Dateline: 5 August 2007
It was a year ago this month that I blogged a photo essay here titled, Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractor. I introduced the practical virtues of my eight-year-old homemade chicken tractor. That old tractor (now 9 years old) is looking shabby but it's still perfectly functional and currently serving to hold five turkeys. Since I’m now raising turkeys in a tractor, I needed to build another for the chickens. Here’s a picture of my newest chicken tractor:
If you read my previous chicken tractor blog, you will notice that my new unit looks a lot like the old one. That’s because the old style has served me so well. But I have made a few changes and I kept track of my expenses too.
One difference between my old and new chicken tractors is that the new one is a foot wider. It measures 6ft by 12 ft. The hoops are 3/4” pvc water pipe, just like on the old version but the wider frame means this new tractor is lower in the center. The center height is 40.”
Another difference is that I made the closed end out of 1/2" CDX plywood instead of waferboard (a.k.a., Oriented Strand Board). CDX plywood is made with exterior glues and will not rot out as quickly as waferboard.
When making my new tractor I moved the Plasson bell waterer a few inches nearer to the door on the closed end. Now it is easier to access for cleaning.
I left the 10 inch wheels off the tractor and put a rope for moving on each end. I’m the one who does the moving and I have no problem lifting a bit and pulling one side of the unit over, then the other. In other words, I move it sideways, one end at a time. It’s not as easy as moving ahead with the tires, but its no strain for me to shuffle it over. I might bolt on tires someday.
I opted to leave off the pvc drain pipe side feeders. They worked okay but I could not clean them without climbing into the cage. And filling them with feed by pouring it through the chicken wire was not an ideal situation. My newest idea for a feeder is pictured here:
What you are looking at is a long trough with skateboard wheels under each end. And there is a wooden handle on one end. My newest chicken tractor now has a removable hatch on the end opposite the door (you can see it in the picture). I fill the trough with feed, open the hatch, and roll it in. I reach in and remove the feeder for reloading and when I want to move the cage. This new feeder isn’t a perfect solution but I do think it is an improvement.
The only other change I made was to put furring strip angle braces on both ends of the tractor, instead of just one. Here’s a better view of one brace:
It is those braces, in conjunction with the furring strip ridgepole, and the 2x4 angle braces (2ft long) on each corner of the 2x4 pressure treated bottom frame, that give this tractor amazing structural strength. Furring strips are light weight, strong and cheap wood pieces. I purchased a bundle of ten furring strips at 12 ft long for this project. The bundle cost me $20.37. There were some knots in the wood but I was able to pick and choose, cut and utilize, and ended up with wood pieces that had enough integrity to do the job nicely
I kept track of my material costs for this new tractor. Excluding the waterer, the total cost of materials (including 8% NY state sales tax) was $168.24. This tractor should have at least a ten year functional lifespan. So that figures out to $16.82 a year for pastured poultry housing. I currently have 66 Cornish X chickens in this tractor. That’s okay when they’re little. But as they are getting bigger, I need another tractor. My next chicken tractor will look just like this one. That’s how pleased I am with this design.
One more thing. As some of you already know, I “pasture” my meat birds on my overgrown front lawn. Here’s a picture to prove it:
The front lawn serves as a pasture because we are working with very little land here. Fortunately we do not have any close neighbors to complain. That’s one of the nice things about living in the country. You have more freedom.
There are advantages to raising chickens in your front yard. One is that the garden hose will reach the tractor. This makes filling the water bucket and cleaning the waterer real easy. And you don’t have to walk far to feed the little critters. And you can keep an eye on them better.
The only real disadvantage to front yard chicken tractors is the manure. As the birds get bigger, the manure deposit gets heavier, even when moving the cage twice a day, as I do. My kids do not like the manure because the front yard is where they do a lot of their bike riding, football playing and so forth.
But the manure lasts only a few weeks, and sometimes it has its advantages. For example, my boys recently set up a bike jump in the front yard. The jump was nothing more than a length of 2x8 board angled up on a chunk of firewood. They, and a couple of neighbor boys, took turns riding their bikes down the road, into the front yard, off the ramp and onto the front lawn. They were filming their exploits with a video camera. One of the neighbor kids sailed off the ramp, wiped out, and hit the ground, rolling headlong onto a patch of chicken manure. It was all on video. It wouldn't have been such a "precious moment" without the chicken manure. Just the thought of watching that film clip makes me laugh.
If you liked this essay, I invite you to check out my Blog tutorial, How To Butcher A Chicken