Chicken Tractors – The Ultimate Guide
Imagine having the benefits of free-ranging your hens, while keeping them from going places they ought to stay away from.
Chicken tractors offer this exactly…
Yes, they offer the best of both worlds, and we have compiled all the information you need to build or buy the perfect tractor for you and your flock.
What is a Chicken Tractor?
Chicken tractors, or chicken arks, are among the most widely-used mobile chicken coops.
They are often compact, light, and include wheels or skids for easy portability - although one of their main features is the floorless build.
The idea behind a chicken tractor is to allow the birds to free-range in a supervised fashion, as they can do all their digging and foraging within the limits of the coop. You will not be constantly worrying How To Keep The Chickens Out Of The Garden!
Once a patch of land begins to deteriorate – which usually happens in a matter of 24 hours – you can simply move it to another spot.
This, in turn, gives you the opportunity to keep the backyard safe from the damage caused by these feathered fellows!
Nonetheless, this coop’s most highlighted characteristics are sometimes seen as major drawbacks instead.
Compact can translate to the ability of housing small flocks only, light translates to fragile, and floorless to being susceptible to burrowing predators.
Even though placing fenced wire floors are a solution to the predator problem, making or buying a larger and more robust chicken tractor would sort of defeat the purpose!
This kind of coop comes in all shapes and sizes, but a majority feature the same components of a regular chicken coop, including the enclosure and run, nest boxes, roosting poles, and dust boxes.
Why Choose a Chicken Tractor?
You should consider this type of chicken coop if you wish to free-range a small flock, but are restricted to a medium yard space, and have minimal time to clean the coop.
Bear in mind that a chicken tractor is best suited to a person who has the physical ability to move it regularly, and who lives in a region that is not prone to harsh winds or severe storms.
If you are excited by the benefits provided by the natural behavior of chickens, such as fertilizing, and turning and preparing the soil for planting, this coop can easily become your ally.
Remember that chicken manure is one of the best fertilizers due to its balance of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
For those who would like to take a look at other options before delving into the world of chicken tractors, go on and check out our post on The 5 Best Small Chicken Coops for Urban Areas.
The Mechanics of a Perfect Chicken Tractor
Keep in mind that, just like every other coop, a chicken tractor should provide the birds with shelter, ventilation, access to sunlight, and protection.
Think of what your own house provides to you and your family, and that is exactly what you want to give to your chickens.
A good way to get started is by making sure all the vital components of a functional coop are included in your tractor.
Enclosed Shelter Area
It is the enclosed area which will provide most of the shelter from all the basic elements such as the sun, wind, rain, hail, and snow.
This is also the spot where the birds will lay their eggs and sleep.
Therefore, key elements you want to consider are:
- Ventilation, and
- Location (How or where to situate it).
When buying or building a chicken tractor you want to be catering at least 2ft2 of sheltered space per bird.
Remember that this is the absolute minimum figure, and will depend on the breed and size of the bird, as well as whether or not they are laying chickens.
To avoid this, the enclosed part of the coop needs plenty of ventilation.
Keeping your chickens den clean and ventilated is an important factor to consider when creating considering a chicken tractor. This will minimise the risk of your chickens getting disease. To find out what type of diseases can occur from a dirty den, click here!
A suitable place to install windows is on the upper part of the enclosed space, right above where the chickens roost at night, so they don’t get a draft flowing onto their faces.
Finally, always situate the tractor so that it remains closed off on the cold and windy sides, while leaving the open area facing the sun.
This will shield the chickens from cold winds, and keep the coop warm and cozy.
The Eggs’ Den - Setting up a Practical Nest Area
Nest boxes are where your chickens will lay eggs.
Key elements you want to consider are:
- Bedding material you will be using, and
- Easy access.
Normally, one nest box works well for every four hens with each box measuring 1ft2. An alternative is to make a long nest box without dividers, following the 1ft2 per four birds rule.
Some chicken keepers buy or build coops with a long nest box with dividers that can easily be inserted and removed to later adapt it to what their birds prefer.
Out of instinct, chickens favor secluded spots in which to lay their eggs.
