My New Chicken Tractor: brand new digs for the meat chooks!

Dear Gentle Reader-from-whom-I’ve-lately-been-cruelly-estranged,

I find myself nearly breathless, facing as I am the span of all the BIG THINGS that have occurred at our place since I’ve last been able to share in this space (we had internet problems for nearly a month!): a wedding, a new grandbaby, new Icelandic chicks, kids moving out, kid moving home and then moving out a month later, new crops in the garden, overnight company, a trip to the butcher with the meat chickens, a trip to St. Louis and back, and the messy beginnings of a too-long-put-off-for-later home remodeling project.

So. Much. I hardly know where to start in the catch-up department! Probably the best thing to do would be to just jump in without overthinking it, so that’s what I’ll do.

You knew I’d choose the chickens, right?

meatchook

I’ll start with the new chicken tractor that Bryan and Mack built for me earlier this summer: a “very good place to start.”

I wish you could see it! I found a picture of one that I liked the looks of online, and I showed it to my good husband a few months ago. Bryan was super busy at the time, but I know how he likes new building projects (not making that up, honest!) and that he would eventually find time to make one. At least, that was my hope.

He also likes a good roast chicken, as a matter of fact. 🙂

I mentioned offhandedly to Bryan that if he didn’t get to it this year, I was willing to wait another year to raise a bunch of Cornish Cross (meat chickens) for the freezer. (I was so unselfish, I didn’t recognize myself.) That’s what I had decided in advance, being the patient and not-pushy wife that I am (cough). And since Bryan is, at any time, trying to keep at least six plates in the air at the same time (employment-wise) I decided not to hold my breath on this matter. I girded myself to be patient. And sober-minded. And not selfish. And to be content with the last few stew chickens in the freezer, until next summer. Better than nothing, right? And “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”ish. (Phil. 2:4)

Yep. That was me, in a nutshell. You would not have known me.

Until that day in the feed store. Some wild and careless ne’er-do-wellishness in my subcharacter (that instinctive bit of you that cannot be denied) pushed me (yeah, I just made that up–like it?) to buy the very last 45 Cornish Cross chicks of the season (the weary worker there agreed to give me a discount for taking every last chick they had left, and I had pity on her, and I got two Buff Orpington pullets in the bargain, which I consider a real plus).

On the way home from the store, the chicks peeping from their box in the back seat, I formulated my strategy: they would start out in the cow-tank-turned-chick-brooder in the garage, as usual, and please don’t ask what I was going to do with them if the dear overworked hubs didn’t pony up with the new chicken tractor. ‘Cause I didn’t have a plan. But I knew that one would come.

That is the nice things about impromptu plans. They come. Just when you need them. With luck.

I haven’t raised any of these intrepid birds for a couple of years now because our old chicken tractor model–a flimsy contraption (for which I was grateful, in its day) made of PVC pipes and chicken wire, had gotten too delicate for me to feel good about using it any longer. Also, it had fallen apart in so many places and then repaired with plastic zip ties (no kidding, we are resourceful, I’ll give us that) that the last summer I used it, I nearly couldn’t sleep at night because I was so worried that an enterprising ‘coon or a weasel or a skunk or an o’er large beetle or something would happen by and discover how inadequate it was, and would invite all its friends for an all-night feast, and I’d be sunk, sunk, sunk.

And my dear chickens–my year’s worth of excellent meat–worst yet–would be inside predators’ bellies by morning.

You know, I just hate it when that happens.

Well, it never happened, but after I used that piece of equipment that summer, I parked it in an out-of-the-way spot, never intending to use it again. It was too much of a peace-kill. I desire peace, especially when I’m sleeping. I try to avoid things that cause me anxiety. Which is a pretty funny statement, if you knew what our place has been like this summer. Ha!

Crazy!

Bryan and little Mack did build a new chicken tractor for me, just in time too, just when the Cornish chicks couldn’t take another day in the garage brooder. *Phew*  That was a close one! Once you discover how pleasant it is to have a year’s worth of big roasting birds in the freezer, grown on the feed that you choose, raised in a humane way that (for me) means fresh grass and dirt and bugs and sunshine, you may find it a bit distasteful to go back to buying the chickens at the grocery store. Basically, you just go without. I know you can buy birds from local, small farms, too, but they are expensive (for good reason!) and if I can raise something just as good here at our place (and happily, I can) and save money at it, why not?

Plus, you know how I love chickens.

