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New and Improved Chicken Tractor September 29, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

We’ve been working a couple of hours here and there for a few weeks now on a second “chicken tractor.” Our first one is still in service, but we wanted to try a different design this time. We opted for a “hoophouse” style using PVC pipes for the “ribs” and wood for the frame and nesting boxes. Another important change was the addition of wheels to hopefully make this one easier to move around the pastures. It’s been in use one day and already we’ve made notes about how to build the next one differently.

Here are some pictures of the work in progress.


(Rachel was in charge of handing the screws to us as we worked. Superman came to bend the “steel” PVC pipes into place for us. Rachel is standing on what will hold the water fount. On the other end, the nesting boxes are under construction).




(We used 2 x 4 inch fencing over the PVC ribs. I primed and painted everything made from old scrap wood for durablity. The bottom frame is pressure treated wood. You can see the roosting rails across the middle for the chickens to sleep on and to stay out of wet grass).



(This last week, Benjamin turned the chicken tractor into his one-room schoolhouse, insisting on doing all his work inside while I did odds and ends on it).



(The tarp is on about 2/3 of it for shade and protection from the weather. The nesting boxes are hinged on top to allow us to gather eggs from outside the tractor. We have had a lot of predator problems lately, so there is a clasp on the lid to hopefully keep out critters).



(This is the sunporch end. The door also has a locking hasp. You can see one of the wheels in the center of the picture and one of the purple tow ropes on the left. Notice the crowd of prospective buyers checking out the new real estate).


Last night, we decided to try and catch the remaining “tree-sleeper” teenager chickens and put them in the new tractor. They will shortly begin laying and we would like to actually HAVE the eggs. These chickens have always been somewhat independent and no doubt would lay eggs in some secret place that we would never find. Often, they don’t show up for breakfast even when called, preferring to find their own food away from the humans than to get a handout within arm’s reach.

After dark (and during halftime in the Auburn/South Carolina football game), we went out to attempt the capture of 10 wily chickens once they had roosted in their favorite evergreen tree. Did I mention that this tree is taller than the 2 story house and the branches are long, but not terribly sturdy? I plucked a few out of the tree several weeks ago by pulling the branches down until I could reach them. They’ve since decided the higher branches are the place to sleep.


Benjamin quickly climbed the tree and tried to shake them off the branches. They can apparently ride out quite a storm without falling. Next, he tried to push them off the branches with a stick. Many jumped onto the stick instead, but jumped off again before they could be handed down. Joe decided to try to climb the tree himself to give it a try. Carefully choosing the branches most likely to hold him, Joe was able to shake or push the chickens off the branches. Unfortunately, capture was quite difficult nonetheless.


Standing below, flashlight in hand, I tried to grab them out of the air as they came flapping to earth. The flashlight proved to not be all that helpful, since I couldn’t catch well while holding it. Besides that, I couldn’t tell from where they would suddenly emerge since the branches were so thick. Another source of difficulty was all the “help” we had for this project. Gathered beneath the tree beside me were 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a chattering 4 yr old. A couple of times, a chicken I had been unable to grab out of the air landed right in front of me. I was a split second from snatching it up when a dog or cat beat me to it and sent it squawking and running crazily across the lawn. In the end, we got only 3 teenagers moved into their new residence. We’ll try again tonight, but this time, we’ll lock all the dogs in the laundry room and have the kids hold their cats and hope for a better outcome.




1. Coming Through…Every Chicken for Himself! « The Farm Chronicles of Blessed Acres - October 3, 2006

[…] The moment before I saw the blur, I noticed Napoleon running and then bulldozing over Josephine to get under the low branches of the “treesleeper’s” evergreen. That is what made me look more closely- unfortunately, I have come to learn that if the chickens are running, I usually need to go find and deal with a predator, (or at least a naughty kitten or child). […]

2. An “Eggs”ellent Business Opportunity « The Farm Chronicles of Blessed Acres - January 8, 2007

[…] At some time in the future, we’d like to start doing that, but we’ll need to build a lot more chicken tractors and a Whizbang Chicken Plucker before we’ll be ready. (Always a long list of projects we want to […]

3. Rebekah - May 5, 2009

You said “It’s been in use one day and already we’ve made notes about how to build the next one differently.” My dad and I would like to know what those things are, we’re new to chickens 🙂

4. Laura - May 6, 2009

Hi. Welcome to chickens and all the fun!

