John Suscovich,
His Nifty Chicken Tractor
and
The Young-Farmer Movement

Dateline: 22 November 2013


Kate and John Suscovich

Some younger people don’t aspire to doing much with their life. Most, however, probably aspire to getting some sort of good-paying job working for someone else, putting in their 40 hours a week and, hopefully, getting ahead. 

And then there are those few who make things happen for themselves; they catch a vision for a desired way of life or an entrepreneurial enterprise (or both), then pursue the vision with vigor and passion. They work long days, with dogged determination, to make it happen. They harness initiative and creativity. Such people almost always eventually achieve the goals they seek. And, all along the way, their example inspires others.

I believe John Suscovich is one of those people. I want to introduce you to this young man and what he is doing...

John’s passion is agriculture. His wife, Kate, shares the passion. After visiting many small-farm enterprises on a 5,500-mile cross-country bike trip, they apprenticed at an organic farm in Connecticut in 2012. Then, in 2013, John and Kate started a chicken and herb CSA. John processed 60 chickens a week this past year and sold them for six dollars a pound. As I understand it, he also worked for another farmer during that time. And Kate had their first baby, Mabel Grace, this last summer.


There are many aspiring small-scale agripreneurs like John Suscovich in the local-food, sustainable, "young-farmer movement" and it is great to see. 

John, however, may be a bit different than most because he has some better-than-average marketing skills, especially when it comes to the internet.  His web site, Foodcyclist.com is an ambitious effort that reflects John's focus and creativity. He has a farm blog, and a farm podcast, and has produced numerous YouTube videos. 

Beyond that, if you watch some of John's YouTube videos you'll see that he is an affable guy, which is another plus when it comes to starting an agripreneurial venture. 

John also has a web site called Farm Marketing Solutions, which is dedicated to helping start-up farmers better market themselves and their farms. If I were an aspiring young farmer, I would learn everything I could from John—from his example, and from his marketing savvy. With that in mind, check out John's YouTube movie telling How To Start A Farm With No Money



 Suscovich Chicken Tractors


Those are some nice chicken tractors, eh?


I know about John Suscovich because he sent me an e-mail and told me he had created an e-book telling how to make chicken tractors. I don't know how he happened to e-mail me. Maybe he has seen my Whizbang chicken plucker, or the amazing poultry shrink bags we sell. Whatever the case, he did exactly what someone who has created a new product  should do—start spreading the word.

I've been there, especially when it comes to marketing a how-to book. I know how much work it is and I know how I appreciate people who  have taken an interest in my books along the way and helped me by telling others about them on their blogs. 

Some bloggers are so focused on making money with affiliate links, advertising, and selling their own products that they aren't really interested in helping someone else, unless they can make money at it. That's not me. I don't have affiliate links, I don't have any advertising (unless it's for my own products), and I am delighted to use this blog to help anyone with a useful, "down-to-earth" product or service that I think my readers will enjoy knowing about.

So I checked out the complimentary copy of John's new "stress-free" Chicken Tractor E-Book, and I must say that I really like his design. Fact is, I like it so much I plan to make one (at least one).

John's chicken tractors are made to fit on the 6' x 12' trailer he uses to haul things on his farm. The tractor footprint is just about 60 square feet. He built 12 tractors for his chicken operation and puts 30 chickens in each tractor.

The structures are made with pressure treated lumber frames, 2' high on the sides. The roof is made of 3/4" electrical conduit "rafters" covered with a tarp. The door on one end allows people to walk into the tractor.That is a great feature. The chicken feeders and waterers are suspended and travel with the tractor as it is moved.

The tractors are moved by hand, pulling them with a rope on one end. Moving is made easy by two wheels that are temporarily slipped over a protruding bolt at the other end. 

John uses his chicken tractors only for raising broilers, but he says they could be outfitted with nesting boxes for a few egg-layers. They can also be covered with plastic and be used as a small greenhouse. I like that idea. 

