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DIY Low-Cost Chicken Tractors (EP-13)

Chicken Tractors vs Chicken Coops

Chicken tractor, chicken coop, chicken mobile, chicken trailer, chicken house and even chicken cage are all terms used to describe the place where homestead owners keep their chickens. As we look at the various web pages and videos on this topic we see a lot of overlap between the terms. We are not trying to define or redefine any terms here but rather we just want to share thoughts on what is useful, helpful, sustainable eco-friendly and good for birds. Whether you are new to homesteading or just rethinking your chicken habitat, we hope this helps.

Chicken Coops
Chicken coops seem to be used mostly to describe a house where the chickens are safely secured at night. There are some really cool features out there for chicken coops such as automatic door openers, self-feeders and waters, and cleaning trays. The feature we find most important, however, is raised coops for easy cleaning and coops with easy access nesting boxes for collecting eggs. Chicken coops are perfect for homesteads where an acre or two of land is safely accessible to the flock and they come back to the safety of their coop at night. If the coop is the only real estate available to the chicken or when it is attached to a small fenced location that never changes, it essentially becomes a fancy cage. The birds will quickly deplete these small areas of anything green and the conditions will require the birds to live exclusively on grain and/or store bought feed. Although the square footage available to the bird may be better than commercial cage operations, the small space is still prone to increased parasite and disease pressure and the need for vaccinations and antibiotics.
Pro's: Perfect for a small homestead where poultry can safely free-range on an acre or two of land.
Con's: For small areas the expense of feed and meds likely outweigh the cost savings over store-bought eggs. And if store bought feed and meds are to be used we especially recommend just buying eggs from a reputable source. Unless you are keeping a small number of birds primarily as pets we do not recommend stationary coops in small non-rotated plots.

Chicken Tractors
Chicken tractors seem to most commonly describe bottomless cages where chickens spend their entire life but these cages are frequently dragged or pulled to new locations. Although they are sometimes referred to as lawn mowers, does anyone really want an uneven lawn full of chicken poop? Moreover, since the word lawn raises images of uniform grass that is fertilized with weed and feed, we strongly urge you not to range your chickens on such lawns as it will be neither cost effective nor healthy. What we do appreciate about the chicken tractor idea is that the birds are offered a fresh natural diet of greens and bugs and the greater benefit to the soil and pasture. This practice is sustainable because of the mutually beneficial interaction between the land and chickens. Homesteaders that use this method often refer to their eggs and meat as "pastured". Although this method is clearly sustainable, cost-effective and a healthy dietary option, these eggs and birds are NOT cage-free. Although most of us choose to spend our nights in a small room when sleeping, we would not be happy confined to that small room 24-7 regardless of how many times a week the carpet is changed.
Pro's: Great for improving soil and pasture quality. Healthy choice for meat and eggs. Cost effective.
Con's: Not chicken friendly

Our Chicken Mobile Homes
The vineyard chicks called their operation a chicken tractor because a key feature is its mobility as it quickly attaches to a lawn or garden tractor. It is indeed the perfect option for large organic homesteads and farmsteads. We free-range our poultry through 15 acres of vineyards and pastures. This means we can easily pull our chicken mobile homes to various locations in the vineyard where the chickens can roam free help to manage insect pressure. We can then move them to a pasture to till the ground that was recently grazed by our livestock. In addition to insect population management the chickens are essential in spreading the manure and tilling it into the soil. Moreover, especially in Fall, we take a chicken mobile home into our garden plots to help pigs till the soil and clean out insect colonies. We offer our chickens treats or grains in their house every evening and close the doors for night time safe keep. We open the doors and collect eggs in the late morning and move the house where the birds are most needed. Our poultry and eggs are organic, gmo-free, pasture-raised and cage-free.
Pro's: All of the above.
Con's: Not necessary for very small homesteads.

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Date: 10/19/2019