A chicken tractor (sometimes called an ark) is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. Chicken tractors may also house other kinds of poultry. Chicken tractors allow free ranging along with shelter, allowing chickens fresh forage such as grass, weeds and bugs (although these will quickly be stripped away if the tractor stays put for too long), which widens their diet and lowers their feed needs. Unlike fixed coops, chicken tractors do not have floors so there is no need to clean them out. They echo a natural, symbiotic cycle of foraging through which the birds eat down vegetation, deposit fertilizing manure, then go on to a new area.
The term chicken tractor comes from the chickens performing many functions normally performed using a modern farm tractor: functions like digging and weeding the soil in preparation for planting trees or crops or fertilizing and weeding to enhance the growth of crops and trees already planted.
With chicken tractors flock owners can raise poultry in an extensive environment wherein the birds have access to fresh air, sunlight, forage and exercise, which caged birds in commercial coops do not have. With the coop on only a small area at any given time, the field has time to wholly re-grow and more birds can be fed than if they were allowed to freely roam. A chicken tractor also gives some shelter from predators and weather. Moreover, hens lay eggs in nest boxes rather than hiding them in foliage.
Here is how we built our chicken tractor. Your dimensions may slightly differ, which is natural during the construction process.
List of Materials:
13 – 1” x 4” x 12’ Pressure treated lumber
2 – 16′ cattle panels
2 – 4” x 4” x 12’ Pressure treated lumber
1 – 2” x 4” x 12’ Pressure treated lumber
1 Box – ¾” Poultry Net Staples
1 Box – 1 ¼” Fence Staples
1 Box – 1 5/8” Exterior Screws
1 Box – 4” Timberlok wood screws
1 – 10×12 Tarp
1 – Package of general sizes of zip ties.
1 – 15’ rope (diameter depends upon what is comfortable in your hands)
2 – Open ended hooks with screw on one end.
1 – Hammer
1 – Tape Measure
1 – Pencil
1 – Square
1 – Wire Cutter
1 – Skill Saw with electrical cord
1 – Drill
1 – Drill Bit
1 – Phillips Head Bit
1 – Roll of Electrical Tape
1. Get 4×4 cut at angle 1” on end measure in 12” to make runners
2. Cut 2 2×4′s 9′ – 6”
3. Notch both ends of the 2×4 the length & width of 2×4 piece you just cut off standing on end.( purpose of the notch is to create ground clearance).
4. Lay out the base with 4×4’s & 2×4’s
5. Secure 2×4 to 4×4 with timberlock 4” 2 in each corner, be sure to make sure that it is square before screwing them in.
6. Grab 1 x 4’s and position 2 on each next to inside of frame. This is only to set the cattle panel on so it is the same height.
7. Grab your cattle panels place them as seen here
8. Use zip ties to secure cattle panels together in middle
9. Use your 1 ¼” fence staples to secure to the 4×4 frame (hammer staples on every 4th one to secure cattle panels)
10. Take the 1×4 shins out, that use used in step 6.
11. Go back and add more fence staples at 45 degree angle, every other bar on the cattle panel.
12. Measure and mark center on 2×4 that will be front of the chicken tractor.
13. Measure and mark center 2×4 that will be rear of the chicken tractor.
14. From the center mark 18” to left right of center on the front 2×4 of the chicken tractor.
15. Measure from the center mark on the 2×4 to the top of cattle panel which should come to about 67 ½” this is for the front and the back sides. 16. Cut 3 – 1×4 at 67 1/2”
17. Use scrap piece 4×4 wedge you have from cutting the angle on the 4×4 base, to place under 2×4 to lay the 1×4 on.
18. Place the 1×4’s to the outside of the 18” lines you measure earlier. Makes sure you screw these on the inside of the chicken tractor, as shown above.
19. At the bottom measure outside to outside 1×4 that you just screwed in, this should be 43 ¼”
20. Cut 1- 1×4 to 43 ¼”.
21. Get 1 5/8 screws and put one on each side to tack it.
22. Take your 3rd 1×4 and on the center line in rear, center it on the 1×4 and screw it in. Use a 4×4 wedge from the front side to help hold it up. Best sure that it is straight.
23. Measure from inside of front door to inside back piece, this should be approximately 101 7/8
24. Get 2×4 and cut 101 7/8
25. Pre-drill hole in front door header and back frame, two on each end.
26. Use 4 timberlocks and put them into drill holes prior. This just makes it easier when assembling.
27. Screw the ridge pole into the front header and the rear 1×4.
28. Drill one hole on the door side frames, one each side about where the cattle panel and door frame are close to meeting. Use a zip tie to attach cattle panel to door side frame.
