Why you should consider chicken tractors

A chicken tractor (or arc) is a cage that can be moved over a paddock or garden beds. It is half-way between a fixed chicken coop and permanent free-ranging.
 
The chickens have access to fresh pasture and insects, but are also confined to a certain area. The term “chicken tractor” was first used by Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison to describe the effect of putting chickens in a small open-bottomed cage, and allowing them to till and fertilise the garden, instead of using a tractor.
 
Since then the meaning of the term has broadened.  Chicken tractors can be moved across pasture or garden beds, they can be used as semi-permanent shelters combined with periods of free-ranging or a more confined alternative to free-ranging, combining the benefits of a fixed chicken coop with access to fresh pasture.  Chicken tractors can be designed and built to suit just a few backyard chickens, or an entire flock for commercial production.
 
There are many advantages to using chicken tractors rather than a fixed chicken coop.

No more cleaning coops
The worst part about owning chickens is cleaning up after them, but chicken manure is great fertiliser for your pasture or garden. Not only do chicken tractors help you to avoid any cleaning requirements, you also have the manure right where you need it.

Chickens access pasture and insects
If you’ve eaten eggs from chickens that free-range on pasture, you’ll know that you get better eggs. Everyone comments that the eggs from my chickens taste great.  Chickens actually enjoy eating grass and scratching around to find bugs, they will do that in preference to eating grain, which means you also save on feed costs. And even better, you don’t have to mow the grass as often, it’s surprising how much chickens will eat.
Protection from predators

You can build a strong and robust chicken tractor that will protect your chickens from predators – wild and domesticated alike. When we are not sure if the family dog can be trusted around the chickens, we leave them in their chicken tractors when we are not home to supervise the dog, comfortable that they still have plenty of space and access to pasture.  At night we close the door on the chicken tractors and the chickens are safe from all but the most determined foxes (we have recently invested in Foxlights to solve this problem).

Less likely to attract rodents (and snakes!)
One issue that we had with the fixed chicken coop was mice and rats living around the chicken coop, which then attracts snakes.  With the movable chicken tractors, there is little opportunity for rodents to establish themselves.

Simpler and cheaper to build
Building a permanent chicken coop can be a major building project, a chicken tractor is smaller and simpler.  You can build it from cheap or found materials. You can build another one if you get more chickens, giving you greater flexibility to change you flock to suit your needs. You can also choose to keep chickens confined all day and move the chicken tractor frequently, or you can let them free-range which conditions are suitable.

Take it with you when you move
If you’re in a rental property, a chicken coop is an investment that you might not benefit from for long.  Even if you own your house, what if you move and have to leave the chicken coop behind?  And have to build a new one? Our chicken tractors fit on a car trailer and can be easily moved to another property, in fact we moved them soon after they were first built. That means you always have somewhere to keep your chickens.

Do you want to find out more?
My husband Pete and I are passionate about growing our own food. We live on an eight acre property in Nanango, in the South Burnett region of Queensland, Australia (about 200 km North West of Brisbane). We usually have anywhere between 20 and 40 chickens on our property, we raise them for both meat and eggs, as well as bug-control and their talent for spreading out the cow manure in the pasture. We have built and use four large chicken tractors and two small ones. We don’t have any fixed chicken coops.

After reading this article, you might be thinking: But how do I build a chicken tractor?  What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively?  I have recently published an eBook about chicken tractors in which I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens.  I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

You can find out more at: http://chickentractorebook.blogspot.com.au/

Further articles written by Liz

- Is it worth raising a steer for beef?
- Keeping a bull – pros and cons 
- Bore water on small farms
- Water quality on the farm
- Water for small farms
- Keeping a house cow

Where to from here?
For further information on raising, breeding, housing and keeping chickens, we recommend you purchase a copy of:
- Poultry agskills - A practical guide
- Agguide - Getting started in free range poultry

About the Author

The author Liz lives on eight acres in south east Queensland, Australia, with her husband Peter and two dogs. They have a passion for small-scale organic farming  and producing and eating real food. They keep chickens, beef steers, two jersey cows and a big vegetable garden. Liz writes a blog about their farm to both inspire and help others who are interested in self-sufficiency, sustainability and permaculture.
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