should still be protected from the sun and rain. However you also need to get circulation through there or else the chickens will die when it gets hot. We had quite a few die the first year we had them and it hit 30C, but this probably depends on the breed. I would suggest leaving the ends, or at least the top of the ends (warm air rises!) covered in chicken wire to allow air to flow.

    It was also mentioned that a bigger door could be helpful. One way too do this would be to change half of one of the long sides into a hinged frame with chicken wire covering it. Put the hinges to the side so you don’t have to hold it open.

    Anyway, best of luck to you! Also watch out for dips in your yard. Chickens can get out of almost anything, but I’m sure you know that.

  20. Do you have a rooster? A friend and chicken expert told me that it’s good to have a rooster and when I complained about the constant crowing at ungodly hours she gave me this tip:
    The rooster is the boss chicken, and roosts on the highest perch in the hen house where he can see all his charges. Make the highest perch reasonably close to the roof – give him enough room to sleep, but not enough room to stand up, stetch his neck and crow. He’ll still crow, but it will be much subdued and reduced in volume.

  21. in swahili culture, the coconut scraper is called an mbuzi ( as is a goat – the same word can have different meanings in different contexts)

  22. My experience with a chicken tractor was unhappy. I built it large, which seemed to make sense for the number of birds I wanted. To shelter them from wind, I paneled three sides with salvaged galvanized roofing, which also seemed like a good idea at the time. It ended up being much too heavy to move without a lot of grunting, and too unwieldy to maneuver close to the garden (where I had hoped they would eat weeds and bugs).

    The neighbor’s dog quickly figured out how to dig under the wall to snack on my birds, so I ended up adding an electric fencer. Grounding the circuit was a hassle, and the whole contraption got heavier still, but at least I fixed that dog’s wagon!

    I’d do it again, especially in my back yard, but without the mistakes. Good luck with yours.

  23. We used to use an electric fence, and I’d agree that they work well for keeping out four-legged predators. They’re easy to install and animals (including humans) get used to keeping away pretty quickly.

    That being said, electric fences don’t do a thing to stop hawks.

    Also: if you find you’re having trouble with picking, we had good luck with Polly Peepers — little bits of plastic that fasten onto the bird’s beak and stop it from pecking. ( They do make the hens much less photogenic, but then pecked hens aren’t photogenic either.

  24. I think I would rather mess around taking one of those new-fangled dome tents. Figure out a way to cut out and re-stitch the bottom then nail it to the ground with the spikes. Is this as stupid as it sounds? It’s got the added benefit of being chickens in a tent which is just good old-fashioned fun.

    I had chickens for quite a while (since decimated by coy-otes) and they were very loyal. If they know where the food is coming from my guess is they wouldn’t run off and would be apt to even find their way back in their house at night (‘lessen you got trees then that’s where they’ll go to).

    I might also think about just putting up regular netting around the perimeter to deter them taking off, cats probably won’t want to mess with that too much either.

    Lastly, I would try an SRL-type guinea pig powered guard robot but maybe add a flamethrower component.

    Oh, and get a goose. Nothing will give you as much happiness as being followed around the yard by a giant goose that thinks you’re its mother. And their eggs are cholesteroliscious!

  25. I created a mobile tractor device for my guinea pigs. I found that it not only made them quite happy, but when moved every few hours over a span of about two days I could “mow” the entirety of our small lawn with six piglets.

  26. Sensible comment:
    the angled edges of the sheet timber will be tricky to constructa dn amke it more vunerable to water damage, better to finish it normally then form a capping or flashing with some plastic angles or lead or whatever flexible stuff comes to hand.

    get one of those auomated lawnmowers (roombas for lawns) then have it tow the tractor around your garden, ensuring evenly distributed chicken damage and well exercised cluckers

  27. They key to a good chicken coop/tractor is the ease of collecting the eggs and cleaning it. Make sure the design for the roosting area and nesting box(s) are really easy to clean and disinfect. It really makes having chooks so much easier and fun!

