When thinking about tractors, one usually pictures a metal rectangle and seat on wheels painted green or red or blue. This tractor provides several hundred horsepower units for working out in agricultural fields.
I recently learned about another type of tractor that uses animals rather than metal implements to improve the ground. I was intrigued to hear about its benefits for rotational grazing systems.
It’s called a chicken tractor. The basic premise is that the chickens are moved every day or every two days through a pasture that has just been eaten down by larger livestock. The chickens glean weeds and bugs, leaving more room for healthy grass to grow. The chickens will be moved off that space, then the grass will grow to ten inches high or more for cattle, sheep, goats, or horses to graze.
The catch is, chickens are prone to predators, such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, hawks, and others, that like to eat them. So the chickens need some sort of protection. Some farmers use a movable coop, let the chickens roam with no fence, and then shut the chickens in at night. Others use a movable coop and electrified poultry netting to protect them during the day.
One method I really liked was moving a portable pen that provided a coop and protection all in one. This pen would have an open floor so the chickens could eat bugs, weed seeds and grass. Some type of shade would stretch overhead. Water and supplemental feed would be provided, as well.
One video I saw from a farm in Wisconsin showcased how grass benefits from this practice.
I started thinking about what I wanted in a chicken tractor, and with the help of Toby’s (the dog) human, who designed a structure that met all of my chicken keeping needs, a frame began to take shape in the driveway in front of the barn.