Chicken tractors are all the rage these days. Urban hobby farmers are keeping a few laying hens in tractors in their backyards, bigger producers are using them to pasture their poultry before selling processed birds at a premium price, and chicken enthusiasts everywhere are using tractors to simply provide convenient housing for their fowl. So what is a chicken tractor, exactly? And what are the benefits of using these portable housing structures to raise chickens and other poultry? Read on to find out.
What Is A Chicken Tractor?
A chicken tractor is a portable poultry housing unit that allows birds access to grass, bugs, seeds and other tasty morsels; chickens that are kept in tractors not only mow the lawn and keep the bugs down, they also fertilize the ground that they are rotated on. There is an endless variety of chicken tractor models – everything from small A-frames on wheels to giant structures that can be pulled with a tractor. Some chicken tractors are designed with a nesting box area for hens to lay their eggs in, and some are rather sparsely furnished. Some are constructed from PVC pipe and a DIY plan, and some are made from wood, painted like a barn and topped with a weather vane. One thing that all chicken tractors have in common, though, is that they provide the birds with easy access to the outdoors while keeping them protected from predators.
Chicken Tractor Benefits
Poultry that have been raised in a natural, outdoor setting are healthier than birds that are raised entirely indoors – and chicken tractors provide an easy way for growers to pasture their poultry. Jonathan Hale, an employee at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va., a leader in natural agriculture and local food movement, said that there is a “huge difference” in eggs and meat from chickens that have been raised in the farm’s ‘Egg-mobiles’ and portable broiler housing. “The eggs are a lot richer,” said Hale, “and the meat is a lot cleaner.” He also noted that customers who are unable to eat commercial eggs due to health problems are able to eat the farm fresh eggs from the pastured hens at Polyface Farms. Raising poultry in tractors can also help save money on feed costs. “The most notable benefit of keeping chickens in tractors is knowing what’s in the food fed to the chickens,” said Greg Samuel, owner of Portable Livestock Shelters in Seymour, Mo. “Their diet is supplemented with protein from insects and grass, cutting down on supplemental feed costs.”
Chicken Tractor Management
The most crucial part of managing a chicken tractor is ‘location, location, location.’ In other words, chicken tractors have to be moved. Moving tractors keeps chickens from compacting the soil, killing the forage and building up manure. How frequently a tractor is moved depends on the size and the number of chickens it holds, but most tractors typically need moved every few days. Jess Lyons from the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri, noted that eggs laid in chicken tractors need to be gathered regularly to avoid eggshell contamination. Providing birds in tractors with clean fresh water and a balanced feed ration to go along with the insects and grass will ensure pastured poultry success.