Newbie looking to design a chicken tractor

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by NorTracNY, Mar 1, 2008.

  1. NorTracNY

    NorTracNY Chillin' With My Peeps

    105
    0
    119
    Mar 1, 2008
    Macedon, NY
    This is a great website! I am looking to get a few chickens primarily for eggs and entertainment. I have many questions, that I'm hoping some of you experienced people can help me with.
    I'm looking to have 4 or 5 chickens. I live in central NY. Can I keep them in just a chicken tractor? or do I need a permanent coop also? I see that I need 4sq ft per bird in the coup (I saw this number also stated on another website, but they were selling a chicken tractor with 10sq ft and saying it was for 4-6chickens). Do I need to insulate the coup, or definitely need a heat lamp in the winter? Would 2 nest be a good number? How high off the floor should the nest be? How high should the roost be? I'm looking at having a variety of white leghorns, golden comets, and rhode island reds.
    Thank you for helping me out. I have not found a chicken tractor that I totally like, I'll post the designs I'm thinking of after some of these questions are answered.

    Mark
     
  2. raindrop

    raindrop Chillin' With My Peeps

    712
    4
    151
    Feb 10, 2008
    Western Oregon
    How rural are you? What do you think your predator risks will be? That will have a HUGE influence on your design.
     
  3. NorTracNY

    NorTracNY Chillin' With My Peeps

    105
    0
    119
    Mar 1, 2008
    Macedon, NY
    I'm on 16 acres, there's a good amount of farms and small developments here and there. I already have horses, dogs, and cats. I'm actually surprised to not hear about cats attacking chickens. My 100lbs dogs are pushovers, but my cats are predators. I have deer and a few rabbits every so often (until the cats get them). I've never seen a raccoon. We do have fox and because I see hawks I would have a top on the run. I plan to put on a little skirt of some type and may sure the ground is fairly level.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2008
  4. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    102
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:You may have space, draft and temperature issues if you try to overwinter them in the tractor. The space problem could be overcome by putting heavy-duty clear plastic over the whole tractor during the snowy months so that the chickens are not reluctant to use its outdoor portion (will reduce the amount they peck each other apart from crowding and boredom). But my experience is that it is tough to design the shelter part of the tractor to be well ventilated but NOT dump drafts right on the chickens and NOT get too cold during winter months in wintery climates. Some do it, but honestly I think your life would be a lot simpler and their life would be pleasanter if you just built them a separate coop for winter.

    I see that I need 4sq ft per bird in the coup (I saw this number also stated on another website, but they were selling a chicken tractor with 10sq ft and saying it was for 4-6chickens).

    Well, here is the thing.

    a) there are no absolutes. It just depends on how much you expect your chickens to put up with, and how much picking and cannibalism you are willing to risk (it's much likelier in smaller spaces).

    b) it also depends a lot on whether you're talking about the only space they ever have, or space from which they can go out into a run anytime during the day, or space they just live in at night because they freerange during the day. Those are three pretty different things.

    Personally, I really think if you are keeping them in the tractor all or most of the time (esp. in winter) you should have 10 sq ft per chicken total, probably divided about 3-4 sq ft per chicken in the shelter part of tractor and the remainder as 'pen' area of tractor. If you are building a coop, then unless you are going to seriously winterize an attached run I personally feel you should go *more than* 4 sq ft per chicken -- if you have problems with them keeping a larger area warm in January you can always subdivide the coop to make a smaller area for them to keep warm, but they have the *option* of more leg-stretching room. I dunno as temperature would be such an issue in Central NY anyhow.
    Mind, different people have different ideas and mostly their chickens do fine, I am just giving you my 'take' on things.

    Do I need to insulate the coup, or definitely need a heat lamp in the winter?

    Definitely insulate (BUT still make sure you design in sufficient ventilation!). You are unlikely to need a heat lamp though. In fact if you do winter them in a tractor you will not *want* a HEAT lamp as such (would be too dangerous in such a small place and make it too hot), the most you might want is a regular ol' lightbulb, but you should NOT need that either, as the chickens generate considerable body heat and unless you choose your breeds really poorly they are tolerant of a considerable amount of cold below freezing as long as they're kept dry and out of the wind.

    Would 2 nest be a good number? How high off the floor should the nest be? How high should the roost be? I'm looking at having a variety of white leghorns, golden comets, and rhode island reds.

