The Ultimate Guide to Using Chicken Tractors for Meat Chickens
June 26, 2023
If you’re considering raising meat chickens, you’ve likely been exploring various options for housing your flock. One incredibly advantageous method is using a chicken tractor, a portable chicken coop that offers a blend of protection and freedom to your birds. In this blog post, we delve into the topic of chicken tractors and why they’re particularly suited for raising meat chickens.
Understanding the Chicken Tractor Concept
A chicken tractor, in essence, is a mobile chicken coop without a floor. This design allows chickens to access the ground directly beneath them, enabling them to forage for worms, bugs, and fresh greens, while staying safe from potential predators. The coop can be moved around your property, providing a change of scenery and fresh forage areas regularly.
Why Chicken Tractors for Meat Chickens?
While chicken tractors can be used for any type of poultry, they are particularly advantageous when raising meat chickens for several reasons.
Natural Diet: Meat chickens, often known as broilers, grow best when they can supplement their diet with natural forage. This not only aids in their overall health and well-being but can also significantly enhance the flavor of the meat. A diet diversified by access to grass, bugs, and worms can give the chicken meat a richness that is often lacking in purely grain-fed poultry.
Space and Movement: Unlike layers, meat chickens do not require nesting boxes or roosting bars, which means a chicken tractor for broilers can dedicate more space to general living and less to specific features. This provides the birds with plenty of room to move around, promoting better muscle development and, consequently, better meat texture.
Health and Hygiene: A critical concern with raising meat chickens is health management. Meat chickens are usually heavier and grow faster than layers, which can make them susceptible to health issues. The constant movement of a chicken tractor prevents the build-up of waste in one area, reducing the likelihood of disease outbreaks. Also, regular access to fresh grass can decrease the risk of parasitic infestations.
Ease of Management: Meat chickens typically have a much shorter lifespan on the farm than layers – usually only 6-8 weeks. The mobility of chicken tractors allows for easier management of successive batches of birds. After one batch is processed, the tractor can be easily moved and cleaned before the arrival of the next batch.
Designing Your Chicken Tractor for Meat Chickens
Designing a chicken tractor for meat chickens involves careful consideration of space, protection, and convenience.
Space Requirements: For meat chickens, a good rule of thumb is to allow approximately 2 square feet per bird inside the tractor. This allows the birds ample room to move around, which is crucial for their physical development.
Protection from Elements: Although meat chickens are typically hardier than laying breeds, they still need protection from harsh weather. Part of your chicken tractor should be enclosed and weatherproof, offering shade on hot days and a dry space during rainy weather.
Protection from Predators: Given the vulnerability of chickens, the tractor’s design should provide robust protection from potential predators. Strong, secure fencing material is a must. While chicken wire is often used, hardware cloth is a more secure option, as it is resistant to predators like raccoons that can break or reach through chicken wire.
Easy Access: Design your chicken tractor with doors or openings that allow easy access for cleaning, feeding, and eventually, collecting your chickens for processing. Also, think about how you’ll move the tractor – many designs include handles or a hitch for a tractor or four-wheeler.
Feeding and Care in a Chicken Tractor
Your meat chickens will need a balanced diet to promote healthy growth. While they will naturally forage for a portion of their diet, it’s also crucial to provide them with a high-quality feed formulated for meat chickens. These feeds have a higher protein content than layer feeds, supporting the rapid growth typical of broiler breeds.
Water is equally essential. Poultry drink a surprising amount of water, so ensuring they have a clean and reliable water source is crucial. Consider using a hanging waterer to keep the water clean and to save space.
In terms of care, moving the tractor daily will give your chickens access to fresh forage and help distribute their waste, keeping the living area clean. Regularly monitor your chickens for any signs of disease or distress – rapid intervention can often prevent minor issues from becoming significant problems.
Most Popular Designs for Chicken Tractors
When it comes to chicken tractor designs, there’s no one-size-fits-all. The best design for you will depend on factors like the number of chickens you plan to keep, the space you have available, and the specifics of your landscape. Here are a few of the most popular designs and why they might be a good fit for your meat chicken operation.
