The Flying Fortress Chicken Tractor

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by squadleader, Dec 23, 2017.

  1. squadleader

    squadleader Chirping

    Dec 23, 2017
    Richmond, VA
    Just wanted to thank everyone here for sharing your ideas and experiences. Thanks to y'all, my rooster and his 12 hens, are having a very good life, and are laying lots of eggs with very yellow yolks! We finished the tractor in August and have been using it ever since.

    I am lazy at heart, so ironically, I'm willing to work pretty hard to construct a system that makes a process easy on me in the long run. This tractor isn't beautiful at all, but it's functional as the mischief.

    The real beauty of this tractor is, other than opening and closing the door twice a day, and collecting the eggs, the only other thing you do is once a week, drag it with the truck, refill the water, and run a scraper along the one roosting board. The feed only needs to be brought in about once a month.

    I knew absolutely nothing about chickens until this past summer, when my 12 year old convinced me to build him a chicken house, and I came on here to learn. We visited a neighbors coop and it was a very sad thing to see, with so much poop, and the terrific stench of ammonia. Using ideas found here, we avoided those problems, and built a 8' x 16' chicken tractor with a completely open floor, that I drag sideways, 8 feet every week over fresh ground, with a chain over the hitch of an SUV.

    I have a tendency to overbuild things. This tractor is very heavy and weighs 2,000 pounds or more. I had wheels for it, but it turned out dragging it, is much easier and faster. Just drop the chain over the hitch, pull it 8 feet, and you're done for a week. The base frame is salt treated un-planed 2"x8" (so it's a true 2"x8"), bolted together with 3/8" galvanized bolts. I used 7 foot steel scaffold struts bolted to the frame, that makes the frame amazingly stiff and strong. The frame sits on regular salt treated 2"x8" skids, to make it slid easier, and to keep the lower level of scaffold struts out of the dirt.

    When it got colder, I put clear plastic roofing over the 2 foot high wire on the two sides, which leaves just the one side open, the one I keep facing south, that's open to the weather. That gives them the most available light in the winter and any warm southern breezes. If they're not out of the tractor they like to sit at the open end and watch the river. It also provides them a windbreak on three sides in the winter, after I cover the open wire with the clear plastic roofing material. During warm weather it's open on three sides, with just the north end, where the door and nesting box are, closed.

    I used a black plastic material over the cattle panel hoop (also covered in hardware cloth) for the roof (similar to TPO roofing, or rubber pond lining would probably work too). It is very important to get the material in white, or if it's black, at least paint it white, like I did. In August the black plastic was so hot I couldn't touch it, and that made it hot in the tractor. After painting it white, it was cool to the touch on even the hottest days.

    The feeder, waterer, oyster shell dispenser, and dust box are all suspended from the main ceiling beam (2"x8" full dimension) by chains, hopefully keeping the feeder and waterer, from out of the reach of any mice, and making the tractor ready to pull, at a moments notice.

    I'm really glad for the knowledge shared here which has enabled us to have a feeder that holds almost a months worth of feed, and has zero waste or spillage. Our waterer with chicken nipples, holds over a weeks worth of water, along with a roll out nesting box from Hen Gear that never needs straw, and keeps our eggs very clean. The hens all love it, and use the nesting box, and patiently wait for each other to finish laying. It's hilarious to watch them, like patients in a doctors waiting room, waiting their turn in the box.

    Like the old cliche, it turns out I'm taking care of the chickens for the most part, kids attention spans being what they are, so in trying to make it easier for my son, I've benefited the most. I never dreamed of having chickens before, but I've found them to be fascinating, and enjoy them immensely.

    The chickens free range every day, and again thanks to y'all, I knew exactly what I was up against with predators, and was able to build in security features that so far, have worked well, with no losses. It turns out extending the 50 inch cattle fence panels, covered in hardware cloth, around the entire structure on the ground, keeps predators from digging in, and the whole tractor, panels and all, easily handles the weekly 8 foot drag without any problems.

    Right now, we have a chain that during the day, keeps the door open 5 inches. That lets all the chickens, including the big rooster, come and go easily, but I'm thinking (OK hoping), it may be too narrow for predators like dogs or coyotes to get in the tractor during the day. At least perhaps the narrow doorway might give the rooster a fighting chance to fight off anything trying to come in, if the rooster is in there with the flock. Right now something could shoulder the door open wider, since the chain just keeps it from closing all the way. I'm probably going to put another chain on the door, to keep it from also opening wider than 5 inches.