  28. chickens don’t like to sleep in their shit, so I would make sure to put a little beam across on the top so they can sit there. Chickens in the wild like to sleep in trees.

  29. I’ve been contemplating building my girls a tractor for a while, too. They have a large yard with compost piles in it for digging through, and they only get to run around in the rest of the garden while I supervise. A tractor would give me options for unsupervised garden time. I’ll probably go with the box shape, because of the topography of my garden (though the above idea about using a dome tent is very interesting, especially replacing some of the fabric with netting for air circulation).

    For your design, I think handles on both ends (rather than handles plus small wheels) will be necessary, unless you are willing to trash any part of your garden you drag this thing over (or you restrict it to just lawn). Long extensions a la sedan chair seem like they’d be easier to handle.

  30. I agree with #7, you are going to have to move that thing pretty often. I had 6 hens in a 40×15 foot pen, and they pretty much cleaned it out for anything they cared to eat in a month, and thats on top of their regular feed. Tasty eggs though, plus they make a great garbage disposal for kitchen waste. Be sure to give them some calcium supplements if they are just eating feed, an easy way to do this is to simply crush up their egg shells and feed them back to them. Its amazing what they will eat.

  31. A couple of suggestions to make your life easier:
    1) extend the top beam so it overshoots the rest of the structure by a few inches on each side. These things are heavy and a handle is very useful!
    2) cut a couple of notches in the base at the semi-covered (heavier) end. Make up an axle with a good wheel at each end that is slightly wider than your tractor. Now, when you want to move it you just have to lift up one end, roll the axle under so it sits in the notch, then pull from the other end. MUCH easier than dragging it along the ground ripping up your garden.
    3) If you have foxes or any predators that dig, make sure to run chicken wire under the structure as well.

  32. I built something very similar for my hens. Even in your modified version those wheels look awfully small. I think I had some cross-pieces about midway up the walls that worked as handles and wheel supports for some small bicycle wheels. I’d also think about giving them a little more shelter from sun/rain. And the last suggestion is to think about a water station that moves with the tractor if you’re going to move it every day. I used the water valves for caged chickens connected to a bucket. No spill!

  33. I have never owned chickens so I am not aware of their general temperament, but if you plan to transfer the chickens from the coop to the tractor and visa versa with any regular frequency, I would guess it would be best to keep the stress level low for all parties involved. I cannot imagine that the chickens would be lining up in an orderly fashion at the tractors access point to be handled for any reason (unless baited, but I’m sure they would become used to that). You could have multiple access points that span the length of the tractor, or you could send your little one in to help retrieve them (considering that they get along alright, mud, and poo factors), or I guess you could tip the tractor up slightly and try to retrieve the chickens from the bottom (but I can see that turning into a Benny Hill intro fairly quickly).

    I like the wheel idea for reasons of mobility, but I would use large swivel casters mounted on an off-set axel that you can lock in a downward position for moving and then release for a better seam to the ground when you have repositioned the tractor to where you want it. With the addition of handles mounted at a comfortable height, this would allow for more positioning options.

    Along with the caster idea, I think a great addition would be to have another access point on the tractor and the coop where a conduit could marry the two together. A vertical sliding door on the tractor and on the coop could cut off access to the conduit when not needed. Having this option would be useful in case of bad weather, having to leave unexpectedly, or simply not having the time to move the chickens when you need to- less stress for all.

  34. I tell you. In NO time, cats learn that chickens are a WHOLE DIFFERENT DEAL to a sparrow. They are the kind of bird from their nightmares. So I wouldn’t worry too much about chick vs cat. Our cats, who are mean bird-hunters, wanted no part of these big-clawed, tough-feathered freaks! Good to see. DOGS, on the other hand….

  35. We used to have two pet rabbits, called Angel and Drusilla, which we usually keep in a very strong 2 floor hutch, with the bottom floor open to the soil through heavy half inch mesh. It’s too big to move easily, so we had another pen very similar to this design to let them out to graze. We left them out in it one night, and the next morning we found the door ripped off, Angel missing, and Drusilla cowering at the back of the pen. A couple of days later, my kids found Angel’s tail lying around, which got a ceremonial burial. We’re pretty sure it was a fox, as we occasionally see foxes in the area, even in our well enclosed Dublin (Ireland) city garden.

