So you’ve overcome the myths and misconceptions about raising chickens for meat and have decided you want to raise your own chickens for meat this summer. Awesome! We’re totally with you! You’ve browsed the catalogs, researched the breeds, and are ready to place an order. But wait, where will you keep them as they grow? A coop with a run will be a lot of work to clean, especially if you have a lot of chickens! It’s time to think outside the box… or maybe inside one?
Maybe you’ve heard of the chicken tractor, but if you haven’t, the concept is extremely simple: a chicken tractor is essentially a cage with an open bottom that you keep your chickens in so they can graze on the land and get fresh air. It enables a “free-range” kind of solution that ensures your chickens are completely protected from predators.
And to keep things clean and sanitary, instead of enduring the miserable job of cleaning out a stinky coop and run every day from a multitude of birds, you can just move the tractor every day to a fresh patch of land. The chickens will be happy, and the stink will be minimal, since the droppings are spread out and not concentrated. And actually, you’ll be adding great fertilizer to your land. We tried tractors on our lawn once and after the grass recovered from the initial “burn” of the droppings, it was greener and more lush than ever.
Guess that’s why it’s called “tractor”!
How to use a chicken tractor
When your chicks have feathered, they are ready for going outside into the tractor. Once they are in, the process is so simple, it only takes 2 steps:
- Start the tractor from one end or a corner of your open land.
- Every day, move the tractor far enough for it to entirely cover a new patch of land.
Of course, you’ll also want to make sure to feed and water the chickens per your management plan.
How many chickens can you fit in a tractor?
The guidelines for this vary, but we’ve seen a fairly consistent number of 2 square feet per meat chicken at minimum. We give ours plenty more space when we use tractors, but from my observations of the chicken behavior and the frequent cuddling that goes on, this guideline is probably OK.
So, how many chickens you can fit depends on the size of your tractor. You can either plan your tractor to fit a certain number of chickens, or figure out your maximum based on the dimensions of your tractor, like so:
- Take the length, multiply by the width to get the total area of the tractor
- Divide by 2 to give each chicken 2 square feet
- Subtract one, since the feeder and waterer will take up around 1 square foot each (adjust this as needed for larger feeders/waterers).
So for example, with our 5’x6′ tractor (download our free plans here), these calculations result in a capacity of 14 chickens. However it’s worth noting that, technically speaking, the PVC fittings in our design add about 2 inches in both directions, thus you get an additional ~2 square feet for a total of 15 chickens, if you want to be precise!
Looking for a complete guide to raising your own chickens for meat?
Check out our book “Dinner From Scratch: How to Raise Meat Chickens” for all the info you need, from detailed materials lists to step by step instructions to checklists for daily care to keep everything running smoothly. Click here to check out the paperback on Amazon (also available as a Kindle eBook)
General CHICKEN TRACTOR TIPS
- Make sure the bottom is flat on the ground. Any gaps could allow sneaky predators in
- Make sure to have ~1 foot of chicken wire / hardware cloth extend outward from bottom of tractor to prevent digging predators. Consider weighing down the flaps if they do not lie flat
- When you move the tractor, go slow and be careful. Watch your birds and don’t injure them if they aren’t paying attention!
Other uses for Chicken Tractors
We’ve actually found that chicken tractors are good for more than just raising meat birds. Obviously you can use them for temporary housing for chickens that you want to observe separate from the flock for any reason (health issues, laying monitoring, etc.).
You can also use it to screen soil:
We even use them indoors while your chicks are feathering, and just hang a heating lamp over it.
If you want to build your own chicken tractor, we’ve put together some totally free plans for a super simple design using PVC pipe and fittings. Doesn’t require much skill, tools, or time and it will last a long time!