    Two nests sounds good, a nest box can be *on* the floor if you train your birds right and don't mind losing the floorspace, or any height above the floor provided it's lower than the roost (if it's same or higher, they'll roost in the nestbox and you'll have chronically pooey eggs). The roost can be pretty much any height but if you're making a tractor you are not going to have much of any *choice* in the matter, space-wise [​IMG]

    You should get others' opinions, but I am not sure how well leghorns are going to do in a small tractor, esp. in a cold-winter area...?

    Good luck,

    Pat​
     
  5. raindrop

    raindrop Chillin' With My Peeps

    712
    4
    151
    Feb 10, 2008
    Western Oregon
    I too have hawk and fox predators, but don't deal with the cold winters that you do. Our winters occasionally get to the high teens, but only for a night or two. Usually right around freezing in winter. We have a 8' x 12' walk-in coop with attached covered run that is about 20 x 30'. Right now I have only 3 hens (see above predators...) but will be getting an order of chicks next month hoping to add 15 more to the flock. I am also building a "day use" chicken tractor right now to use in the garden. I let the girls range when I am home only, and when I or the dogs will be outside to deter the hawks. I would build the coop larger than you think you need, chickens are addictive! [​IMG] There are some great designs on this site to look at.
     
  6. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    102
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Belated thought here:

    You might consider building the tractor so that it *could* be winterized if you need to, but take the spring and summer to mull over the permanent coop idea and see what you wanna do come Autumn. You;d still have plenty of time to build a coop then.

    I'm saying this because I think it can be pretty hard to know exactly what you're going to want in terms of chicken quarters until you have actually HAD the chickens for some while. I can tell you that I really appreciated having an outbuilding to 'park' the new chickens in last spring for a while (my ideas for a tractor changed, and improved!, considerably once I actually had some chickens around to observe), then kept them in the tractor for the second half of the summer and the fall, and then was able to move 'em back into the outbuilding for winter. And actually the coop I would've built last Fall, had I needed to build one then, would not have been what I am now planning on doing (a more serious conversion of that outbuilding, to make it better chicken quarters with higher occupancy rates [​IMG])

    So it would be nice if you can give yourself some breathing room and flexibility to allow your ideas to change over time, as you get used to the chickens and see how they will *actually* fit into your life.

    Good luck,

    Pat
     
  7. NorTracNY

    NorTracNY Chillin' With My Peeps

    105
    0
    119
    Mar 1, 2008
    Macedon, NY
    Pat & Raindrop,
    Thank you for your input. I do have stall space in the barn. So what would I need to do for a minimum to move them inside during the times when temperatures would be less than X degrees? We typically would get 2 or 3 periods during the winter were the highs would be teen F for a few days.
    I plan to have a slanted roof coop at the end of the chicken tractor. I was going to have the part under the slant ventilated, but in the winter I was going to cover those area up. I planned on having the walls just a single layer of plywood. I was looking for the coop to be 4' by either 3.5 or 4'. The run would be 10' X 4' with 3.5 or 4' being underneath the coop. I've seen drop out floors for cleaning, but I was planning on a pull out floor. I was planning on possibly the deep litter method, but still needed to better understand it. I know I'd need to make sure the food and water was up several inches. I did come across something though that said you can't do this for small coops?
    Thank you for your input. Please keep it coming.

    Mark
     
  8. raindrop

    raindrop Chillin' With My Peeps

    712
    4
    151
    Feb 10, 2008
    Western Oregon
    I'm not sure what the minimum temperature would be before you would need to put them in an insulated building, I don't really deal with those issues where I live. I do think that you may want to reconsider having Leghorns as they are a fairly "light" chicken for cold weather. Also, the combs are large and more subject to frostbite. Heavy breeds like Orpingtons, Brahmas, etc. may be better for your situation.
     
  9. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    102
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:I don't think you can make a hard and fast rule, and it depends a lot on the ventilation arrangements in your tractor's shelter (will cutting out cold drafts also remove too much ventilation).

    I think the safest, lowest-stress solution would be to predatorproof one stall (I am assuming you can dedicate one stall to chickens, it will be a bit more challenging to do if the stall must also remain horse- or other animal safe).

    If your tractor would fit into the stall, you could just tow it in there for the winter. However it is quite possible it will not make it thru the doorway, and if that is the case it is no big deal -- I think all you'd have to do is knock together some sort of smaller roofed area for them to roost in that would hold some of their body heat, and ideally might have room to safely place a lamp (not heatlamp, just regular lightbulb) if you ever had to do so. The lamp would go either *well* above tippytoes-head-level above the roost, or on the wall opposite the roost far away enough that a chicken would not bump into it (you'd prolly want a wire guard around it too).