    Anyway, my message is:
    1) Use a heavy grade of mesh, not just light chicken wire.
    2) Build it very solid, so a fox, coyote, stray dog or whatever can’t break in, and pay close attention to the door.
    3) Come up with a strategy to make sure a predator can’t get in by turning it over. Maybe you build it very heavy. Maybe, if you are happy the chickens’ feet won’t get caught, you put in a heavy mesh floor.

    PS, the names are very appropriate, as you’ll know if you have ever been bitten by a rabbit.

  36. you will be suprised how destructive a chicken tractor can be. we have four new hampshire cross hens in adelaide, south australia. the ladies will tear up a section of garden lawn if left on the site for more than two days.
    our design is a tractor and house. they are let out around midday after egg laying duties are over and scratch in the wider garden until dusk when they return to the house.
    materials were as found in a skip bin at a nearby building site.
    give thought to how you get food and water in and to keeping weight down.
    our Mark I is too heavy due to over-engineered beams and heavy corrugated iron roof.

    my design:

  37. Cats very rarely even attempt to attack chickens, and are successful even more rarely. Neighborhood dogs however, will kill them for sport (not to eat them). Dogs, even if they have not previously been to your yard, will be drawn there by the new smells and sounds. Good luck! Your design looks great!

  38. I’ve built now 3 chicken tractors – my son raises chickens to show at our county fair so all 3 tractors are used for 4-5 months and then are emptied out. We also have a permanent coop that our layers stay in over the winter.

    First off – you have to move the tractors every couple of days. When we have 25 birds in a 5 x 8 tractor they will start digging holes in the dirt in about 2 days. The grass is completely mowed down in just over a day. This fall I patched holes in my lawn using about 3 wheelbarrow loads of dirt and then reseeded the grass.

    Around the permanent coop for the layers we just fence an area and generally don’t have any trouble with dogs or coyotes unless the birds fly outside of the fence. We use 2″ x 4″ mesh wire that is 5 foot high. The area in the fence has been reduced to nothing but dirt. Our dog likes to play with the chickens (she chases a bird and then the bird chases her) and the cats are just scared of the chickens. It would be a very desperate cat to try and taken on a chicken.

    Assume that your tractor will tear up the lawn a bit – it’s not a big deal the grass comes back. You are fertilizing and aerating the lawn as you move it around. Those areas will be the greenest after the grass recovers from the chicken onslaught.

    The tractors I built are all 2 story. The downstairs is from 2′ to 18″ high. A hinged ramp goes to the upstairs and it can be pulled up and secured overnight. The upstairs is generally enclosed on 2-3 sides with plywood and then a roof. This keeps the birds happy in inclement weather and better protected from vermin overnight. The floor between the two layers I had been using wire mesh, but now I’ve gone to a slat floor. I just use 4″ wide pieces of plywood (or 1×4’s would also work). A little floor paint (from the recycling center) and it holds up pretty well to the birds. The slats allow the manure to drop down to the lawn below. I think that narrower slats might work better (less green stripes in the lawn) but they are more work to cut and nail down, etc.

    The biggest problem is that these two-story tractors are now 4-6′ tall and generally I make them 4-5′ wide and 8-10′ long. They are to heavy to drag by hand (especially with 25 birds in them). So, I’ve been dragging them around using the lawn tractor. Just be sure to attach a chain near the ground so the angle of the chain helps pull the front of the coop up off the ground.

    Chicken wire is good – but it does start to rust away after a couple of years. It also is not real strong. Get bigger mesh but heavier duty wire to have better dog protection. Staples work ok for fastening wire down, but a strip of wood screwed down works even better for really gripping the wire and holding it in place.