For that reason, you want to place the nest boxes in an isolated space within the enclosed coop area. Above and to the side usually works well for most hens.
Locating them high up and close to the roof is also practical because it will prevent the birds’ excrement from landing on them.
If you do not, then a roof on the nest boxes can protect your eggs from being pooped on. An added plus is that the chickens will be less likely to peck at the eggs when the boxes are positioned above eye level.
A landing bar set in front of the boxes will do the trick in helping hens wriggle into their nesting territories!
Materials such as hay, pine shavings, wood chips, or shredded paper suit perfectly as nesting fabric.
An overlap on the front part of the nest box will stop the nesting material from falling out.
Lastly, having nest boxes with easy access from the outside will make the egg picking and cleaning a lot less time consuming and effortless.
The Snoozing Spot – Crafting the Perches
In their natural environments, chickens sleep on tree branches at night. Hence, roosting poles or perches are where chickens sleep when in a coop.
Key elements you want to consider are the size and shape of the perches as well as their elevation.
Flatter and wider roosts are often found to welcome chickens’ feet better and, regularly, 2” x 4” or 2” x 2” square dowels seem to work just fine.
The length of the perch will depend on the number of chickens that will be using it, but you will want to give about 9” inches of space per bird.
This measurement may seem insufficient for some, but because chickens like to squeeze against one another to keep warm at night, 9” ends up being more than enough.
For elevation, you want a perch that is at least 10” off the ground, and that isn’t so close to the roof that they end up hitting their heads.
One last thing to remember is that the perch has to be well secured and sturdy enough to hold all chickens at once.
When in their natural environment, these little omnivores enjoy foraging and scratching at the soil to look for seeds, insects, and larger animals such as mice, lizards and even snakes.
If it is not possible to free-range your chickens, a run area is recommended for them to be able to go on with their inborn behavior.
Learn more about how to raise your chickens under a healthy diet with our ultimate guide on What to Feed (and What Not to Feed) Your Chickens.
A run is also a place for them to roam around and benefit from the natural sunlight. Laying hens, for instance, need 12 hours of sunlight for their egg production to be at its optimum.
The ideal run provides an area of 8ft2 per bird, and should be high enough so that it offers easy access for giving the daily water and feed or cleaning when necessary.
The last thing you want to be doing is making your way into the run by crouching and bending into uncomfortable positions!
Finally, you must make sure to include a sun shade cloth or a covered space so that the chickens have access to shade.
If there is a threat of burrowing predators where you live, just add fenced wire floors that have openings big enough for the birds to eat and scratch through.
The Parasite Repellent - Mighty Dust Boxes
Lice, mites and similar parasites are a constant drag for chickens, and dust boxes are the easiest way to avoid or get rid of them.
Go through Backyard Chicken Coops’ post on dust bathing for further information!
Though they are rarely included in purchased coops, it is cheap and simple to build or buy one.
The box should be around 2ft2 and have about 18” of height, and must be placed either under the covered shade area of the run or inside the coop to prevent it from getting wet.
Once ready, simply put a 2” layer of dry soil and mix it with a bit of diatomaceous earth or wood ash to boost its effectiveness against parasites.
Bringing on Motion: Wheels or Skids?
You will want to use wheels or skids for the easy movement of the tractor.
Small tractor coops can be conveniently moved with either or, while large tractor coops are best moved on wheels.
Lawn mower replacement wheels work well for small wheels; wheelbarrow wheels are great for medium-sized options, and garden cart wheels are great for larger alternatives.
Two wheels mounted on the heavy side of the tractor where the enclosed shelter area lies will allow you to maneuver it easily from the front side when moved.
To learn how to mount wheels on a chicken tractor without fail, have a look at this video.
Skids are two large wooden boards attached to the bottom of the coop. When using skids you can use a hitch to attach it to a lawnmower to pull it, or just pull it yourself.
To prevent the skids from digging into the ground when moving the coop, simply round the ends!
For more design and building tips, check out this video below:
3 Common Chicken Tractor Designs
Find out which of these chicken tractor designs fits your needs:
Small Chicken Tractor
Small chicken tractors fit 6 chickens or less. Both wheels and skids can do the trick in making this type of tractor portable.
