Last year we raised 15 Cornish Cross meat chickens. I’ll admit, butchering day was tough, but those were the best tasted, totally organic chickens I’ve ever eaten. So this year we decided to up how many we raised. Then Mom asked me to raise a few for them. So this year we’re raising 40 Red Ranger meat chickens. I decided to do it right and built a DIY chicken tractor to house them.
I adore Joel Salatin’s book, “Pastured Poultry Profit$.” Even if you’re not looking into raising meat chickens for yourself or to sell, this book is great for every chicken person. Joel is such a wealth of information as far as raising chickens, their health, their housing, and yes, butchering too. I’ve got quite a bit of this book highlighted for continual reference.
Joel’s DIY chicken tractor design has been tried and tested in just about every way over the years, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong following his design. There was only one issue…
I’ve been wanting to expand our garden area. We originally fenced in a 3000 square foot area to be the “garden.” Inside this square footage is the 12’x24′ greenhouse, original chicken coop and run, and the run for the newer larger chicken coop. A third of this area or so, is the garden. The rest is grass. We planted grass in the area soon after we bulldozed it, to help keep the weeds down and make it easier to maintain. I wanted to expand the garden into the grass area.
We’ve slowly been converting the existing garden into a Back to Eden garden, covering it with wood chips. I know a common way to start a new garden, especially a Back to Eden garden, is to lay down newspaper, compost, and then wood chips, but have you ever been to a newspaper printer? That newspaper you read is anything but organic, and I’m determined to keep my garden completely organic. I don’t want the chemicals that go into printing the paper in my food. Maybe I’m a bit overboard, but its my garden and my choice.
So… how to get rid of all that now established sod? With a DIY chicken tractor of course.
Anyone who has chickens can tell you how quickly they can take sod down to bare dirt. But that meant that Joel’s exact chicken tractor plans wouldn’t work for me. His tractors are 10 feet wide. My large garden gate is just under 7 feet. I can keep this year’s chickens in the garden just fine, but next year I’ll need to be able to move them out to the backyard and move the tractor to fresh pasture daily. So I used his basic idea, just scaled down.
At 6.5′ by 12′, the 40 meat chickens have just under 2 square feet each, which is more than Joel suggests. Meat chickens are notoriously lazy and don’t move much, which is good for quick growth. Instead of ripping 2″x4″s like Joel does to save on weight, I used full size 2″x4″s. Once the tractor is outside the garden, it will be subject to neighborhood dogs coming through the yard. I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t get flipped over or broken into easily.
I used some leftover metal roofing to enclose one end, including one third of the roof, giving the chickens a completely protected space. I keep the enclosed end facing the direction the wind usually blows. The other sides of the tractor are covered in chicken wire. I know its not the strongest option, but I didn’t want to impede any grasshoppers or other juicy bugs from jumping in.
The final 2/3 of the roof has a removable roof made of coloured cast acrylic sheets, also leftovers from the greenhouse. This is where I can access the tractor to fill food and water and round up the chickens when butchering day comes along. I put a ratchet strap over this part on windy days, just to be safe.
I used removable 8″ mower wheels on the enclosed end for moving it around (They slide on and off heavy duty bolts that stick out of the ends). Its a bit heavy, but I can move the tractor by myself fairly easily. I just have to remember to pull the water container out, which sits on the ground. The feed bin hangs from the middle roof support.
I intend to build a partition wall to close off the enclosed end of the tractor for butchering day, just so I don’t have to crawl in after birds.
I’m loving my newly expanded garden area. Every time I moved the DIY chicken tractor, I’d haul wood chips in to ensure weeds wouldn’t immediately return. So far so good. I know next year this area will be my most productive part of the garden! Making my chickens work for me is one of the my favorite parts of having chickens and moving them to new “pasture” helps with the feed bill. Cleared and fertilized garden all at once! (Harvey Ussery does something quite similar, but uses a specific tractor built the same size as his garden beds!)
Get your copy of Pastured Poultry Profit$ for complete written plans of Joel’s chicken tractors and so much more info today!