I was in CA when I first saw movies like Food Inc. I had always wanted to have a farm. But learning more and more about our food industry made me want to have a farm where I could raise my family’s food. Continuing to watch educational movies eventually drove me to wanting to start a business around healthy food options. If you have ever watched some of the movies I have you are probably somewhat aware of Joel Salatin from the Polyface Farms and his methods for sustainable farming. It is from him that I learned this style of chicken tractor.
Joel is well known for how he raises his animals. One of his better known methods is his 10’ x 12’ x 2’ chicken tractors where he raises his pasture raised meat chickens. I finally got to a point where I was ready to raise enough chickens to justify my own chicken tractor. So I finally built one.
Here is a picture of the traditional Polyface Farms chicken tractor with wood framing and corrugated steel siding.
We have gone through several batches of chickens by now. Some somewhat successful, some not so successful, and now – more often than note ENTIRELY SUCCESSFUL. The problem with our first couple of batches of chickens is that we lost so many for lots of different reasons. This drove us to a point where we bought an excessive amount of chickens expecting to lose some to the dogs, some to sickness, some to other chickens, etc. This time around we were able to raise all of our chickens without any issues.
Our first batch of chickens were from commercial GM chicks..accidentally. We have eaten most of them as many were roosters. Here are a couple from our original batch. They are HUGE!
We recently bought more chicks as it is spring time and every feed store around has them right up front for you to fall in love with. We bought 20 or 40 here and there. We ended up with 100 various breeds of chicks.
These guys got big quick! So we hade to consolidate them into a bigger 300 gallon bucket. (notice that there are some beasts in this batch…they are all the same age!)
This didn’t last long either. We had to build up some new brooding boxes of appropriate size. These are 8’ x 4’ boxes with a divider in the middle. This took my gym over real quick! But totally worked for the time being. These are grow beds from my aquaponics system. We are planning to build 4’ x 8’ x 2’ boxes to replace these before the next batch of birds are started. As you can see the geese can see over the 1’ sides pretty easily.
We had to do something fast to stay ahead of this poultry train. So at this point I finally committed to building a Salatin style chicken tractor. This would allow me to raise up all of my birds even though half were for meat and the other half were for eggs (we will build a laying tractor next) in a pastured but controlled manner.
After reading about all the ways to build this style of chicken tractor I learned one important thing. The wooden tractors tend to get a bit wobbly at the end of each season and require some up-keep to keep them going. I decided to build mine out of steel instead. We started with 1” square tubing.
I built this with my kids. Great home schooling opportunity for an impromptu “shop class”. We build the basic walls first.
These chicken tractors are quite LARGE.
Here are my twins learning about keeping things square. Having 4 or 6 90 degree metal jigs for “third hands” is great on a project like this.
Here is the basic structure roughed up ready for final welding.
Then we had to add the doors to the coop. We started by attaching the ledges for the doors to rest on.
Then we built the doors themselves. Anything that causes sparks to fly is fun for the kids!
The doors were built in place to ensure that everything fit appropriately.
Once the doors were complete we welded clamped the doors to the hinges to the frame and welded them in place. The kids thought that this was pretty amazing!
Once the coop was all together we decided to add a couple supports in the middle as that is where the lifting and pulling stresses would be felt.
Once the coop construction was complete we had to build the dolly for moving it each day. The dolly is very special for moving these tractors. Without the dolly it takes at least two people…more if they are children. The dolly is about 4’ wide and about 5’ tall. To use the dolly you put the legs under the chicken tractor. Then you push the dolly all the way to the ground so that the tractors weight sits directly on the dolly in a very stable manner. The top of the dolly handle is bent up towards the sky so that the weight of the tractor rides on the wheels of the dolly and the bend in the handle.
Here is Trinity grinding!
Here is Drake taking a turn on the grinder. This was his favorite part. Notice that the feet of the dolly have flat tabs to make getting under the tractor easier. The axle is just a half inch round steel that pairs with any wheel you can find at a feed store or TSC. The wheels are held in place with a cotter pin and a couple of washers. The peg that Drake is grinding on is to keep the tractor from sliding to far back on the dolly.
Periodically mama and her helpers would drive by “working”…looked like they were having too much fun to call it work!
Then we painted the coop and dolly.
This sucker is huge!
Here is a demo of Drake moving the tractor with the new dolly!
Once we had everything functional we took a much needed break from working on the farm to have some water melon under the big oak.
Then we finished the day by installing the corrugated steel with self tapping screws and tying on the chicken wire with aluminum ties (normally used with a chain link fence). In the picture below I am spanning the 6’ opening with a 4’ and 2’ piece of chicken wire. I connected the two pieces with hog rings and a pair of hog ring pliers.
What perfect timing it was to move the birds. Moving your chickens or introducing them to new members, new digs, etc. is always best done at night when they are sleepy. There is much less stress on them.
The next day we went out to check on the chickens. They were so excited and happy to be out of their brooding box. They loved the grass and all the new space.
And here is what the grass looks like after you move the tractor. The chickens eat the grass down. Then they deposit all the nutrients (in the form of poop) that the grass needs to grow back stronger. We move the chickens once a day…every morning. Towards the end of their growth cycle we will move them twice a day as they start to consume more grass.
And here are the happy birds!
Interested in farm fresh pasture raised better than organic chickens? We will have some meat birds and egg layers ready in the near future. Watch for news in the near future as our CSA becomes available.