Friday, July 25, 2008

Our version of the chicken tractor

Our first chicken tractor involved the use of an old sign, a helmet rack scavenged from a baseball dugout that was being torn down and assorted scrap lumber. We’ve made a few improvements since then.

Our hen tractors are 3 feet tall and 7 feet wide by 8 feet long. Brian builds the nest box first. We use a “gang” box. One nest box the width of the pen 10 inches deep and 10 inches tall without any dividers. The back of the nest box is a single 1 X 10” hinged at the bottom to make a door for gathering the eggs. We create a lip on the front of the box to keep the nesting material in by using scrap lumber we scavenge from the local pallet mill. The nest box is mounted at each corner to a 2” X 2” leg, 36” long.

Next, Brian builds the base. The current version of the hen tractor uses landscape timbers that have been split in half using the table saw. It’s what we had available at the time. You could use 2”x 2” or 2” X 4” if you prefer or have some lying about.
After the base is nailed together and the nest box on its legs is attached to the back, then it’s time to put in the uprights (2” X 2” X 36”) one in each corner and one 5 feet back from the leading edge of the pen. Once the uprights are in place, then the top rail is nailed on and 2 crossbars are added to the top. Be sure your crossbars are 3 and 5 feet from the front. These crossbars will support your chicken wire. One top bar will support the door and hinges so you can access the pen. One bar supports your chicken wire so it doesn’t sage too much. We use a roll of 36 inch tall wire and one of 24 inch tall wire. The short wire just fits below the nest box and on the narrow part of the top and the 36 inch wire covers all the rest with a minimum of cutting.

Next comes the door. We built one with a door that goes the width of the cage, but decided later we liked a door about ½ the width of the tractor. It’s easier to manage and easier to open. We used plastic corrugated roofing to cover the door and the area just in front of the nest box. It’s doesn’t add as much weight to the finished tractor as metal roofing. When you are moving these pens every day minimizing weight is important.

Last comes the tedious part - applying the chicken wire. Make sure you have plenty of chicken wire staples handy and a good dose of patience. It takes longer to put the wire on than it does to build the rest of the tractor. We put staples about 6 inches apart. You want a good tight pen so you don’t get nocturnal visitors in your tractor.

The last things we attach are the wheels. We use old lawnmower wheels when we can get them and replacement lawnmower wheels from the local hardware when we can’t. Each wheel is attached to the outside of a corner with a lag bolt.

Tah Dah!! Now all you need to do is add some hay for the nest box and a few chickens and you’ll have fresh eggs every day.

If you have questions or you've created a better design, we'd love to hear from you.
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