A-Frame Tractor: A-frame chicken tractors are popular because they are relatively simple and inexpensive to build, yet provide plenty of space for your chickens. As the name suggests, these coops are triangular in shape, resembling the letter ‘A’. One side of the A-frame is typically enclosed for protection from the elements, while the other side is left open and covered with wire mesh for ventilation.
Box-Style Tractor: Box-style tractors are essentially simple, movable boxes. They offer lots of floor space and can be more robust than some other designs. They’re typically made with a combination of solid walls for protection and wire sides for ventilation. Some box-style tractors are built on skids or wheels, making them easy to move around your property.
Ark Tractor: Ark tractors, or hoop coops, are made with a curved, arched frame covered in a protective material like chicken wire, hardware cloth, or even tarp. These tractors provide plenty of headroom and space for chickens to move around and can be very secure against predators. However, they can be a bit more complex to build than A-frame or box-style tractors.
Tractor with Built-In Run: Some chicken tractor designs incorporate a separate, enclosed run area. This gives the chickens more space to spread out and forage, while also providing a secure area for feeding and resting. These designs can be a bit larger and more complex, but they’re a great choice if you have the space available.
Each of these designs has its own advantages and can be modified to suit your specific needs. When choosing a design, consider the size of your flock, the time and materials you have available for building, and the specifics of your landscape. With a bit of planning and creativity, you can build a chicken tractor that keeps your meat chickens happy, healthy, and safe.
Best Meat Chicken Breeds for Chicken Tractors
While the design of your chicken tractor plays a crucial role, the breed of meat chickens you select is just as significant. Here are some of the top breeds for raising meat chickens in a chicken tractor setup:
1. Cornish Cross: The Cornish Cross is arguably the most popular meat chicken breed. These birds grow incredibly fast, reaching butcher size in just 6 to 8 weeks. They have excellent feed conversion ratios, meaning they require less feed per pound of weight gain compared to many other breeds. Cornish Crosses are also known for their large breasts and overall meaty composition.
2. Freedom Rangers: Freedom Rangers are a great choice if you want a chicken that’s a bit more active and suited to a free-range (or in this case, tractor) lifestyle. They take a little longer to reach maturity than Cornish Crosses—about 9 to 11 weeks—but they’re excellent foragers and have a great flavor.
3. Red Rangers: Red Rangers are another slow-growing breed that does well in a chicken tractor setup. They’re strong foragers and will readily hunt for bugs and greens in their moving pen. Like Freedom Rangers, they’re known for their rich, flavorful meat.
4. Jersey Giants: As their name suggests, Jersey Giants are one of the largest chicken breeds, and they make for excellent meat birds. They grow more slowly than breeds like the Cornish Cross, taking about 16 to 21 weeks to reach butcher weight, but their size and the quality of their meat can make the wait worthwhile.
5. Bresse: Known as the ‘queen of poultry,’ the Bresse breed is renowned for its high-quality meat. These birds are active and robust foragers, making them perfect for a chicken tractor setup. While Bresse chickens can take up to 16 weeks to reach butcher weight, the exceptional quality and flavor of their meat are said to be unparalleled.
Remember, your choice of breed will depend on various factors, including how long you’re willing to wait for your chickens to reach butcher size, the flavor profile you prefer, and how much you’re willing to invest in feed. All these breeds can thrive in a chicken tractor environment, providing you with a regular supply of fresh, homegrown meat.
Determining the Right Size for Your Chicken Tractor
Deciding on the size of your chicken tractor is key to ensuring the comfort and well-being of your meat chickens. A good rule of thumb for meat chickens is to allow 2 square feet per bird inside the chicken tractor. This ensures they have plenty of space to move around, leading to better growth and overall health.
However, keep in mind that other factors, such as the breed of your chickens and how frequently you plan to move your tractor, can influence how much space you’ll need. If your chickens are larger breeds or you’re unable to move your tractor daily, you might want to provide a bit more space per bird.
