Coming out Against the Chicken Tractor concept

Advertisement Purina Flock Layer


11 Years
Aug 1, 2008
After 5 years, I'm throwing in the towel on the "chicken tractor" and building a permanent coop. I find it problematic that this system is frequently marketed/ aimed at the small, urban chicken keeper, when it's really better suited for a LARGE space-- a large, level lot at the very least; at least an acre or more would be better.

I really liked the theory of birds on fresh grass every day, but hadn't fully considered how much grass that actually takes! We built our coop and run as separately-moveable parts, so that each could be a little bigger, and ended up with a coop of 3'x4' and a run of 4'x6' (the whole structure covers 4'x9'.) Our lot is a typical urban double-lot of 1/8 acre, but is really sloped; the only 'useable' part for chickens is the backyard. There is only space there to move the coop maybe 12 times before starting over-- maybe a little more with careful shuffling. That means that (if actually moving once a day-- another issue) the coop would be back where it started within two weeks-- well, it doesn't take very many repetitions of this before all the grass is torn up, the yard is dead, and the chickens are less happy than they'd be even in a typical run with deep litter to scratch about in.

Given that situation, of course I caved and let them free-range practically constantly, only putting them back in the tractor for bedtime. Free-ranging, they destroyed every garden I tried to put in, of course, and we've lost a fair few to predators-- more, I think, than we would have with a permanent coop. There's also the fact that a moveable coop will always be less secure than its permanent cousin: there's no way to bury the wirecloth into the ground to prevent diggers, and the structure will be lighter/ flimsier so that it's light enough to haul around. With a permanent coop, you're limited to the space you have to build, the money available, local laws, etc; but with a tractor you're limited to the space you can literally drag or wheel. No matter how small you start, Chicken Math will set in after a few years-- those lovely heirloom hens go broody fast, and wouldn't it be nice to let them set some eggs? (ETC.) With a tractor, you cannot follow the seasoned advice of "build a bigger coop than you think you need; you will eventually have more chickens!" because of that hauling-it-about limit.

If we were in a different situation, I would do it again: if we had half an acre or more, I might build the same kind of tractor. If we had several acres, I'd build a BIG moveable coop, the kind you'd need a truck or ATV or something to drag, and use electric fencing instead of a run. But for a small urban lot like ours, I really think that a larger, more comfortable, permanent coop, combined with thoughtful free-ranging, is the way to go.

We're going with a Wichita-style coop (small elevated coop within a covered run), and they'll still get out into the yard when the time is right (e.g. not when the garden is newly planted, and only when we're home to watch them!). Some of the advantages this setup has over our tractor:

*The run will be full-height (6-7') and fully roofed. We live in central Virginia, and get plenty of rain, snow, and sun-- it seemed like the tractor's run was never comfortable for the girls-- either a soggy mess when it rained, filled with snow if it snowed, and full sun at all the wrong times. A roofed run will solve so many problems, and the height will give them more room to move around per square foot of ground.

*We're sizing up to 6x by 12x, so that they'll have plenty of room per bird-- no more dimensions based on weight!

*It'll be built with full-sized lumber, since we don't have to worry about weight, and will have the recommended hardware-cloth apron buried around it; much harder for predators to get into.

*The compost created by the deep litter method will help get the chicken manure into the garden beds, instead of all going in the the used-to-be-a-lawn.

Of course there are downsides, too, mostly the higher cost and higher skill level involved, but I am so much happier with the new design.

Anybody else have tractor- regrets?
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I was pretty happy using the tractor method on a fairly flat parcel. I set the run to 3x10, and let the chickens completely decimate the patch. Then I moved them, let the patch mellow for awhile, and planted. Saved me having to take out grass! But at my new house, I switched to a fixed coop and free range in the fenced back yard. I garden around the chickens, and garden for myself in the front yard. I'm pretty happy. My biggest complaint with the tractor was making it predator-proof made it a nightmare to clean! And it was heavy as hell and hard for me to move around by myself.
We built a chicken tractor thinking the same thing only to find out that our land was not that flat either. After fighting with it for a couple of months we have made it permanent and added and run to one side. If only we could do it over. We would do thinks a lot different.
I think all of your points are sound. Before I was seriously considering chickens I fell in love with a tractor I saw on Williams Sonoma but pretty quickly realized it would never work out in my sloped yard so I'm building a wichita style coop too.

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