Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Welcome to Chicken Tractors

So what exactly is a chicken tractor? Well it is simply a floor less, movable chicken pen that sometimes has an enclosed area for the chickens to sleep in and lay their eggs.

Since part of the chicken tractor does not have a floor, the chickens can eat bugs, grass, and seeds. This produces happier, healthier chickens, which in turn provides: healthy, delicious eggs from laying chickens and wonderful, finger-lick'n good, meat from broiler chickens.

Below is some info on how this chicken tractor (top right) was constructed.
The Chicken Tractor
This chicken tractor design was created by Joel Salatin in the late 80's to be able to produce meat chickens outside so they would have sunshine, fresh air and be able to eat fresh grass, bugs, and seeds. But, also provide shelter to the chickens from the weather and predators.

The pens are mainly used for raising meat chickens and hold about 75 birds, though they can be retro-fitted with nest boxes to accommodate laying hens.

Usually, the pens are made out of soft pressure-treated lumber, aluminum siding, and chicken wire.

3/4ths of the roof, one 10ft. end, and haft of both 12ft. sides are covered with aluminum siding. The rest is covered with 1 in. chicken wire stapled on to the wood.

Two 5ft. x 6ft. square doors are laid on top of the pen. One door completes the 3/4ths of the aluminum roof, and the other door has chicken wire stapled on to it to allow more sunshine into the pen. The feeder is placed under the aluminum door to protect it against rain.

These type pens cost between $150 to $200 depending on if you are buying all the materials new or if you can get some things used.

Moving the Tractor
The pen is usually moved once a day in the morning to allow the chickens to eat fresh grass, bugs and seeds. During the drier times of the year, it may be necessary to move the pen two times a day so that the chicken's manure will be spread out more and won't kill the grass as easily. It will also allow the chickens more fresh grass.

A special dolly is placed under one of the 10ft. sides. The pen is then pulled from the opposite end. A wire with a piece of cut garden hose on it(so that when someone pulls the pen, it will not cut their hands) is attached to the bottom board at each of the corners of the 10ft. side. The person then lifts up the end of the pen with the wire, holding on to the garden hose and pulls the pen with the dolly 12ft. until the back edge of the pen is where the front end was before moving.

The Feeder

The feeder can be many different designs, but, the usual method is a conventional long metal rectangular feeder about 4ft. to 5ft. long. It has a spinner down the length of the feeder several inches above the feeder, so the chickens can't get into the feed and kick it out.

The Waterer

A simple waterer is set up to allow fresh water to the chickens at all times. One round bell waterer is hung from one of the cross beams near the two doors. A white* 5 gallon bucket is set on top of the aluminum siding door and gravity flows water to the bell waterer through a 1/4 in. soft black plastic pipe. A hole slightly smaller than the pipe is drilled into the side of the bucket a couple inches above the bottom of the bucket. The plastic pipe is then pulled through the side of the bucket(with pliers) until it is two inches inside the bucket.

This efficient, yet simple waterer design is a great way provide water to your chickens.

* Note: It is a good idea to use a white five gallon bucket on top of the pen to prevent water from evaporating.


Movable chicken tractors are a great option to raising chickens. Even though the cost is some what a considerable amount for the size pen, these pens can last for up to 20 years.


Andy said...

Can you explain to me how the water system works?
If I have a waterer hanging inside the tractor and add a pipe to the 5 gal bucket on top - I lose the vacuum and all the water runs out...

Nathanael said...


The waterer that we use is a commercial bell shaped waterer that many conventional poultry houses use.

The waterer works off of water pressure from a pipe that runs down the poultry house. A 1/4 in. plastic pipe is connected to the neck of the waterer by a screw on connector. The 1/4 in. pipe slides onto one end of the connector and the connector screws onto the neck of the waterer. This prevents air from coming into the waterer and losing the water pressure.

The waterer itself has a ballast on the inside, so that once the bottom ring is full of water, the waterer automatically shuts off the water supply coming out of the downspout.

You can find these type poultry waterers online at:

There's a digram of this type of poultry waterer at:

Hope this helps.

Enjoyed reading your blog.
How old are your broilers?

Anonymous said...

Good words.

Anonymous said...

Well written article.

Megan said...

I am just beginning the "meat bird adventure" and found your article so totally helpful as I am a total novice. My partners husband does not want an unsightly massive yard decoration ruining the look of his picturesque farm and yard, so I have to make mine look chic and cool somehow. Wish me luck!!!

Unknown said...

Hi, do you know where Joel (or others) get the aluminum panels for the pens? I have looked everywhere, and nobody seems to have aluminum.

Nathanael said...

I've looked some as well for the aluminum panels. We used corrugated metal roofing panels in 12ft lengths and cut the them to size for the pen. I think that, at least in the past, that Polyface uses the corrugated metal roofing for their pastured pens.