Here is a simple table to give you an idea of how big your chicken tractor should be depending on the number of chickens:
|Number of Chickens||Minimum Tractor Size|
|5||10 square feet|
|10||20 square feet|
|15||30 square feet|
|20||40 square feet|
|25||50 square feet|
|30||60 square feet|
|35||70 square feet|
|40||80 square feet|
|45||90 square feet|
|50||100 square feet|
Keep in mind that these figures are minimum guidelines, and providing more space than this can certainly benefit your flock. Also, remember that the tractor will need to be moved regularly to ensure chickens always have access to fresh ground.
When planning the size of your chicken tractor, it’s important to also consider its manageability. If your chicken tractor is too big, it might be difficult to move around your property. Make sure to balance the needs of your chickens with the practicalities of managing the tractor for optimal results.
Maintenance and Cleaning of Your Chicken Tractor
Keeping your chicken tractor well-maintained and clean is not just important for the health of your meat chickens, but it also ensures the longevity of the tractor itself. Here are some important points to consider:
Regular Movement: One of the primary benefits of a chicken tractor is the ability to move it regularly, providing your chickens with fresh ground and preventing the build-up of waste in one area. Aim to move your tractor daily, if possible.
Waste Management: Even with regular movement, you’ll need to clean out any accumulated waste, especially in the sheltered area of the tractor. This will keep your chickens healthier and reduce the chances of disease. A small rake or spade can be handy for this task.
Inspection and Repair: Regularly inspect your chicken tractor for any signs of wear and tear. Check for any potential gaps or weak spots that predators could exploit. Make repairs as needed to ensure that the tractor remains secure.
Deep Cleaning: Between flocks, it’s a good idea to do a deep clean of your chicken tractor. Remove any remaining bedding or waste, then scrub the surfaces with a solution of water and vinegar or a non-toxic disinfectant. Rinse thoroughly and let the tractor dry completely before introducing a new batch of chickens.
Managing Feed and Water: Clean and refill your waterers and feeders regularly to prevent the build-up of algae, mold, or harmful bacteria. Make sure that your chickens always have access to fresh, clean water and feed.
By establishing a regular cleaning and maintenance routine, you can ensure that your chicken tractor remains a healthy and productive space for raising your meat chickens. Remember, the more attention you pay to the upkeep of your chicken tractor, the happier and healthier your chickens will be, resulting in a better yield of high-quality, flavorful meat.
Essential Equipment for Your Chicken Tractor
Once you’ve settled on your chicken tractor’s design and size, the next step is to equip it with the essential items that your meat chickens will need. Here’s a quick guide to the basics:
1. Feeder: Your meat chickens will need a steady supply of feed to grow and thrive. Consider a hanging feeder that can be adjusted as your birds grow. This keeps the feed off the ground, reducing waste and deterring pests.
2. Waterer: Water is essential for your chickens’ health and well-being. Like the feeder, a hanging waterer is often a good choice. It keeps the water clean and saves space on the ground for your chickens to move and forage.
3. Shade Cloth or Tarp: Even if part of your tractor is enclosed and provides shelter, it can be beneficial to have an additional shade cloth or tarp to protect your birds from sun or rain. This can be especially important in hot weather to prevent overheating.
4. Bedding: While not always necessary in a chicken tractor, some owners prefer to use bedding such as straw or wood shavings in the enclosed section of their tractor. This can provide extra comfort for the chickens and can help manage waste.
5. Secure Latches: Predators are often more clever than we give them credit for. Invest in secure, high-quality latches for any doors or openings in your chicken tractor to keep your flock safe.
Remember, the health and growth of your meat chickens largely depend on their environment. While the chicken tractor itself provides numerous benefits, it’s the attention to details, like the right equipment and regular care, that truly makes a difference. With these essentials in place, your chicken tractor will be well-equipped to provide a safe, productive environment for your meat chickens.
Chicken tractors offer an efficient, beneficial approach to raising meat chickens. They not only make flock management easier but also contribute to producing healthier, tastier chicken meat by combining the best elements of free-range and secure housing. With a well-designed chicken tractor, you can look forward to raising meat chickens that are healthier, happier, and ultimately more rewarding. Remember, the success of your meat chicken venture will be determined not only by your housing choice but also by proper feeding, care, and a commitment to the overall well-being of your flock. With these elements combined, your journey into raising meat chickens in a chicken tractor will be a fruitful endeavor.