We’re in phase 3 of our design and still don’t LOVE the it. Our biggest issue has been balancing “lightweight” with “sturdy.” Wood frames on the bottom are good for keeping the tractors from turning over in the wind and keeping their shape well, but the more wood, the heavier they are to pull, especially in tall grass. To help, we try to bushhog the strip of grass ahead of the tractor. Our latest design has the entire end hinged to make it easier for people over 8 years old to get inside, but they also can allow flighty birds to escape when opened.

Uneven ground must be watched with a rigid frame design, though. Raccoons, opossums, etc can get into small openings, so we keep small pieces of wood nearby to wedge underneath.

We have used tractors with both laying hens and meat birds. Our experience has been that hard-working heritage breeds can really tear up a plot of ground in 24 hours. It’s great that they rustle up so much of their own food, but it takes the ground a while to recover, or we’ve had to reseed behind them. The meat birds pretty much camp out in front of their feeders, so they are ideal for fertilizing the ground without pulling out the grass.

We have varied the number of birds inside the 4 x 12 spaces. Most folks will say you can keep bunches of birds in that amount of room, but we’ve found 8 layers to be the max for us- maybe up to 20 for the meat birds. Otherwise, one bird often gets picked on, eggs get broken, and there isn’t a blade of grass left the next morning. It’s a good bit of work to move multiple tractors and haul water to them so we are trying to decide if we will use them for layers at all anymore. Ideally, we’d run them only over the ground we are “resting” for next year’s garden- let them eat all the weed seeds they can, fertilize the ground, and tear up any blade of grass that tries to take hold.

If that doesn’t answer your questions, I’d be glad to be more specific. Email again anytime.

5. Laura - May 6, 2009

I went back and glanced at the blog posting and realized that we have gotten rid of those nesting boxes, completely covering that end with wire. They made that end entirely too heavy to drag. Since then, we have tried various things, most recently setting plastic storage totes (with a hole cut in one end, full of bedding of some sort) inside. They are cheap and lightweight, but require opening the tractor, getting them out & removing eggs, moving the tractor, and then putting them back inside- another extra step that adds several minutes to the chores when you have multiple tractors to take care of.

6. DiamondJFarms.com - July 26, 2009

Instead of putting the tote box on the inside, couldn’t you snip an X in the wire, place the box with corresponding hole in the plastic next to it, fold the wire through the hole (epoxy glue or sew wire to hold). This way box with eggs is on the outside. Just unsnap lid to collect eggs.

7. DiamondJFarms.com - July 26, 2009

A thought on preventing “fly-away” of 100% pvc frames, would be to use a “dog stake out” (the cork screw type, that you hand twist into the ground). One of these on each side with a double sided snap to clip right to the wire, should be enough to hold it down, even in a Strong wind.

8. Debbie Laga - March 12, 2010

Hi! We are going to make a chicken tractor this summer so that our chickens can free range, but we have problems with predators: the neighbor’s dogs for one, and foxes, raccoons, etc. How do you keep predators from digging under the tractor at night?

9. Laura - March 13, 2010

We haven’t found a sure-fire guarantee to keep them out and any low spots or holes have to be filled in/covered with spare pieces of fire wood (or something somewhat heavy). We did have a problem a couple of summers ago with a raccoon. We moved the tractors back closer to the house so the dogs were more likely to hear or smell and it finally moved on.

Predator dogs have always been a problem (one killed every bird inside for sport one time when I forgot to clasp the door), but they can sometimes be persuaded to dine elsewhere with a pellet gun.

As aggravating as it is, we just count on losing a certain percentage as part of it. We have a few that truly “free-range” to eat ticks and I’ve seen hawks carry them off from the yard not 30 feet from me. It’s infuriating, but there is only so much you can do.

Oh, someone else once recommended to me those motion sensor red lights that run on battery as a good deterrent. We’ve never gotten around to trying them, but some people swear by them.

Hope it goes well for you!

10. Aaron - September 22, 2010

“Hi! We are going to make a chicken tractor this summer so that our chickens can free range, but we have problems with predators: the neighbor’s dogs for one, and foxes, raccoons, etc. How do you keep predators from digging under the tractor at night?”


There are tractor designs that have a ramp that goes up into secure coop above the lower run area. The ramp can close at night keeping the predators out and the girls safely locked in.

You can see an example at comfycoops.com of what I am talking about. In Seattle chicken coops are becoming very popular and the chicken limit just got raised from 3 to 8. Hoary!

11. Jayson England - January 17, 2011

Would love to chat by email about what changes you decided to make after building the hoop chicken tractor. Need to build one for my birds cause they keep pooping all over the walking areas and it is driving the wife nuts.

12. Brian - October 25, 2011

Would love an update and an list of supplies. How many birds in this pen?

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