This is the second part in a three part series on the design of a chicken tractor. The focus of this post will be that every chicken tractor shall 1) provide adequate space, 2) keep feed accessible and dry, and 3) keep water fresh and available. Some of these topics can be a little controversial.  

Part 1:

  • Protect them from the elements: heat, cold wind, precipitation
  • Protect them from predators: four-legged and flying
  • Give them a cozy place to lay eggs

Part 2:

  • Provide adequate space
  • Keep feed accessible and dry
  • Keep water fresh and available

Part 3:

  • Be relatively easy to construct and maintain
  • Have “good neighbor” aesthetics
  • Be cost effective for our purposes

Provide adequate space

Square footage

Current popular wisdom is that each hen should have 4 square feet of space in the coop and another 10 square feet in the run. Those numbers are frequently debated but are often stated as bare minimums. From what I can tell, they’re based on a whole lot of anecdotal wisdom revolving around breed, bedding material, hen demeanor, and other factors. Anecdotes are great, but they shouldn’t rule the day.

If we were building a fixed coop and run those would be a great place to start. But we’re building a chicken tractor which changes the game.

Our hens are going to be living in something more like 6 – 8 square feed per bird. Remember, this is a chicken tractor, not a fixed coop and run. We’ll be moving them frequently so the ground won’t get fouled. Our breed handles confinement well and were all raised together so they’re far less likely to go bonkers and start pecking on each other. We’re going to be checking on them at least daily so we should be able to spot any issues before they become problems. We’re also going to leverage some design principles that will keep the poop load well within olfactory tolerances.

Roosting

Each hen should have at least 9″ of roost space. But the more the better, especially for warmer weather. Since our hens will be in there year round we’re going to aim for something closer to 12″ per bird.

Keep feed accessible and dry

This can be a challenge in a chicken tractor. Whatever feeder we decide on buying or building it has to keep the rain out so that the feed doesn’t clump and mold. It also needs to be easy to remove and clean out for the same reasons. Most chickens will still eat moldy food clumps, but it’s probably not very good for them.

Keep water fresh and available

Keeping our hens supplied with fresh water is going to be a daily task. I’ve read that even a few hours without access to water can have a negative impact on egg production for days if not weeks. Experience over the years has borne that out and I’ve become much more vigilant about my water systems.

Our chicken tractor water system needs to be

  • easy to empty and fill,
  • hold enough water to keep them supplied on a hot day (minimum 1 pint per bird),
  • be freeze tolerant, and
  • easy to clean.

Of all of these things I think it’s the freeze tolerant part that’s hardest. On a very cold day it doesn’t take long for a gallon of water to freeze. And running electric for a heater is a pain in the rear. That leaves us with either swapping waterers or carrying hot water to the chicken tractor to melt the ice. I’ve carried hot water across our homestead in the middle of winter and for the most part it’s not bad. Except that it inevitably leaves a water trail in the house and slops out of the bucket and into my boot. I think we’re going to opt for having two waterers that we can swap in and out as we need to.

Having two will also help open up options for the style of waterer and may even make it easier to clean.

We’re not going to get into waterer evaluation and design just now, that’ll be another post.

Requirements Summary (TL;DR)

Below is our list of requirements so far. The grey text is from Part 1, and the black text is what we’ve added today.

  • Top cover (roof) to provide
    • shade
    • protection from precipitation
  • Open/Close vents to provide
    • fresh air exchange
    • protection from the cold wind
    • protection from blowing rain
  • No chicken wire
  • No large holes
  • Place for our hens to hide
  • Fully enclosed run
  • Nest boxes (qty. 2)
  • Provide 6 to 8 square feed per bird
  • Provide 9″ to 12″ of roost space per bird
  • Removable feeder (qty. 1+)
  • Removable waterers (qty. 2)

Coming up…

In next weeks’ post we’ll address our final three requirements (constraints, really) that apply specifically to our project (not every coop needs to worry about these).

  • Be relatively easy to construct and maintain
  • Have “good neighbor” aesthetics
  • Be cost effective for our purposes

They’re kind of squishy in that it’s hard to be objective about what’s “good enough”. Sometimes you’ve just got to make a decision and move forward.


At the end of this series we’re going to be sending a DIY Chicken Tractor Design checklist out to all of our subscribers. If you’re enjoying our content and would like to get our checklist, put your email in the box below and sign up!

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