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Fully Automated Chicken Tractor

  1. SeaberryFarm
    Fully Automated Chicken Tractor.jpg [​IMG]

    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.

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    The coop itself has a 3’ x 4’ floorplan and sits 18” off the ground. After framing it out, I cut plywood boards to make a basic box, minus the roof. I then disassembled the coop and cut out all my doors and windows. To frame each door, I cut a 1.5” border out of scrap plywood, the glued and screwed it to the panels I cut out for doors. You can see the borders painted white in the photos. The borders gave me a predator-proof guard around each door while allowing the door to nest perfectly into its place in the wall. I finished each door by installing continuous hinges, cabinet door magnets, and locking hook & eye latches.

    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.

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    I made the back door as big as I could for easy cleaning. With the back door open (to the right), you can see the nesting boxes on the right, still covered by the old T-shirt fabric, with a 1x4 perch directly in front of them. On the left, you can see two levels of 1x4 roosts, and a small ramp ascending the perches against the back wall. There is a support bar going across the width of second level, topped with a wide, flat perch.

    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.

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    The left side door is basically the entire left side of the coop. This allows for easy cleaning under the roosts. With the left side door open (above), you can see the vent I put in the back door of the coop. The chickens use it as a window and my dogs like to sniff the chickens through it. I might put in more vents. You can also see the magnetic catches I used on all the coop’s doors. They keep the doors totally closed and help keep the plywood from warping. (I hope. We’ll see.)







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    Here you can see the handles I use to move the tractor around the yard. You can also see the Chickenguard holding the pop hole door open. The run’s roof is very light plastic I was able to cut and shape with household scissors. The coop’s roof, on the other hand, is very heavy. It is a piece of plywood covered by a bunch of shingles left over from the last time my house was roofed. If I was buying new material, I would probably have used covering for the coop roof that weighed less. But free is free.

    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.

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    Here’s the business end of our automated feeding system, shown to the right. I used 2” PVC pipe to construct them. Since PVC is NSF certified and food safe, I feel confident using the PVC as not only the delivery system, but also the storage unit for the chicken’s food and water. I kept the pipes storing the food and water either vertical or 45 degrees, never horizontal, because I want gravity to do the work, and I don’t want any food or water to get stuck in the pipes, stagnating or rotting.

    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.

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    For the feeder, I cut a PVC 4-way wye in half. Then I put a piece of duct tape across the new bottom opening I had just cut. I then sculpted a floor out of wood putty, giving it a ridge in the middle so that the feed would move toward the openings. I pulled off the duct tape and painted the whole thing, inside and out, with acrylic paint. To the left, you can see the feeder before it was cemented to the rest of the PVC contraption and the exterior painted brown. Note the ridge inside of the wye that directs feed to the openings – this ended up working perfectly. On the feeder, I ran my 45 degree segment of the silo as far as I could toward the center of the coop, close to the ramp, so the plastic roof and the coop itself would block the rain from getting in the food. Since I built it, the feeder has done fine in a hail storm and some seriously sideways rain. The feeder hangs a few inches above the ground, so as not to kill the grass.

    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.

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    If I could change anything, I probably would have used welded rabbit wire instead of chicken wire. I didn’t want to spend the money at the time, but now I feel like the wire is the weakest part of the whole thing. I would also think about pushing the wheels forward a couple of feet, up under the coop, and shortening the run in that direction. If the wheels were up under the coop, the fulcum would be in a more advantageous position, and it would be a little easier to move around. (like in this chicken tractor: 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.

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  1. EastTXChickens
    Outstanding. Lots of thought for a great buildout.

    We've just built a coop, a very heavy and large tractor and are currently using the bucket method for food and water. Your system for that is fantastic. The slope that aids is watering various sizes of chicks is perfect for that need.

    I had to laugh about lumber yard quality material...I was unhappy with what my husband brought home and got an education about what's now available, what an eye opener.

    Thanks for the great post!

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