We are adding broiler or meat chickens to our small farmstead. We are attempting to build a Joel Salatin of Polyface farms styled “chicken tractor” more accurately called a mobile pastured poultry pen. These types of chicken tractors are pretty popular among backyard broiler operations. The basic concept is to build a simple upside down box and allow the chickens access to the ground safely. The upside down box keeps the chickens safe from flying predators, and most ground predators. You move the box regularly to give the chickens access to “fresh” ground (bugs and grass) and keep them out of their own manure while adding beneficial fertilizer to the ground. This is a form of mob grazing applied to poultry.
Chicken tractor from 2″ x 2″ treated wood
After attending a lot of “night classes” (also called watching teaching YouTube videos). I have seen a lot of variants of these chicken tractors made from way two heavy materials, and I have seen a lot of them made from “2″x4″” ripped into things like 1″x3″, and such. I have decided to use 2″x2″ treated wood. One reason I am making them from 2″x2″ is that I do not have a table saw to rip the 2″x4”. Also, I think the 2″x2″ make a good balance between strength in weight in this application. I choose “pressure treated” as it is wood that is designed to be outside.
We went down to our local big box store. The “wood guy” was helpful. I choose to make this tractor 8’ long primarily because that is the longest wood they sell in this particular big box store. He let me know that most of these long pieces are horribly warped or twisted. Thus we cut open about three bundles to find enough straight pieces to build this particular tractor. The helpful wood guy informed me that when they find pieces that are very warped they put them in the “70% off” box. This may be a place to hunt if you are trying to build this on the cheap. For a chicken tractor, bent or warped wood may be completely sufficient. I did find you “fight” with warped and twisted wood when screwing it together. I went back a couple of times to pick up more stuff I need, like more 2×2’s, aluminum siding and screws.
My son and I started by building the bottom box. I decided to make it a similar ratio to the 10’ x 12’ pen Joel Salatin uses. One reason is 8′ was the longest pressure treated wood I could easily find. Another is that my fairly small son has a better chance at moving this sized box. In several of the “classes” Joel offers it says, build the box that you can move. Thus I decided to make it 6’ wide x 8’ long. I figured my kid could pull the chicken tractor or mobile poultry pen if I am not around. A core principle is that you move this tractor regularly. My plan is moving it before I go to work “the job in town.” However sometimes you may want to move the tractor twice in one day, like when the birds get pretty big, and thus my son can move the tractor again when he gets home from school.
One thing I did a fair amount of research is that Joel puts 75 birds into a 10’ x 12’ pen. That is 10 x 12 / 75 = 1.6 square feet per chicken. To try and maintain that ratio with a 6’ x 8’ tractor I am looking at only 30 birds. Joel also said that he wants to maintain less than 10% loss ratio, which is why I purchased 33 Cornish Cross chickens.
As you see in the pictures for anyone who can spell wood, this is a pretty easy build. Thus it was possible for me. I used decking screws in pressured treated wood, as I wanted to build this thing once and have it last awhile. At a 2″ x 2″ wood, you only can put one screw in at a point, or you split the wood. I added a couple of badly cut corner pieces to add more rigidity to the structure. We built the top, and then we made the up and down post, most likely called something.
Then both of my middle children and I help put it together where I screwed the entire thing. Then I grabbed the 2’ chicken wire and started to staple it to the wood. Then I discovered two things. The one I had made the “up right” sides too long. I had made the “stand up post” 2’ long. Well, that meant that the overall tallness was longer than 2’ chicken wire. Also, my staple gun was broken. I went out and got a new staple gun, and then had to take the box apart so that the “uprights” were cut the right length. Remember this step.
After cutting the upsides so that the overall length of the bottom 2″ x 2″ (which are not 2” as most people who can spell wood know but I did not) and stapling the chicken wire. After that, we started to put on the aluminum siding for the top and the back. I realize it may be optional if you put chicken all the way around the box, you may want to leave the back without chicken wire as you are going to cover it with aluminum. However, I also realize that it may be more secure, and give you the option of removing the aluminum siding so that you can get airflow.
After covering the back and the top with aluminum, I started on the “door.” Man, that thing took me some time. I cut and cut, and cut. I have never hung hinges; thus I had to keep trying to figure out how to do it. I eventually found a way. I am pretty sure, I chose the wrong hinge and the wrong way to build the door, but I got it done. I covered my pen door, with chicken wire. The door acts as a “sun roof” for the pen.
I was amazed that the more “stuff” we added made the “poultry pen” more stable. It does not twist at all when we move it. It also, of course, made it heavier, but I think it will work. We stapled the chicken wire a lot. My buddy wanted me to use “roofing screws” on the aluminum to try and limit water accumulating in those points. We put our existing egg laying chickens or layers in the tractor for a few days just to see how it works. My improvements I still need are:
- I need to add handles to the front and back.
- I also need to add aluminum to the sides.
- We have decided “dolly” rather than wheels. Those are out to a fabricator.
I notice we get a lot of rain and wind through the night when it is cooler. Thus the chickens try to get out of the wind even though they are fairly dry. By putting more aluminum around the sides in the back, they will have the ability to stay drier and warmer. From “night classes” I have learned as long as chickens stay dry and out of the wind, they can deal with a cooler temperatures.