My husband and I live on a small island in Washington State and enjoy a lifestyle that encourages us to re-purpose and recycle as much as possible. Thus our new chicken tractor was born of almost all recycled, scavenged and re-purposed materials. Despite the used materials, I think we have come up with a design that will serve us and our birds well.
We had a few goals we wanted to incorporate into the design. We wanted it to be easily moved by one person, be useable year round, large enough for six to eight birds, keep our birds safe from an abundance of predators, be made of re-purposed materials and fit over the footprint of our existing garden rows. We live on 10 acres and spend considerable effort growing food for our household. We want our chickens to contribute not just eggs to the operation, but labor and fertilizer for our garden. By being able to place the tractor over the garden rows, we hope to incorporate the chickens into the cycle of preparing fallow beds for planting by letting them till, fertilize, weed and work compost materials into the soil. After doing this myself for many years, I look forward to having some help!
Here are the plans Kurt designed. It took considerable discussion to get to this point as we needed to align our vision for the tractor and include features that I wanted, such as exterior access nest boxes that would be removable in order to get the tractor through the gates of our two fenced garden areas. We looked at lots of pictures of tractors online, and picked and chose various aspects to include. We both liked the rounded look which reminded me of a pioneer wagon.
Kurt also started the process of identifying and collecting materials. Like most small farms, we have a "junk pile" along one fence line that holds all sorts of treasures you never know when you will need. He also has an incredibly well-stocked work shop and studio (my husband is a retired sculptor), which always seems to hold any tool he could ever possibly need.
The run is starting to take shape in this picture. It is 10 feet long. It is up on saw-horses and will remain here for about the next month. The two ends of the run are made from scavenged plywood, in an attempt to make the tractor as light-weight as possible. The base boards are treated 2x6s we found on the beach. Winter beach walks often produce good finds as the winter storms restock the beach wood.
The wheels for the tractor are recycled from an old BMX bicycle. They were obtained from the scrap pile of a local bicycle nonprofit (http://www.ptrecyclery.org/).
The corner brackets were re-purposed from a shipping pallet delivered to a neighbor. This is also a good shot of the axle.
Kurt welded an axle so that the wheels raise and lower by moving the long handle. You may notice the handle is repurposed from an old garden rake.
Here is a close up of the bicycle wheel and its axle. At this point the handle for the axle is not inserted.
The coop is starting to take shape in this picture. The dimension of the interior coop space is 3x4 feet.
Scavenged metal tubing serves as braces for the coop face that is the end of the run.
Here the coop has taken its final shape and the top has started construction. The first purchased materials for the project are the four 1x4s that frame the curved top of the tractor. The black ribs are plastic pipe repurposed from old garden hoop houses.
The round holes on the side of the coop are where the nest boxes will go.
Looking into the coop, you can see the round hole that will eventually lead to a nest box. The door has been constructed on the back face of the coop. We had a lot of discussion around the shape of the door and finally opted for the round shape to give good access and keep the circular motif.
The coop door is hinged. The top can be flipped down to gain access without opening up the entire back end.
The bottom part of the door is kept tight with metal turn latches. The top flap will have its own latch eventually.
One of the project supervisors was our 15 year old dog, Ailbe.
This is the door leading from inside the run to the outside in order to allow the chickens to free-range. Here the door is closed.
And the door open.
Close up of the mechanism for holding the door open.
It is fashioned from a small piece of sheet metal (old roofing) and a screw.
Above the door holding device you can see a cord that goes through a small keyhole in the wood.
This is the lift for the coop door that goes into the run. The door sliders on both sliding doors were crafted from metal re-purposed from used window screens.
A catch has now been added to hold the wheels in the lowered position which allows for it to be moved.
The removable nest boxes have been added to the sides. They are constructed from more left-over metal roofing.
The boxes are held in place by a bent nail on each side. Pull out the nail.....
...and slide the box off.
The top of the nest box flips down to cover the hole and is secured in place with turn latches.
Finally time to paint! Checking out our paint collection we decided an iron oxide primer would get us close to the "barn red" we desired.
The doors we painted white. And for good luck we decided to paint a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Hex symbol on the main coop door. We will take all the help we can gather to protect our birds from the myriad of predators out there! In this photo it is sketched on with pencil prior to painting it.
Finally off the saw-horses and on the ground. The 1/2" hardware cloth is on. This was our second purchased material in the project. We found a good deal on Amazon, free shipping with prime.
The roofing has been installed and the tractor is ready to go outside and see the light of day. We had recently replaced our greenhouse roofing and used the old opaque roofing to cover the tractor. This is over both the run and the coop. My hope is that the increased light exposure will help with those long, grey winter days here in the Pacific Northwest.
My husband Kurt, the designer/builder of our new chicken tractor.
Here is the view of the finished Hex symbol on the coop door. I chose a traditional motif and used colors I found in our paint collection.
Here is a photo of the tractor with its wheels down and able to be rolled.
And with the wheels raised and the run resting securely on the ground.
Here are a couple of videos of the project. The first one gives an overview of the finished tractor. The second one shows how the tractor is moved.
No doubt we will have changes and additions to make to the tractor as we put it to use. While I feel the coop is constructed securely for predator protection, a main concern is predator-proofing the bottom of the run. Since we want the chickens to have full access to the garden beds when we place them there we don't want to fence the bottom of the run. We do plan on placing the tractor within another fenced in area at all times (our garden and orchard are perimeter fenced for deer), so that coyotes and dogs will be excluded. We are also considering the idea of constructing a hardware cloth apron that would encircle the tractor and help limit the ability of predators to dig under the run. We also have yet to figure out all the details of food and water access. I want to install a pvc/nipple system inside the run, but that still lies ahead.
I hope this information might be helpful to someone else considering a mobile coop!