John's e-book has a material cost breakdown and he figures each tractor has around $160 in materials in it. He makes it clear that he chose to use high quality (pressure treated) lumber, but the tractors can be made for less using other materials.

The e-book is 31 pages long. It has clear specifications for each component. It has lots of photos. It has links to YouTube movies that better explain certain things. It has additional information about the feeders and waterers he made, and how he raises his chickens. The book has a nice overall appearance.

On the downside, the tractor design requires a conduit bender to get the proper bend in the "rafters"…. and the know-how to use the bender. That's probably a stumbling block to a lot of people. The plan also calls for half-lap joints in the wood frame. It is possible to mortise the wood for these joints with an electric skillsaw and a chisel, but a dado blade in a radial arm saw is a much better tool. So, if you follow John's plan exactly, you will need some equipment that most people don't have—or you will need a friend with the equipment to help you.

Like I mentioned, I intend to make one of John's nifty chicken tractors, but I haven't done so yet. Therefore I can't tell you how well the tractor goes together. Chances are, when I get to making one, I will modify the design to some degree. One modification I'm pretty sure I'll make is to add some sort of long diagonal brace on the 2' high sides. A long brace would give the structure a whole lot more racking strength. And I think I would like to have the tarp on the roof come all the way down over the sides. But the finished product will retain the same overall look, and all the best design features. 

John's book sells for $19.95. If you Listen To This Podcast (at least the first few minutes) John gives a discount code you can use to get the book for 25% less. Discount or not, I think the book is worth the cost if you want to make yourself a nifty looking chicken tractor with some real nice features.

By the way, John Suscovich also has an affiliate program for anyone who wants to sell his e-book at their blog or web site. If someone clicks through and buys a copy, you get a commission. I considered doing this but I decided against it. The guy is working hard, providing worthwhile products, and  trying to support his family. I'd like to see him get the most from every book he sells.  





16 comments:

Kathi Dunphy said...

Very attractive...but alas our local raccoons and foxes would see this as a travelling buffet..

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I like the design, simple and effective though I would replace the low chicken wire with the metal lath material that comes in sheets, it is very strong yet you can see through it. I might even put a battery powered fence charger on it as we are overrun with coyotes, coons, fox and even bob cats. A design like this can be modified easily!

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Kathi,

Thanks for the comment. Any kind of "tractor" full of chickens is a temptation to various predators. John discusses this in his book and has a picture of a bobcat by one of his tractors. Any varmint would have to work very hard to get through a well-wired tractor. 1/2" hardware cloth can be put on the lower 2' of frame for the best defense. I've lost chicks to a small critter getting through a gap under the frame.

Herrick Kimball said...

Sunnybrook Farm,
Metal lath would do it. A Strand of electric fencing around the tractors would also make a big difference. This is mentioned in the e-book.

Anonymous said...

Hi Herrick,
Interesting - I've got his webpage bookmarked for further reading. Thanks -

Well I just got my clothespins. Ha - tried to puzzle out the best way to assemble without looking at your directions. Well that lasted about 1 minute with a busted fingernail to boot (not really broke - just bent…) . Once I looked at your assembly picture I saw my error and had them together in a breeze. I reckon you must have some sort of tool to quickly assemble the hundreds you've sold. Either you made a mistake or I lucked out because the wood “pins” needed no sanding whatsoever. I'll use them indoors for model building and light clamping. Very fine product and I think a bargain. They’ll last forever indoors and a long time outdoors if given a modicum of protection from sunlight and rain.
Kind Regards,
Muns

P.S. Interesting to note there seemed to be a variance in spring tension when assembling. None were loose and all clamp extremely very well but I thought I felt a definite difference in tension in a few springs. Possibly a point of discussion when you order your next batch.

Cynthia (C.L) Lewis said...

We're thinking of doing a few broilers this spring. This tractor would do nicely. Thanks for the link.

Herrick Kimball said...

Muns,
Thanks for the positive feedback on the clothespins. I do have a clever clothespin assembly tool that a friend of mine invented. You are right that there is some very small variation in the springs and I think that is just the way it is with an inexpensive torsion spring. I watched the cnc spring-making machine make some of the springs. It is a technological wonder. Then they go on a conveyor through an oven for heat treatement and the coil tightens up. I think the minor variation happens during the heat treatment .

