Chicken tractor

We have a lot of weeding to do on our farm and it seemed a good idea to get the chooks to help. Chooks are very good at removing weeds and bugs as they scratch away at the soil – hence the name chicken tractor. They enjoy having plenty of green feed, and a mobile hen house that could be towed by a tractor or car was the answer to getting the chooks to work where we wanted the ground cleared of grass and weeds between grape vines, around fruit trees, and before preparing beds.

My husband made this mobile hen house from a discarded farm trailer as one of his “chain saw carpentry” projects. He built the framework from 75 x 50 and 50 x 25 pieces of hardwood we had around the place. He bolted the framework to the sides and base of the trailer, and covered the frame with hardwood planks. The roof was made from alsonite sheets, but corrugated iron could be used. The sloping roof prevents rain pooling, and allows a ventilation area which was covered with chicken wire.
The back flap of the trailer was removed, and replaced with a drop-down door that is made from 10 mm waterproof ply cut to the full height of the structure. The door is hinged at the base so that, when opened, it forms a ramp for the chooks to get in and out of their house. Several rows of tomato stakes can be screwed in across the ramp for traction. Our chooks fly in and out of their home but the “steps” are helpful for chicks and pullets. The door is held closed by a piece of 50 x 25 timber that drops into a bracket on each side of the house structure.
Three nest boxes sit in the timber and plywood structure across the tow bar. This part has a hinged plywood lid for easy egg collection and cleaning, checking on babies, etc.. This trailer had timber sides, and it was easy to remove the panels from the side over the draw bar, but this section can be cut out of a metal trailer with an angle grinder.

Perches are wedged diagonally across the interior for roosting. We have had up to twenty chooks sleep happily in this sized house. The floor is covered with an old tarp that can be pulled out for quick cleaning. The hen house was constructed pretty quickly – my husband has had no training in woodworking, so it’s an easy DIY project for the average person. This hen house has served us well for quite a few years but, as you can see, it could do with a coat of paint.

The hen house is moved by tractor (in the early am before the chooks are let out) to an area that needs weeding. We set up a heavy duty chicken wire fence supported by star stakes around the weedy area, with two stakes closer together at one end to form a gate. You can use anything for a gate, really. At the moment we are using a rack from a commercial freezer (perfect). Where the ground is uneven, the 1 – 1.2m high fence is anchored with tent pegs or bent fencing wire. We always make sure the chooks have clean water and shell grit, and the area under the hen house provides shade for the chooks and their water dish if there are no trees in that section of the farm. It also provides a safe hiding place from cruising eagles and hawks.
As well as plenty of green feed, the chooks get the best kitchen scraps (except for potato and avocado), some cracked grain each day, and sprouted oat seed twice a week.

8 thoughts on “Chicken tractor

  1. The chicken tractor page you have written ( kitchen scraps, except for potatoes and avocados ) for what reason do you not feed them to your chooks.
    Opinion is divided on these foods, Peter. The skins and stones of avocados contain persin, which is toxic to birds. According to some poultry keepers, avocado flesh gives the birds diarrhoea, which can result in dirty eggs. I would only discard avocado pulp that is diseased and, as it is quite soft, hens walking through it can spread soil disease.
    The main problem with potatoes (a member of the nightshade family) is that all parts of the plant contains solanine (a neurotoxin) which is the plant’s defence mechanism against disease and predators. (Sweet potatoes belong to a different family.)
    When exposed to light, potato tubers increase production of solanine, resulting in a green colour close to the tuber surface. This problem is becoming more common as loose potatoes in supermarkets are exposed to light for many hours every day. The old practice of keeping loose potatoes in hessian bags, or in dark storerooms, avoided the problem.
    The green colour under the potato skin is chlorophyll, but it indicates that the whole tuber has increased production of solanine. Cutting off the green parts does not remove the neurotoxin. Consequently, even if only part of a tuber surface has a green colour, the whole potato should be discarded, and the peels should NOT be fed to poultry. If hens are regularly fed potato peels, the neurotoxin can accumulate in their bodies. The best place for potato peels is in the compost pile. Hope this helps – Lyn

  2. Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is very useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. I have used a chook tractor very efficiently for several years in my backyard, every two weeks I moved the chook tractor to a new vegetable garden, The original design come from a permanent culture book.

  4. We are looking for an idea to be able to move the chhoks around as well but sadly dont have a block big enought to justify a tractor…The only problem we had with them weeding the garden is that they weeded everything and not just the weeds! Would love any ideas on how we can manage to stop them…
    Chicken tractors come in all shapes and sizes and there are lots of examples on the internet. This website may give you some ideas on a style that will suit your garden.
    A simple solution is to put in some star stakes to mark an area you want weeded, surround it with chicken wire to make a pen, and put the chooks in there for the day (with some clean water of course). If the weather is hot – put some shade cloth across the top of part of it so they can rest in some shade. – Lyn

  5. They will clear the soil of grass too, Mirjam. We use the chooks to weed around perennials where they can’t dig out small plants, and only let them in the vege patch where we want to clear an area.

  6. Now there goes a clever idea. i like it, but do the chooks only take the weeds or do they eat the nice and good stuff too?

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