    I got ideas from more threads than I can count about the different aspects of the tractor. I'm attaching some photos in hopes of returning in small measure, what y'all shared with me. We were lucky to have a meadow large enough to allow the tractor to never cover the same spot within a year. This isn't for everyone of course, but if you're like me, it might give you some ideas that could be useful in your own operation.

    If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.

    2017-12-23 21.37.28.jpg 2017-12-23 21.38.44.jpg 2017-12-23 21.39.37.jpg 2017-12-23 21.41.02.jpg
    That's the chain used to pull the tractor every week. I have a clevis on each corner of the tractor, so if I want, I can take the chain loose, attach it to the front or back, and pull it forwards or backwards if needed.
    2017-12-23 21.41.45.jpg 2017-12-23 21.42.48.jpg
    I left a 30 inch overhang on the north end. That protects the wooden end wall, roll out egg box, the scratch barrel, and other odds and ends.

    2017-12-23 21.44.24.jpg
    It's hard to see in the photo, but there's one hen in the nesting box, and the hen roosting on the scaffold brace, is waiting her turn to go in next.

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    One of the design elements I really like, is that from the chickens point of view, of the 48 linear feet of wall in the tractor, 42 feet of it is open wire during the warmer months, and still lets them look out, and allows in light through the clear roofing I cover the open wire with in the winter. So for them, it's very light and bright, because their heads are lower than where the roof begins at 27 inches off the floor.
    2017-12-23 21.47.06.jpg
    That turned over tub you see at the far end of the tractor, is accessed through the drop down door on the south end of the tractor. Its primary purpose is for water if the chicken nipples freeze. We don't use it unless that happens, that's why it's turned over. I used some cattle panel to put a fence around the water tub so the chickens can get water, but not get in the water! The water tub is a Home Depot small mortar mixing tub, and the hanging dust box is the large mortar mixing tub. If I recall, one is $10 and the other $15.

    2017-12-23 21.47.52.jpg 2017-12-23 21.49.14.jpg 2017-12-23 21.49.48.jpg 2017-12-23 21.51.11.jpg 2017-12-23 21.51.49.jpg 2017-12-23 21.52.14.jpg 2017-12-23 21.52.38.jpg 2017-12-23 21.53.19.jpg 2017-12-23 21.53.47.jpg 2017-12-23 21.54.28.jpg 2017-12-23 21.55.12.jpg 2017-12-23 21.55.53.jpg
    I didn't realize it until I watched the chickens use the tractor, but they seem to enjoy all the different things in it to roost on. They jump up onto the roosting board, run down it, jump over into the dust box, run across it, then hop down to the floor. They also like to roost on the scaffold bracing covered with a PVC pipe, that's wrapped in Gorilla Tape. They also love to roost at the south end of the tractor and watch the river.
    2017-12-23 21.56.14.jpg 2017-12-23 21.56.54.jpg
    2017-12-23 21.57.52.jpg
    I read you don't want the chickens to jump down more than 30 inches in order to prevent a Bumblefoot injury, so my roost board is 30 inches off the ground. The nesting box is at 24 inches, since I learned it needs to be lower than the roosting board.

    2017-12-23 21.59.18.jpg
    I used 5/4 (is actually 1") 1x6 premium deck boards for the long roost on the left of the tractor. Sanded it a little to smooth it up. I read there can be a problem with mice chewing exposed chicken claws at night. This wide board is so the chicken can squat down and fully cover their claws with their bodies. The chickens seem happy with it. I also use a metal 6" putty knife that is perfect for quickly scraping off any chicken poop once a week before I move the tractor. I also run a big hand held ash scoop through their dust box to throw out any poop before moving the tractor. I want to leave all the poop behind with each move.

    2017-12-23 21.59.56.jpg 2017-12-23 22.00.30.jpg
    I love this hanging feeder! It's high enough to keep mice out. It's a Walmart clear tub and holds a little over a hundred pounds of feed, that lasts almost a month. It has eight 3 inch PVC elbows inserted in it that turn down. Leave the lower lip of the elbow that's in the tub, about an inch off the bottom of the tub. When you fill it, it will only have an inch of feed in it. The birds don't spill even a drop of feed with this feeder, their heads are fully in the elbow, and down 3 inches. Trace with a magic marker the outlines of the elbows, and use a hot knife to cut out the holes for the elbows. Keep the holes tight. I also used the hot knife to put two holes in the top of the PVC elbow, on both sides of the tub wall, then ran a large zip tie through the holes, leaving the big part of the zip tie sticking up, making it impossible for the elbow to slide in, or out, of the tub wall.

    2017-12-23 22.02.18.jpg 2017-12-23 22.03.19.jpg
    This is a 7.5 gallon bucket I special ordered with a spin off lid (Gamma Seal) you buy separate. I have a second bucket with spin off lid I use to bring water down to the tractor to refill the bucket in the tractor with the chicken nipples in it.