  39. I built one very similar to – but added wheels. The down side is it is very high, but so far no wind has tipped it. Now that it is winter we used straw bales to keep the wind out from below. The upside is a place for them to hide under from flying predators, it is mobile, with a removable floor mesh for easy cleaning. I easily have 8 chickens in one that size.

    I would suggest, instead, for you to look at how the wheels are placed on the next link. It allows for a lower mobile structure. If I had to do it over I would make similar to this:

    Side slope access panels are great for ventilation and grabbing, end doors are great (note their nice nest box access). Their unit might be a bit taller than yours for roosting. A lower unit will be easier to winterize.

    I added an ‘automatic feeder’ with PVC pipe — the stack sits outside for me to fill and the trough protrudes inside. I have not thought of an easy water source for the winter yet. [This year we might just bring out a kettle of hot water for a pan]

    We used 6′ high chicken wire (bent in a L along the outside edge to discourage digging from outside predators) to make a 4′ high fence with mobile plastic posts which are easier to uproot than the ones that are entirely metal
    Example – has a lot of nice ideas as well. Good luck!

  40. Lugging a heavy chicken tractor around is a real pain. Maybe build the structure out of PVC pipe and then cover with chicken wire?

  41. We had something like this but for my two ducks, I’m not sure why you made it triangular, that sort of limits the space they can walk around in on the sides, essentially making it smaller than it is. We had a big rectangle and put the entrance on the top, of course we could handle the ducks easily and just plop them in and out. We moved it around every couple of hours or so.—This was actually their away pen and at home they roamed free in the fenced yard, but we had a dog to protect them, once the dog died, the ducks were attacked by something in the night within about a month.

  42. My mother has always kept chickens for pretty much as long as I can remember (we’ve certainly had over 40 individual chickens in my life time), my grandfather used to run a close to a million chicken free range* egg farm so my mother knows her stuff about chickens.

    Basically chickens are some of the dumbest domesticated animals there are. They live by habit, they do what they’ve always done. This especially applies to eating and sleeping which is good news for you. Chickens always try to sleep in the same spot, always try to lay in the same spot, always try to look for food in the same places.

    This means that if you make them a sheltered shed they’ll always, after a little training, sleep there. The shed is like a dog house with no windows, a chicken sized door with a shutter on and a pigeon box or two with straw (for laying in) and a couple broom handles running from one end to the other for roosting.

    Once you have a shed with a bit on straw on the floor your going to need to train the chickens to use it. For new chickens you get a bit of food in a bowl to leave in the shed with them then shut them in their new shed for 24 hours, in the dark. Then they’ll figure its their spot and return in the evening when you let them out. Chickens with habits are a bit harder you’ll have to, as it gets dark, quietly catch them (don’t freak them out before bed) and place them in the shed and lock them up for the night, letting them out again in the morning. Keep doing this until they take themselves to bed, and when you start you cant miss a night (your forming habits), the good thing is if you forget until late then moving a sleeping chicken is EASY, just shine a light in its eyes and it’ll be too mesmerised to move, but it’s better to put them to bed slightly before dark when their still awake. Once you’ve done this they will always return to the shed at night so long as they can find it (more on that later). If your afraid of predators then close the shed door every night once the ladies have gone to roost.

    Now chickens will look for food in the same spots too so if you’ve been hand feeding them every morning they’ll look for you to get food from and not run away. If they’ve had a feeding trough thats where they’ll look, and not run away. Basically chickens realise how cooshy their spot is and don’t really want to leave… But putting the/a feeding trough in their shed is a good idea. Your chickens will find it, they’ll always know where it is and your local wild bird population wont eat all your expensive chicken food because they wont go near the big scary chickens roosts. Also something most people don’t tell you about food is that egg shells are good for chickens to eat, but like Soilent Green its really important they never know what it is. Once you’ve used the eggs if you’ve not already boiled the shells then do that (this destroys any chance of them smelling like eggs), then crush the shells into a powder (so they cant see colour or even that the shells are there) then sprinkle the powder across their regular food. This gives them lots of calcium, giving better shells and stronger, tastier yolks. If a chicken ever catches on that it can eat its own eggs then they’ll consider them a delicacy and hunt down and eat any they can, the only thing to do with such a chicken is death.