Back to the chicken tractor. I had just a couple of really solid requirements to this new chicken tractor. First of all, I wanted to be able to walk into it. I couldn’t do this with my old one, which was only knee-high. That made the daily feeding and watering and so forth pretty inconvenient. Secondly, I wanted it sturdy enough that I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. Thirdly, I wanted enough space that I could easily raise 50 large meat birds, and that they would still have plenty of room to move about. Last, I wanted to be able to move it fairly easily, so my birds would have fresh grass and bedding every few days.

Bryan built the new tractor in two pieces. It took him most of a weekend to build each one, with help from little Mack and me. We used the first one for a couple of weeks, until the chicks were getting a bit crowded and he had time to make the second piece.

The new tractor meets all my hopes and dreams. I just love it, and I think the chickens are okay with it, too.

The only thing I’d change is to somehow make it easier to move . . . it does take three of us to move it*. Four, if you count—well, actually, five, if you count Ollie and Bea, who keep the chickens from moving too far away, and herd them all back in when we’re done moving it. Wanna see it?

chtrac1 Here is the beginning, simple construction: two large hog panels and some boards. The framed-in section on the far side will be my door. I’m not sure why that piece of plywood is lying there.

These triangular supports on the corners are very important, because: physics. 😉

chtrac2

Here’s the first section, completed. We threw the tarp over the top to provide shade, and some modicum of predator-deterrent, too. It is firmly zip-tied to the hog panels. Note the wheels, which we hoped would make it easier to move.

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close-up of the corner

close-up of the corner

This first structure is light enough that Bryan can move it himself, while little Mack yells encouragingly and I snap photos.
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Here’s the view of the back wall, which–once the second segment is attached–will be opened up (just the small square at the bottom) so the chickens can pass between the two segments.
chtrac5
As soon as we got the first section in place, we added some straw for bedding on one side, and then hauled the meat chicks out to inspect their new digs. They seemed pleased, if a bit confused.
chtrac8
Our Aussie, Bea, was very excited about this development, and ran around and around the tractor, but Ollie took the change in stride.
chtrac10
We let the chickens grow for a week or two before we added the second segment. Plus, it wasn’t finished until then.
chtrac11
Bryan pulled the second, not-quite-finished section out to the chicken yard with his tractor.
chtrac12
The second segment is now attached to the first one, and the chicks are getting big. They can run from one side to the other as they please.
meatch
We moved the tractor every few days, but it was a big job: we had to disconnect the sections from each other, and then Mack had to watch that we didn’t run over any chickens, while Bryan and I scooted it to the next place. Then I had an idea: what about just opening the door in the morning and letting the chickens out to free-range? It was risky, I knew, but I wanted to know.

And whaddya know? Meat chickens act like “real” chickens when you raise them like real chickens. Did you know that they are enthusiastic foragers? (Of course they do take frequent breaks, too.)

I didn’t.
meatch2
I was thrilled to pieces to let these birds out every morning and watch them go. Of course they are still very food-focused and they’d fill up at the feeder every morning, too. I’m writing a post about what I’ve learned about raising meat chickens, by the way, so you might want to check back in a week or two for more.
meatch3
By the way, I’m already thinking of all the other things I can use this dandy structure for, once the Cornish Cross chickens are in the freezer.
For starters, I plan on using it for:
  • Smallish chicks who aren’t ready for the “big coop” yet could spend many happy weeks in this structure.
  • A mama hen who might show up with a clutch of chicks could be shut in this tractor for a week or two, until the chicks are big enough to greet the big world out there.
  • This could even be a handy hide-out or play house, once I’m done using it for the summer chicken projects.
  • Whaddya think, could I keep a piglet or two in here while a fence is being built? 🙂
 There. Of the 452 things I have to share with you about this summer, one–thing–down! I love ya, Gentle Reader. Thanks for hanging in there, and checking in with me!
*hugs*

17 thoughts on “My New Chicken Tractor: brand new digs for the meat chooks!

  1. Cathy

    Hi Amy-

    Love this post! Do the chickens go back into the structure at night on their own? Curious about the process.

    (Keep posting- have missed reading you),
    Cathy

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hi Cathy! Believe me, I am glad to be back! Yes, just like magic, the chooks return to the tractor as the sun goes down. Those meat chickens, though, are party animals and the last ones to go in at night, believe it or not. When my “regular” flock is firmly bedded in the permanent coop, on their perches, the meat chooks are still out gadding about. But they do return before it’s dark.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Jillian, I’d do nearly anything for you, and you know it! I’m working on that post now, so hopefully by next week I’ll be sharing about my Ice babies.

