February 28, 2013

Budget Chicken Tractor

Earlier this month I found myself engaged in what has become a February ritual around here over the last ten years: kneeling in the middle of the crushed granite garden path trying to yank all the little clumps of fescue out of the ground before the warm temperatures cause them to go to seed and guarantee next year's spring weed crop. Suddenly I thought, "Wait a second...why am I doing this? I have chickens now and this is their job!"

In fact, the chickens have done a fantastic job keeping their fenced part of the yard free of the usual spring fescue carpet. I haven't seen any green weeds pop up at all, which tells me they must have gotten all the seeds before they even had a chance to germinate. Problem is, we can't let the chickens free range in the other part of the yard because they will hop into my veggie beds and eat all the tasty produce, therefore they haven't had a chance to scour the rest of the yard for weed seeds. The solution? Build a chicken tractor out of scrap supplies and use it to confine the chickens to the foot path where they will eat fescue to their heart's delight and do my weeding job for me at the same time.

There are endless design possibilities when it comes to chicken tractors. Since free sounded really good to us, we decided to let our scrap materials dictate the design. What we had on hand was a bunch of four-foot-tall green temporary fencing, lots of 1x2 redwood boards that had been part of an old patio cover, and enough random hardware (hinges, handles, etc) to finish the job. Mr. English used basic carpentry skills and tools to put together a box with a simple door at one end, and the whole thing took just a couple of hours to make.

Cutting the boards to size

Adding braces at the corners to strengthen the tractor

Extra long top rails serve as handles for moving the tractor

Basic door swings open at the end

Bellatrix and Professor McGonagall earning their keep

So far so good! At first the chickens weren't too keen on being in the tractor, but they got used to it quickly and have almost completely taken care of the weed problem on the path in the picture above. Even though they're only in there for short periods of time (less than an hour), we added a water dish so their needs are met. We also added a simple hook latch on either end of the door, because we discovered the chickens could push their way out if they really wanted to.

We've found we need to pay attention to laying times--each time we've put Bellatrix in the tractor she has let us know within a half hour that she wants out to go lay an egg. It's best if the chickens go in after they've produced the day's egg, so they don't get stressed about it.

Can't wait to move this thing to other parts of the yard, so the chickens can take over even more of the weeding chores!


  1. I'll think of your disappearing weeds as mine are doing quite the opposite. Do we need chickens?????

    1. Yes!! You could have a wee little coop with two chickens in it, and Tom or Curt could collect the eggs when you're gone. Wonder how your other neighbors would feel about the chickens "singing" in the morning. Do you think anyone else in Kensington has chickens?

  2. We don't have much grass, but I'd love to see what they'd do to the resident tick population... I'd much rather have chickens in the yard than ticks on the kids.

    1. Chad, I've read that Guinea Fowl are better at attacking large tick populations, but they are noisier and more difficult to keep than chickens. Maybe something to consider if your neighbors wouldn't mind, but it sounds like a lot of work. More info at http://www.guineafowl.com/fritsfarm/guineas/ticks/ and http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/1/1-1/Jeannette_Ferguson.html