    You *could* just keep 'em loose in the stall with a hanging heatlamp, or lightbulb under some sort of hovering insulated canopy, for when they needed more warmth.... but this involves more electricity use and more fire hazard.

    If they were in the stall for the winter, would there be any possibility of sunlight or getting outside, or is this like a dark damp stall deep in the bowels of a bank barn? The latter would be not so good, but if there were a way of attaching even a tiny temporary run (even just a wire dog cage, well-attached and dig-proofed), perhaps thru a hole in the wall of the barn, they would probably be quite happy. And you would not have to be always worrying whether they're too cold.

    If none of that sounds practical, I would tow the tractor to your warmest location in the fall -- perhaps right in front of a reflective south-facing wall, sheltered from wind -- and put fiberglas panels or VERY heavy-duty plastic sheeting over most of the tractor pen, leaving sheltered areas open for ventilation. In this case you will also need insulation inside the tractor shelter, and if it's styrofoam type insulation it must be covered with something peckproof, all of which will reduce livingspace slightly and add weight to the tractor, butyour birds will need it.

    I plan to have a slanted roof coop at the end of the chicken tractor. I was going to have the part under the slant ventilated, but in the winter I was going to cover those area up.

    The thing is, they need ventilation year round, especially in a low-ceilinged coop like a tractor. So you can't just close it all up (or mostly up) without getting unhealthy amounts of ammonia and moisture. You would not believe how much moisture just 3 chickens can produce, even if you're using a droppings board and cleaning it each morning [​IMG] Plus remember their water will need to be in there, probably heated to prevent freezing, in the winter, and that's another source of moisture. Damp cold is a recipe for frostbite and respiratory disease.

    I planned on having the walls just a single layer of plywood. I was looking for the coop to be 4' by either 3.5 or 4'.

    To me that seems tight for 5 birds, and barely adequate for 4 (for wintertime, I mean)... you WILL have ventilation challenges (esp. since this is not a walk-in height area).

    I've seen drop out floors for cleaning, but I was planning on a pull out floor.

    Personally I would recommend a fixed floor that you reach in with a long-handled scraper to clean. Have a removable sill so that the litter pushes right out into your container. I suspect pull-out will be unrewardingly difficult to engineer, unless it's only meant to be removed once a year for a thorough cleaning.

    Also be aware that a 4x4 reach-in coop is going to be a bit unpleasant if at some point you have to reach alllllll the way in to grab a chicken or fiddle with things on the far wall. Mine is 2.5' deep (from the side that has the access doors) and not 100% comfortable to deal with. I'm NOT saying don't do it, I'm saying expect awkward moments and try to design the furnishings to minimize how often those moments occur [​IMG]

    I was planning on possibly the deep litter method, but still needed to better understand it. I know I'd need to make sure the food and water was up several inches. I did come across something though that said you can't do this for small coops?

    You can't really do deep litter too well in a tractor shelter. First, ain't nothing going to be composting in there (which is one of the main benefits of DLM when done on an earthen floor). Second, you would lose too much height -- I mean, you would be STARTING WITH about 4-6" of litter and building it up another foot or so as time goes by, and in a tractor your chickens are rapidly going to run out of headroom [​IMG] Thirdly, you cannot possibly have enough ventilation in your tractor shelter (except possibly in summertime) to keep that much litter DRY, and it will become a humidifier and cause all sorts of problems for you.

    I would suggest planning on putting an inch or a couple inches of bedding in there, depending on what your floor surface is, and cleaning it out every 4-8 days (max.-- you may end up with daily, with 5 chickens in there). I would highly recommend a droppings board (not droppings pit) under your roost that can be scraped off every morning -- that will help keep the coop a LOT cleaner and dryer. If you design things real smart you can have it form a roof over the feeder/waterer or over floor-level nesting boxes, thus maximizing available space [​IMG]

    Hope this helps,

    Pat​
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2008
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    102
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    BTW, to kind of answer your actual question ([​IMG]), IF the chickens are in a draftless dry well-ventilated area (and you are not going to get both draftless and well-ventilated in a 4x4x4' box) they should be good down to the low twenties F without much problem. Some people have good luck considerably colder than that without frostbite; others do not; certainly I would not count on a Leghorn doing as well as the larger-bodied breeds in the cold, and rose- or pea-comb breeds are a bit more frostbite-proof than standard combed breeds.

    In a small damp drafty container (e.g. my own tractor) I get Real Worried About Them round about the freezing mark.

    Pat
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by