This is my family’s automated chicken tractor. I call it “automated” because the pop hole door opens and closes on a timer, and I designed and built a feeder and a waterer to give me 3 or 4 days between feedings. I move the chicken tractor every 3 - 4 days anyway to avoid killing the lawn, and clean it once a week. So besides letting the chickens out to free range if I feel like it, I only have to deal with the coop twice a week. (My four hens are only 10 weeks old and not laying yet.)
For my basic design, I pretty much copied the Henpen, available from Rooster Hill Farms at http://roosterhillfarms.net/our_henpens_chicken_tractors. I saw that they had built a 4’ x 10’ frame out of 2x6 boards, with lawn mower wheels hanging off one end and the bottom corners rounded to allow for better sliding and less wear on the grass. After I built the sled, I built the frame out of 2x2 and 1x2 boards. The top of the unit is 4.5’ high. The low side of the run is 2.5’ and the low side of the coop is 3.5’ tall.
With the right side doors open, shown here, you can see the three nesting boxes. This door opens down and hangs open from two wires at a 90 degree angle (shown). I currently have them blocked off from the chickens with a piece of an old T-shirt I stapled up. They are too young to lay eggs right now, and they were using the nesting boxes as perches and toilets, so I blocked them out. Above the nesting boxes, you can see a little shelf area I made to store stuff in. I didn’t want the chickens going on top of the nesting boxes to perch and poop, so I made this little area, only accessible from the outside. To the right you see the top of “silo” of the feeder, currently filled with pullet feed.
Up high, you can see the top roost and a small window. The window doesn’t open, but I might change that. At dusk, you can see all the chickens gathered by the window, even before the pop hole door closes for the night. You can also see here the hinges along the roofline in the foreground. The front of the roof is latched down, but can be opened for cleaning or ventilation. I have not yet devised a way to prop it up, or a defense against predators when it is propped up.
You can also see the ramp I attached to a cross beam/low roost in order to keep it off the grass. I ended up having to double the number of rungs on the ramp because the chickens couldn’t seem to get a good grip. At the top of the ramp, you can see a 1x4 roost I put in the run. The chickies love to be up high. I had to install a poop guard above their food for when they sit up there, which you can see below.
For the waterer, I dropped the pipe down, through the fence, then used a 45 degree elbow and a 22.5 degree elbow, so that the final segment is at a 22.5 degree angle, shown above. I installed four poultry nipples down the length of that segment so the chickens could have varying heights to choose from. My chickens are only 10 weeks old, and they already use all four nipples. At the bottom end, I put on an end cap that could receive a standard garden hose ball valve. This allows me to open the end for emptying and cleaning. I filled my water “silo” to the top, and it took me maybe 20 minutes to train my chicks to use the poultry nipples.
The entire cost of this coop was just over $300. That does not include the Chickenguard, which cost about $200 and had to be shipped from the UK. (The Chickenguard is overpriced and took three weeks to get, but it works great. And why don’t we make this product in America?) The reason I was able to build this tractor so cheaply is because most of my materials were either salvaged or purchased from Uncle Benny’s (http://unclebennysbuildingsupplies.com/) here in Loveland, Colorado. They sell all kinds of used and salvaged construction materials. If you have a place like this around, definitely look there first before you go to a big box and buy new. For example, I bought the three sheets of ¼” plywood I used on this project all for $15. On another day, I gathered up all the PVC I needed, the vent, three soaker hoses, and six door hinges with screws, took it to the front counter, and the guy shrugged at me and said, “How about ten bucks?”
Some stuff was odd or specialized enough to have to buy new – poultry nipples, magnetic catches, locking latches, etc. Some stuff I bought new due to aesthetic sensibilities. For example, I could’ve gotten several roofing materials that would have worked at Uncle Benny’s, but I liked the look and weight of the white corrugated plastic roof. I was only able to use a little salvaged wood for the framing – too twisted and weathered. Heck, it was hard enough to find acceptable pieces of new lumber at the big box store. I couldn’t find matching used lawn mower wheels, so I overspent on those too. But I saved on paint, because there was lots left over from the last time my house was painted. All the paint ended up being free, plus the tractor matches my house perfectly.
https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/coup-d-etat) Moving it is not hard for me, but I’m a grown man who hits the gym a lot. My wife and 13-year-old daughter can heave it around if they have to, but my 7-year-old daughter (and newborn son) don’t stand a chance. Note the small door into the run, shown in this picture, on the far side, under the left side of the coop.
All in all, I think it was a good freshman effort, and it should house our four hens in style. When winter approaches, I'll deal with freezing water and such. But I've got quite some time to mull that over, since we hit our first 90 degree day of the season just today and most of my seedlings haven't even gone in the ground yet. I'll update on my plans for the cold Colorado winter.
UPDATE! I have found that my hens wear out the grass directly under the feeders in about a day. So now I always place the chicken tractor were the sidewalk is directly under the feeders. I still move the unit every 3-4 days, and the grass is doing fine now.