Cynthia,
Raising a few broilers will be a great family project. It's a good feeling to have your own homegrown chickens in the freezer.

Sonja McCart said...

Thank you for this post. It is very inspiring to me, as both my parents were raised on family farms, but got "careers" and I ended up on a "career" path too. My dad went back to farming 30 years ago and now doing the same is all I can think about.I have debt and other obstacles but I know with determination and some sacrifice it can be done.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Sonja,

I'm glad to know this post has been inspiring for you. I wish you the very best as you pursue your farming dream.

Sheila said...

Very nice, and it's so refreshing to hear about young people getting "the light" I will be checking out that book for sure. I hope to have chickens this spring, and had considered a tractor too.

I got my clothespins together too, and I LOVE THEM!

You see, I'm from the "old school" and even the ones I remember from my youth, were never this good. I had to do almost no sanding either, they turned out perfect, and I just know that they will last a very long time. I am really thrilled with them.

I will be purchasing more too.

Herrick Kimball said...

Shheila—
Thanks very much for the great feedback on the clothespins. I so glad that you are happy with them.

Warren said...

Herrick,

I try not to be a Salatinite and I believe (as I think Joel does too) that his ideas are just waiting to be improved upon by the next generation. That said, there seems to be some design issues with this one from my own experience (I've raised several hundred chickens over the last few years). I would like your thoughts on them:

1. Although it seems nice to be able to walk in the tractor, this is rarely necessary on a daily or even weekly basis. At the same time, it seems like it leave the chickens exposed to a lot more of the elements. This is good if it is a warm sunny day, bad if it is a wet cold rain.

2. The "standard" Salatin tractor is 10x12, or 120 square feet, and holds approximately 70+ chickens. This one is less then half the size and holds less than half the chickens. For commercial application, I am moving twice as many tractors (twice as much time) for the same number of chickens.

3. I lost several chickens from paws through the chicken wire before adding hardware cloth to the bottom 12". I can only imagine that would be a requirement (as you mention).

4. It seems like he has traded out the weight of the metal roofing for the weight of the hefty structure. Only time will tell if this is a worthwhile trade.

All in all, I would have liked to have seen several years of testing before all the marketing. If he changes the design or continues to tweak (as we all will do), everything will need to be updated. My initial thought is that it is a good family tractor for small batches each year and in that sense, is a lot more fun than the Salatin tractor.

Thanks for exposing me to new ideas!

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Warren,

That is a good analysis. Thanks for posting it. I still plan to build something akin to the design, but I'm not a commercial poultry raiser. I think that walking into the cage would be an especially nice feature when it comes time to round the birds up for "processing."

Anonymous said...

Herrick, I accidently duplicated some items on an order. But I can't find an email link to contact you so I'm posting here. Please tell me how to contact you concerning this.
Debbie Kirkland

Anonymous said...

I recently bought the plans and built this tractor. I am two weeks out from harvesting my first batch of chickens In it. I really like the height compared to other designs and I actually do go inside pretty often. It may sound crazy but sometimes I hang out inside with them and observe how long they eat and drink water.
I use a 5 gal bucket to fill the water bucket so I have to do this from the inside. I found that I can feed them from the door by lifting one side of the PVC feeder and letting it slide to the other end until it fills. Then I can move the tractor since they follow the feed as I'm moving it and most of them move along good although a few are getting a little slow the biggest they get. I then can go in with the water and walk on fresh grass instead of a buch of poop.
I highly recommend the design. My biggest problem was bending the conduit which was the last thing I expected to have trouble with. I finally figured out what to do with the help of an online conduit bending calculator I found online.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that you can use these for rabbits too.
They said to add chicken wire to the bottom part of the cage so the rabbits can't dig under and get out. When I get my little farm going I plan on doing something like this for both rabbits and chickens.
Great idea!