In comparison to large tractors, the small ones are easier to move, clean, and maintain.
Large Chicken Tractor
Large chicken tractors generally fit between 7 and 15 chickens, and in some cases even more. Wheels are more convenient for making this kind of tractor portable.
In comparison to small tractors, large ones are a bit more time consuming when it comes to moving, cleaning, and maintaining.
Some bulkier designs, on the other hand, are best moved with the help of a trailer and an all-terrain vehicle.
A-frame Chicken Tractor
A-frame chicken tractors are basically the original A-frame coop on wheels or skids.
This type of chicken tractor has a straightforward build that tends to be extremely light and is consequently easy to move, clean, and maintain.
This triangular-shaped coop, however, presents all these benefits at the price of having to sacrifice space and, at times, ventilation.
Therefore, A-frame chicken tractors are more suitable for small or medium-sized flocks of bantam chicken varieties.
DIY Chicken Tractor Plans
Depending on your needs and budget, the following chicken tractor plans may help you decide which one is fit for you:
Harvey and Ellen Ussery’s A-frame Chicken Tractor
This chicken tractor with wheels works perfectly on smooth, flat terrains and can hold up to 18 hens without difficulty.
Its metal roofing makes the coop solid enough to withstand strong winds and its wheels are removable for those who wish to collapse the tractor onto the ground to provide extra protection against predators.
Wire flooring can also be added to make it completely predator proof.
Worthy features include the inner braces of the coop also functioning as the perches, and the nest boxes are accessible from the outside.
The cost of building it is of approximately $500.00, though using reclaimed or recycled wood, as well as surplus materials, can lower this figure substantially.
Harvey and Ellen Ussery’s A-frame Chicken Tractor is best suited for those with a large flock who are looking to build a simple, functional, and durable coop in 2 to 4 days’ time.
You can find the detailed plans, list of materials, and step by step guidance on how to build it on their website.
This affordable chicken tractor works well on flat terrains and can fit up to 12 hens.
Although it is quite short in height, the coop has abundant room and moves easily on skids.
To provide protection against burrowing predators, a wire floor can be installed to these kinds of mobile chicken tractors.
Some important features of this tractor are the easy access to the nest boxes from outside, the repurposing of self-cleaning milk crates as nest boxes, and a swiveling landing bar that can also be used to block the nest boxes to prevent the birds from pooping or roosting in them.
The cost of building this tractor is of about $200.00.
Justin Rhodes` “Makes-Sense” Chicken Tractor is best suited for those with a small or medium-sized flock who are looking to build a wallet-friendly and spacious coop in 4 to 7 days’ time.
You can find the detailed chicken coop plans for 12 chickens, list of materials and tools, and specific instructions on how to build it on his website.
This large mobile chicken coop works best on smooth and flat terrains, and provides plenty of space for the chickens in the run.
The tractor moves on two wheels, but because of its heavy weight it has to be moved using a small full-terrain vehicle.
Features of this tractor worth mentioning are the easy-access to the nest boxes from outside, the ample run that allows easy-access to provide daily water and feed, and two windows in addition to a pop-hole for ventilation within the enclosed shelter area. It can also be used as a stationary coop.
According to the Kerr Center, the cost of building this tractor is approximately $300.00.
The Kerr Center Chicken Tractor is a suitable option for those with a small flock (around 4 hens) in a medium to large terrain who are willing to invest a couple of weeks in building a bulky and wind-resistant coop that provides a lot of run space.
However, the best match to this tractor is someone who owns a small full-terrain vehicle or something similar to be able to move it around.
You can find a more comprehensive description, as well as the free chicken coop blueprints in this PDF.
Solar Cabin Chicken Tractor
This uncomplicated chicken tractor that runs on skids works best on flat or slightly rugged terrains and can hold up to 6 large hens.
It has an elevated, enclosed shelter that provides extra space and shade to the run area below.
Key features include easy-access to the nest boxes from the rear, an additional door at the side of the coop to let the chickens free-range from time to time, and ventilation holes on the upper sides.