    Now the last thing is predators, cats and dogs surprisingly arnt that bad around chickens. Cats ignore adult hens but chicks just look like tasty running fluffy play things so you need to fence parents off, hens are normally smart enough to make a warning call and have the chicks return so you don’t need to make Fort Knox or anything, just make it so the cat cant get at the mother. Dogs, if they care, see chickens are something to chase, so it’s important both the chickens and any dogs remain calm, and if a dog chases chickens then beat it up and it’ll quickly learn to ignore them. If a dog catches a chicken but doesnt kill it the chicken will play dead or go for the eyes, I’ll let you guess the vets bill on the latter…

    Foxes are another matter, if you have a fox the best way to get rid of it is to have a dog (or leave some dog shit around your garden…), foxes are scared of dogs, you’ll know you’ve got a fox if one of two things happens, firstly you loose 1 chicken with little sign of a scuffle, maybe a few feathers but nothing major, this is a fox hunting normally and is the worst as it’ll keep returning, and keep searching for ways into the shed. The other fox sign is just devastation, feathers everywhere, ripped up chickens, not one left alive (but mostly all there, like you’ll find 6 and 1/2 of your 7 chickens) this means the fox found them, and for some reason got excited, and entered a frenzy. You’ll loose all your hens but the good thing is the fox may well not come back, it’ll know it killed all the food so wont risk returning.

    Chickens can get lost. This happens if they end up too far from where they know, they can be chased, or if they have unclipped wings be blown when they try to fly. On the whole they wont wander too far, my parents ones hardly leave their 1/4 achier wood, even though theres nothing stopping them. Cocks (or Roosters for you prudish Americans :-P) are a good way of getting your hens back, they hear the crowing then move to it, but if your in the town your neighbours probably wont like it… To help prevent them wandering you REALLY should clip their wings, it looks painful but is no more traumatic for the hen than any other time its picked up, google for diagrams. Clipping their wings makes them much easier to catch and prevents them from jumping nearly as high as they can. Some chickens are fine with both wings clipped, others, like my mothers current ones can still easily jump 6 feet with clipped wings (and so get blown away or just go on a good adventure) so she only clips one (so they spiral and cant control flight :-P), experiment, 1 wing normally means they can still flap a bit but cant control it, 2 means they have control but normally greatly reduced effectiveness.

    So basically I think you’ll be fine letting them run wild if their properly trained into using a shed. I’ll warn you that they eat weeds and plants equally and love to eat flowers, they crap whenever their nervous (like when they find their way into your house) and may try jumping fences or climbing trees if their wings arnt clipped. But they shouldn’t roam far and will always come back, and their improved diet and larger area to roam should give your healthier hens and better eggs.

    If your keeping wild chickens its good to keep a couple garden canes on hand to help with rounding up. Chickens see a cane your holding as part of you and just as likely to catch them as your hands so if they dont want picked up they’ll run from it too, so its good for blocking off areas.

    Watch for bullying. Chickens despite their looks are very competitive and aggressive, they do bully each other. This could be because of lack of space, food, because of desease or power struggles and often if a hen goes broody it will be bullied. Chickens bully each other by pecking at the victims crown (the sensitive, fleshy ridge on their heads), so look for cuts and scrapes. Chickens naturally bully each other a little to decide who’s in charge etc but too much (regular attacks leaving obvious bleeding, scarring and scabbing)is bad and will upset your hens, damaging lay and health. Unfortunately you can only remove the bullied chicken (its a dog eat dog world and the bullied one is the weaker) ether by eating or selling.