    2017-12-23 22.08.00.jpg
    This is when they first went in the tractor, before we put the covers on the water and feeder, to keep them from roosting on them. Without the covers, it's easier for you to see how all the things were hung from the overhead beam. I also read a study that adding a small amount of sulphur to their dust box eliminates mites and lice. I use Home Depot Play sand (it's pretty dusty, which you want), along with some firewood ash, and finally a small amount of sulphur. If you Google sulphur and chickens you'll find the study that was done about it.
    2017-12-23 22.39.11.jpg
    This is the frame of the tractor being assembled. The steel scaffold braces really tied the frame together, so much so, if you took the bucket out from under one of the corners, it wouldn't even sag. The top scaffold strut is covered in schedule 40 pvc sewer pipe with a bolt through it to keep the pvc from spinning. We covered the pvc in Gorilla tape, and the chickens like to stand on it. The bare metal would have been too cold in the winter.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  2. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Welcome! Very impressive!
  3. hillbillyreefer

    hillbillyreefer Songster

    Jul 27, 2015
    Holy cow, that’s an impressive fortress! Well done.
    Brahma Chicken5000 likes this.
  4. peeper89

    peeper89 Songster

    Feb 21, 2017
    i like this!
    Brahma Chicken5000 likes this.
  5. Ninja Squirrel

    Ninja Squirrel Songster

    Dec 17, 2017
    Hampshire, England
    Wow!! I am totally blown away. This is incredible and thank you SO much for the little details, they're genius. There's so much in your post that I want to use, I'm going to use this as a reference. Thank you!
  6. Brahma Chicken5000

    Brahma Chicken5000 Araucana Addict

    Sep 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    What an amazing build. :thumbsup
  7. rosemarythyme

    rosemarythyme Crowing

    Jul 3, 2016
    Pac NW
    My Coop
    Really impressive... this is like a chicken tractor on steroids. I wouldn't even think that something like this could be moved around!

    I also like how you maximized space room by taking advantage of all the vertical space which so often is left empty. It's almost like a giant jungle gym for chickens.
  8. squadleader

    squadleader Chirping

    Dec 23, 2017
    Richmond, VA
    Thanks for the replies!

    The tractor came within a hare's breath of being stationary, it was touch and go for a few frantic days. I almost turned into the guy who builds a boat in his basement in his spare time, only to discover upon completion, that there's no way to get it out.

    I had installed two very heavy duty wheelbarrow tires, using 3/4 threaded rod as axles, along with six foot levers, I had it so I could pull down on the levers and raise the tractor off the ground, then pull it with a hand trailer dolly.

    That worked fine in the early stages of construction with just the frame, but once all the wire, roof, hanging items (just the water, feed, and dust box sand are over 300 pounds), and miscellaneous framing were added, the axles just bent when I tried to raise the tractor to move it.

    The meadow is about 600 feet from where I built the tractor, and at the bottom of a long gravel driveway that goes down to the river. I had to jack it up, and put it on skids, to make the trip. Just sitting in the meadow, pulling the tractor is easy for my truck, but as a practical matter, the most realistic way to move this thing, other than just pulling it around the meadow, would be on the back of a roll back wrecker. This was not on my mind when I built it.

    For this reason, I think it's very important that anything you build to be dragged like this, really shouldn't be wider than 96 inches. That's the clear width of the average roll back wrecker bed, however there are a few roll back beds that have 102 inches of clear width, if you wanted to go a little wider. Clear width excludes the raised rails on the side of the roll back bed. You'd want to be able to winch the chicken tractor squarely onto the bed of the roll back, not cockeyed over a rail.

    I made a few more mistakes like this during the process, that's why I posted this, to show what works, and to keep anyone else from going down a couple of the blind alleys I did.

    This project had an awful lot of mission creep in it. I started thinking I was going to slap something together for $500, and by the time I finished, it ended up costing about $4,000 in materials. I have a streak of perfectionism that obviously raised its head here.

    So I kid my relatives, that if they want a dozen eggs, I'll need about $100 a dozen to get my money back! They do free range every day, but the dozen hens and one rooster eat still eat about $40 of grain and scratch a month.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  9. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Nice work!

    How do you deal with the anti-dig apron(which is HUGE!) when moving the tractor?

    What is your location/climate?
    Good to put your location in your profile, then it's always there!
  10. sunflour

    sunflour Flock Master

    Jan 10, 2013
    :thumbsup I love it.

    Have you considered entering in the coop contest? #1

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