  2. gene

    So when do I get to read about the “Icelandic” chickens? You piqued my curiosity some months ago, I get up at 4:00 AM every day, check the email for vomiting chickens, and even when I find that return email address, I haven’t seen another “peep” about Icelanders until today. Are you just imagining these critters from the land of snow and geysers, or do they really exist?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Haha Gene, I should have given you a peek when you were over visiting, and you’d believe that they are real! They are so cute, but honestly you know how off my groove I’ve been this summer! Never fear, I’ve been taking pictures and I’m writing a post about my Ice babies!

  3. Amanda

    Oh! What a lovely chicken house for your meat birds. I may just have to show this to my fiance and see what he thinks. We have 6 laying hens that are moving into the old milk house-converted-coop at our new house soon, but I’d love to raise meat chickens in the coming years. This seems like a great way to put them out in our pasture without having to build another big structure! Very clever!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thanks Amanda, it has been really a blessing to have that structure. I’ve got my Icelandic chicks in it right now, so they can be outside (where they want to be!) and yet still be safe from the roaming predators, our cats, and the bigger chickens. I just love it!

  4. Robin Follette

    I’m waiting impatiently for my meat chicks to get a little bit bigger so they can be lose up back without supervision. There’s a grasshopper problem. Grasshoppers aren’t going to turn themselves into a roasted chicken dinner without the chickens doing their part!

    I was out in the pouring rain at almost midnight when the water started to seep into the tractor. Never a dull moment.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh! Robin, right after we moved our meat chooks out into the tractor, we had some really big rains. Poor chickies! Twice I dragged little Mack out into the rain with me and moved them into the nursery of the chicken coop, so they wouldn’t be sitting in puddles all night long. We had crazy rains in the spring this year!

  5. Sandy KS

    One day I want to raise chicken. I live in town in a small yard. However, I grew up on a farm with chickens and miss it every day. My dad still raises chickens and cows til this day.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It’s worth the time and effort, Sandy, at least I think so! It’s very satisfying to produce at least some of the food that you eat.

  6. Lynda Holliday

    Amy,

    I have been waiting to raise meat chickens because our tractor is to hard to move (one of those 2 foot high deals) After reading your post I think I will do as you do and just let them forage in the pasture. I have a question though, I see you take them to the butcher, do you kill them first? I have been in on a few processing parties (one last year when we raised 3 turkeys) But cannot imagine doing it for 40 plus birds!
    Thanks!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Lynda,
      Great questions! We have done larger-number butcherings at our house (40+) and honestly it’s not that big of a deal, especially if you have a few folks come help who don’t mind working for a nice fat chicken or two to take home. 😉 BUT I prefer to just take them to the butcher, these days. That is just one thing I don’t mind paying somebody else to do. The trick around here is to find a locker that actually butchers chickens! There is one about an hour’s drive from our place, and they only charge less than $2.00 to butcher a chicken, process it, bag it, and chill it for you to take home. They only process chickens, however, until late Sept (I think) when they change out their equipment to deer-processing mode. By the way, even if you let your meat chooks forage in pasture, you’ll still need (obviously) a place for them to be shut in and safe at night, and shade for them to relax in, of course, during the day.

  7. MJ

    I built a tractor like that with a nest box on the back for my laying hens (had to lots of fox and red tail hawk in the area I lived in at the time… like on my land/trees lots) and they loved it. I up a perch lower to the ground so that it would bump them forward so they didn’t get run over too. I accidentally broke a hens leg while pulling one day so decided the bumper perch was very necessary. It wacks them at about bum level when I pull it. Smart birds sit on it while I pull and peck at the dumb birds as we go along too LOL. Love my Giant Blue Cochins, so clever and easy going. I miss having them but hopefully we will be able to get a tad more land this spring and then get some chickens again. There are no cochins in my area (so sad) but maybe some regular barn chickens will be fine. I know a woman with some fantastic layers. I’d rather go with rabbits for meat though, not as much fat to trim (almost none on some and absolutely none on most) and they are a lot easier to clean out. Not as easy to kill though… so much cuter than chickens, but I raise an ornery breed for meat and that helps 😀 I still have rabbits but I really miss the chickens… not the roosters so much though.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thanks for all the tips, MJ! I learned to shoo all my chooks out of the tractor whenever we moved it, because it is really perilous to move it with them inside. Also I employed my 9yo son to help keep them out of harm’s way. I think it would be so hard to kill a rabbit–although smart of you to raise the “ornery breed.” If you need a few chickens, let me know.

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