    Oh and DONT WASH YOUR EGGS. This is a newbie mistake that leads to salmonella poisoning. Often (well mainly with certain breeds, dunno about Barred Rock) their is salmonella on the outside of the shell, and with the shell being porous water applied to the egg is drawn into the yolk in the middle, so any salmonella is drawn in too…

    We’ve kept a few Black Rock chickens which were excellent layers and very tough chickens but terrible parents and quite wild. Normally the better a layer the hen is the less likely it is to go broody and successfully hatch a clutch of eggs, I’d recommend getting a Silky (cute, easy, terrible layers, EXCELLENT sitters) or a Bantam (average sitters/layers) to sit on the eggs if you ever want chicks.

    Currently my mother is being boring and keeping 4 Road Island Red for eggs but now keeps ducks for interest, shes got two Runner Ducks and two mixed Call Duck cross misc crested duck (which comes out as noisy, cute little ducks with afros).

    Anyway thats enough typing, hope your chickening goes well and the ladies are happy!

    Oh just remembered, when your chickens have adult feathers their pretty much adults, able to fend for themselves and dont need coddling. They’ll be fine!

    *Well back then (~1940-1970) it was just an egg farm, now we’d call it free range…

  43. Don’t worry about shocking yourself on the electric fence, you would have to try, or walk around barefoot, to make that happen.

  44. You might consider a ‘chicken run’ – just build it along a fence line with an entry directly from your coop. Ours is about 4′ high and 16 x 3 feet long. They love it because it gets them out of the coop and into fresh air. I like it because it’s hassle-free.

    We’ve learned to protect these little ladies from our local bad-ass chicken hawks… free range is not an option here (ojai, CA). The hawks will just swoop in grab a full grown bird and off they go… damn!

    We have 6 CA whites now laying an egg a day…

    The chicken-run can be built with 4×4 posts, chicken wire, and lightweight plastic roofing.

  45. A buddy of mine had no problems with his similar electric fence; his dog even sniffed it a few times and got a jolt– it isn’t anymore harmful or painful than a static-shock from a shag rug (just more insistent, not a one-and-done shock like from a rug). In fact, my buddy was more concerned with hawks and falcons coming after the chickens and they never did (he has seen bobcats in the neighborhood and they never bothered the chickens in the pen, though some predator did get into the coop one night).

    But the “tractor” is a pretty good idea too– certainly that would protect against Birds of prey too.

  46. Know your local predators! In my area, raccoons will pull chickens through the wire (a grotesque process) unless you provide enough space in the middle of the run to keep the chickens well out of reach. (Raccoons also have hands, and will unlatch anything short of a padlock.)

    The gallery site you linked’s FAQ says wolverines are a problem in some areas too, so that chicken tractors must be electrified.


  47. I second the recommendation to avoid chicken wire and go with hardware “cloth.” Raccoons can pull a chicken through chicken wire one bite at a time. They’re also strong enough to life a tractor that is insufficiently heavy.

    Also, Mark, that design doesn’t look like it will provide much shade. Is your yard shady to begin with? If so, it may do. If not, I suggest you add more wood to at least one of the sides.

    I keep my four hens in a homemade tractor made partly from salvaged materials. One priority of the design was to ensure that however I oriented it, the hens would be able have breeze, shade, sun, and protection from the wind at all times, depending on which part of the tractor they were in.

    When your chooks are grown, they’ll have nothing to fear from any house cat. Quite the opposite in fact, if you have fully beaked birds.

  48. I grew up on a chicken farm in Arkansas and, without exception, the only eggs our family would eat came from the hens who were essentially raised in the tractors (as opposed to the semi-industrial houses). The poor birds in big permanent housing structures are notoriously unhappy, unhealthy and, understandably, occasionally downright mean. The mobile birds are at once healthier, more robust and friendlier, not to mention protected from the predators that can easily snatch up freely ranged birds.

    Kudos, and welcome to farmlife.

  49. Mark, by the time your tractor is done your pullets may well be full grown. Cats will be no challenge for them – I have 4 hens and plenty of cats (some pets, a few feral), and the cats just watch very curiously. When a hen sees a cat, she sqawks and flaps and the cat skeedaddles. Putting in an electric fence just seems a waste of time and materials, and would inflict useless pain.

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