Unfortunately, the coop has no easy access through the run.
The cost of building this coop if using recycled materials is around $50.00.
The Solar Cabin Chicken Tractor is a suitable choice for those with a small flock in a reduced terrain who are looking to build a budget tractor in 2 to 4 days’ time.
You can find the plans and list of materials on Instructables.com.
This A-frame chicken tractor is effortless to build and pleasing to the eye!
It can accommodate up to 3 chickens and, despite not having any wheels or skids, can be easily moved by one person.
The coop features just one door to access the roofed area and its general design is very basic, so vital parts like the perches and nest area would have to be installed in a creative way.
Such a chicken tractor is best suited for those with a small flock who are looking to build a simple and aesthetically pleasing coop, and who are interested in adding his or her own ideas onto an elementary chicken tractor.
Chicken Tractor Joel Salatin
A chicken tractor forged by a chicken- and sustainable farming connoisseur (slash) pioneer…
Joel Salatin’s Chicken Tractor was created by Mr. Salatin in the 1980s for the purpose of raising meat birds in a free-range fashion without having to sacrifice shelter from the elements or protection from predators.
His original design is made to hold up to 75 chickens and building it required only three materials - soft-pressure treated lumber, aluminum siding, and chicken wire.
Now, his design has become widely known and more and more people have adopted and modified it to raise egg-laying hens.
The cost of building can range between $150.00 and $200.00.
This tractor features a very simple build, that provides lots of shelter and run space as well as space to add a few nest boxes if necessary.
The coop, however, is made for large flat areas, and tends to be quite heavy, which makes it difficult to be able to move it left or right... it will just move straight!
Looking to Buy a Chicken Tractor? – 3 Chicken Tractor Kits that Caught Our Eye!
If you opt for the easy and hassle-free way, these chicken tractor kits can help set up your own:
This medium-sized, two-storey chicken tractor made from plastic, aluminum and steel is suitable for 8 to 10 birds and performs best on smooth, flat surfaces.
It includes an EZ-lift system for easy movement in addition to easy access to the nest boxes.
The coop’s stairway can also act as a door to prevent the chickens from going to the run at night, and has a sliding gate for when chickens are to free range.
If need be, you can install corrugated plastic skirts to protect the birds from extreme weather conditions.
The Egg Cart’n Classic costs $1,389.00 and it is best suited to those with large flocks who are searching for an easy-to-move tractor that has a modern feel and will last for a long period of time.
Take a look at how the crew at Lewis Family Farm put together their own simple, plastic PVC chicken tractor on their website… or check out these light Geodesic Dome PVC chicken tractor kits that are for sale.
Pawhut Deluxe Portable Chicken Coop
This small chicken tractor for sale made from fully treated and grooved Chinese cedar is suitable for 3 birds and performs best on smooth, flat surfaces.
It includes two wheels, a sliding window for ventilation, and heavy duty galvanized wire to make it predator proof.
It also has an extra screened side window to allow for more ventilation during hot months, a sliding access door with a ramp, and built-in, slide-out dropping tray for easy cleaning.
The Pawhut Deluxe Portable Chicken Coop is best suited for those with a very small flock in a reduced yard and are looking for a decent coop to start out with.
Gambrel Barn Mobile Chicken Coop
This portable chicken coop on wheels holds up to 5 birds, and is made from solid plywood.
The coop's material is only primed, not painted, allowing you to choose your own colors. The design allows for easy-access to the three nesting boxes, and a floor that comes included.
One of the biggest assets to this coop is the human-sized door attached to the sheltered area which allows for easy access and cleaning.
The Gambrel Barn mobile chicken coop is available for $1,699, and is most suitable for poultry owners with a larger budget who prefer a sturdy, high-quality coop that is easily (color-) customized.
It takes the right chicken tractor to give and get the best out of your flock while taking care of your backyard and yourself.
All that there is to do now is to get your hands dirty and begin building or assembling the tractor of your choosing.
If this article solved your chicken tractor doubts, please let us know in the comments below and share!