A chicken tractor is a mobile chicken coop, usually without a floor, which lets your poultry forage freely on the land, while protecting them from the elements and predators.
The thinking behind it is that the chickens then do a wonderful job of clearing a patch of weeds, weed seeds, insects and grass. they also loosen the soil and spread their manure the length and breadth of the space available to them. They are provided with a nutritious, varied diet and will reward you with golden-yolked eggs. The meat will also have a good flavour.
By moving the tractor regularly you are left with a series of spaces for garden beds each the shape of the tractor. Spread a light dressing of lime, mulch each new area heavily and plant away – a great way to start a vegie patch.
Because the chickens are moved to a new pasture spot frequently, the requirement for pre-mixed foods is reduced. The natural growth in the garden helps to supplement the diet of your chickens.
As the portable chicken coop has no floor, major cleaning will not be necessary.
The coop occupies only a small area on the yard. If you are not going to plant on the patch that they have cleared, this gives time for the garden to fully re-grow before the chickens feed on that patch again.
The movable coop can be moved to safer locations when bad weather arrives. Move them to the shade when sunlight is too harsh or under cover if there is a torrential downpour. They can be moved away from muddy areas of the garden to where fresh grass is available.
Another issue with a fixed chicken coop is mice and rats living around the chicken coop, which then attracts snakes. With the movable chicken tractor, there is little opportunity for rodents to establish themselves
Mobile coops are usually small enough to be moved by one or two people. This is most important, because if it is not easy to move you will keep putting off the job, thereby defeating the purpose.
There is a huge variety of designs available, of both ready-made coops and DIY projects.
Some smallholders make their coops by recycling items that they have on the plot. They might use the frame of an old swing seat, pallets or old trampolines, or even the grass catcher box from a mower as the nesting box.
There are many plans available free of charge on the internet, although not all of them are detailed enough.
Some tractors are round and domed, some are rectangular with A-frame sides or perpendicular sides. If you intend planting on the patches that the chickens have cleared, the shape of the bed that you want will influence your choice of coop shape. Round beds of course lend themselves to mandala planting and intercropping.
Some are big enough for a few chickens, others can house many more. If you want a coop that one or two people can pick up and carry easily, it should cover an area of no more than ten square meters. Some designs have a set of wheels on one end and a pair of handles on the others, so you can wheel it around like a barrow. Others need to be towed by a bakkie or tractor.
Number of chickens
The permaculturists tell us that a flock of twelve is the ideal size. Up to twenty, the birds can recognise all the members of the flock and can establish a pecking order. If there are more than twenty chickens it will be more practical to have more than one tractor. In this way you can separate warring cocks as well.
If you are making your own mobile chicken coop, choose a design that uses light materials, like PVC pipes, to enable ease of mobility.
Ready-made chicken tractors range from very modest to “Nkandla” to fanciful gypsy-styled caravans, and come at a great range in price.