Free-Range Chickens: Chicken Tractors , Raising Chickens, and Collecting Eggs
What Is a Chicken Tractor?
If you take a close look at the photo above you can see exactly what a chicken tractor is. In the little shed at the one end are two nest boxes, and at the bottom there is a chicken roost.
The reason it is called a chicken tractor is that you can easily pick the chicken coop up and move it around the yard. The one in the picture doesn't have wheels, but ideally you would have two wheels on one end so you can move the chicken tractor around. The best time to move a chicken tractor is at night after the chickens have gone to roost for the night. If not, they will escape when you raise up the sides to move it.
There is, of course, no bottom in a chicken tractor, though the hen house inside can have a bottom and even a door. The great thing about a chicken tractor is that, when the chickens wake in the morning, they will be in a new location with new grass, weeds, and insects.
In chicken tractors the chickens are as free ranging as they are on the ground. If you wish, you can hang an automatic feeder and an automatic waterer overhead for the chickens. You should have a door on the end opposite the hen house, or on one of the sides so you can get in and out easily. Be sure the door is very secure with a lock, so that intruders are kept out.
While most people build chicken tractors for egg production, you can easily raise chickens for meat in a chicken tractor too. Just be sure to keep the food and water filled dispenser filled. Also, keep in mind that the more birds you have, the more you will have to move the tractor.
I love eggs from free-range chickens. They have a superior flavor when compared to eggs at the local supermarket. Also, meat from free-range chickens is much better than the chicken you can buy at the supermarket.
The one draw back with the roost over the nest box is you will need a roof over the nest boxes so the chicken droppings won't fall down into the nest boxes. Have the roof tilted higher at the front so you can use a hose to spray the roof clean of chicken droppings every so often. With the roof is tilted, the droppings will run out the back through the wire and out onto the ground.
I currently have two chicken tractors with laying hens in them now. I have Pearl White Leghorn hens and they produce eggs almost every day in the warm months. You can increase their tendency to lay eggs by feeding them laying mash in the spring and early summer, and by making sure they always have feed and clean water. If you want your eggs to be fertilized so they hatch, you will also need a rooster in each chicken tractor. He will take care of the hens, and I love to hear them crow.
Advantages of Chicken Tractors
The advantages of a chicken tractor are that your chickens are always free-ranging so your eggs and meat will be much better. Simply move the chicken tractor (or chicken tractors) around so the chickens always have a new supply of weeds, grass, and bugs to consume. Chicken tractors also help clear and fertilize the ground. If you have a lot of room, you can put them on different parts of the field one year and on another field the next year. After they have been on a field for a year or more, you will have a great location to start a vegetable garden.
Other things to consider when using chicken tractors are that the eggs are laid in the nest boxes, so you don't have to spend hours hunting down your eggs. Sometimes it can be almost impossible to find the egg nests of free-ranging chickens. The other benefit is that your chickens will be protected from predators. Still, keep an eye out in case foxes or dogs try to dig under the wire to get your chickens.
You Can Also Raise Ducks and Other Fowl in Chicken Tractors
I haven't done this yet, but I plan on building a double-size chicken tractor this year to use to raise ducks for meat. I'll have food and water automatic feeders hanging in the duck pen, and I'll include a kids pool or two so they can bathe and enjoy themselves. I know I will enjoy raising my own free-range ducks, as I love roast duck. Nothing tastes as good as a free-range duck roasted. You also have the advantage that ducks will be very fattened.
Monster-Sized Chicken Tractor
Raising Chickens for Eggs
More Chicken Information
If you are going to be eating the eggs, you'll want to collect them and take them in the house and wash them. Just wash them off under cold running water and, if you need to, wipe them down with a dishcloth. Dry the eggs and put them into an egg carton or bowl. I keep mine in the refrigerator, but you can store them at room temperature if you are going to be using them in the next few days.
Preparing Eggs for Long-Term Storage
If you need to store them long after you wash them, let them dry, then rub the egg down with mineral oil, being sure to coat the egg well so no air can get in. The egg will keep for six months or more. Store eggs prepared in this way should be put in shoe boxes and placed in a cool, dry place. Put layers of paper towels between each layer of eggs, and date the box on top with the date you put the eggs in the box.
If You Want Baby Chickens
If you want baby chickens, you will need a rooster in the chicken coop to fertilize the eggs so they will hatch. I have an incubator now where I hatch my eggs, but if you wish you can do it the old fashioned way and let the hen sit on the eggs and hatch them. Once you have a hen, start marking each of her eggs with a large X with a pencil so if a egg later gets laid in the nest you know to remove it.
When to Move Your Chicken Tractor
I move my chicken tractors about every two weeks. I never let them eat the ground completely bare. I do one large field with the chicken tractors for about a year, then I move the chicken tractors over to a new field and start over. Often, after they have been over one field for a year or more, I will plow it and plant a vegetable garden there. I have had some great success with vegetable gardens this way.
Free-Range Chickens for Meat
If you use a chicken tractor to raise free-range birds for meat, you'll want to be sure the chickens always have access to feed and fresh water. Also, be sure their food container always stays full so the chickens will grow faster. Feed them cracked corn to speed their growth along. Remember, the more chickens you have in a chicken tractor, the more often you will have to move it.
When You Buy Your Chickens
Order your bids with their beaks already clipped. You want chickens with their beaks clipped so they will not peck and injure one another. In most parts of the United States, you can buy baby chickens, but be careful that what you buy are mostly pullets and that they have already had their beaks clipped. If not, you will have problems.
Don't Bring In Chickens or Other Fowl From Unknown Sources
Use care if you buy chickens or other fowl at a sale or from a local farmer. You only want birds that are healthy and disease-free. You don't want to bring lice home to your lice-free chickens. Some chickens and fowl can have other diseases as well. If you're not 100 percent sure that chickens or other fowl are 100 percent healthy, don't buy them. Once your chickens are sick or infested with lice, it is too late. Never buy birds that look like they are moulting or that look like their tail feathers are missing. If you do, you will have problems.
I Hope You Enjoyed This Article
I hope you enjoyed this article on chicken tractors, and I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have any questions, tips, or suggestions, please post them below. Thanks for reading my article on chicken tractors. I hope you have a nice day.
© 2012 Thomas Byers