29. Attach the ridge pole using fence staples to the cattle panel many need a step ladder for this.
30. At rear of tractor measure 28” either side of center and mark bottom board and measure up from the bottom of the 2×4 to above the cattle panel which should be 60”
31. Cut 2 – 1×4’s approximately 60” long
32. Attach these 2 boards in same manner that you have other vertical boards.
33. Drill one hole in each of the two vertical boards near where the outside of the 1×4’s meet the cattle panel, and secure with a zip tie as shown.
34. From top of the rear2x4, measure and mark 2ft and 4ft on either side on each of the vertical 1×4’s
35. Cut 1 – 1×4 approximately 78” long, and a second 1×4 approximately 102” long.
36. Attach both boards at the 2ft and 4ft mark into all 3 vertical boards. You want them position below the line measurement line that you drew in step 34.
37. Drill each board that you just assembled to allow zip tie to go through board around cattle panel and zip tight (you will notice that entire structure is becoming sturdier).
38. Move to front mark 19 1/2” from the outside ends towards center on the bottom 2×4 on both sides.
39. Cut 2 – 1×4’s approximately 52” in length.
40. Attach these 2 boards 1 on each side of the door like you have the other vertical pieces and drill for zip ties, and zip tie them down.
41. Cut 2 – 1×4 26” long and 2 – 1×4 33” long.
42. From top of the bottom 2×4, measure up 14 1/2’ and 37 ½’ on all 4 vertical 1×4’s.
43. At doorway measure from the inside edge towards the outside edge 1 ¾ and mark it. (this is where doors goes).
44. Attach 4 horizontal boards as shown and drill and attach zip ties (cattle panel should be sturdy)
45. Using the scrap 2×4 lumber make corner braces (these are needed to keep chicken tractor square) corner braces are about 18” long and made of 2×4 each corner brace will have about 45 angle on each end (see photo) measure own chicken tractor to be sure of angle and pre drill holes for the timberlocks ( attach as shown)
46. Use your drill and drill holes into the front 4×4’s 8” from end (the holes DO NOT go all the way through, you are simply just making guide holes), at a slight angle. Insert and screw down the hooks as shown.
47. Attach door stop( this will be made of scrap lumber or 1×4, and it needs to be 2ft long and attached outside of lower 2×4. The door will be removable and does not need hinges
48. Rip a piece of 1×4 in half to end up with 2 pieces of lumber 9” long ( this will be the door closer)
49. Drill hole in center of each of the 2 pieces as this will allow these pieces to swivel
50. Measure the top of door frame 10” either side of center, and attach door closer. Make sure that you do not screw them down too tight but allow for them to swivel.
51. Get the rope that you will use to pull the tractor and some tape. Bend over the ends of the rope to make a loop and tape it together to make a loop to go around the hooks on the tractor. (The pulling rope needs to be 12 to 15 ft long and big and round as possible as to be comfortable with hands. Chicken tractor will be pulled by hand do not use a machine because this will scare the chickens and this will make them move to the back of the tractor and cause them to roll under the back of the tractor and it will be squishy squish).
52. Put away all of the scrap lumber and tools except zip ties, small staple, and hammer.
53. At rear of tractor cut off all the excess on 1×4’s as the tarp will need to cover these pieces.
54. The 48” wide chicken wire is applied over cattle panel, start at back and role the chicken wire over the chicken tractor.
55. Attach chicken wire with poultry net staples about every 6” on the 4×4.
56. Pull chicken wire tight and staple to other end of the chicken wire to the 4×4 using poultry net staples. Using zip ties about every 12”, zip tie the chicken wire to the cattle panel.
57. Attach chicken wire to front end of chicken tractor just like you did to rear (may end up with gap at the middle between the front and rear, will fix later).
58. Attach chicken wire to rear end of cattle panel (See Picture above). You will have over lap on the top, do not worry about this, just tuck it over and secure down with zip ties. Secure the chicken wire to the rear of the chicken tractor using zip ties where it overlaps sides and poultry net staples where it overlaps wood.
59. From inside tractor using zip ties attach wire to cattle panel over the top of the chicken tractor
60. Attach chicken wire to front end of cattle panel; make sure you leave the doorway section open. You will have over lap on the top, do not worry about this, just tuck it over and secure down with zip ties. Secure the chicken wire to the front of the chicken tractor using zip ties where it overlaps sides and poultry net staples where it overlaps wood.
61. Currently there should be a gap between the front chicken wire and the back chicken wire that runs over the cattle panel. Roll another stand of wire from the left side over to the right side and secure as you did previously.
62. Starting at front of tractor slide your 10×12 tarp over the chicken tractor and center it. Begin attaching the tarp with Zip ties using the holes provided in the tarp.
63. Secure the sides of the tarp using the holes provided in the tarp with zip ties.
64. Secure the rear of the tarp to the chicken tractor. For the excess, fold the tarp in on itself, then secure to the chicken tractor.
65. Now it is time to build the front door. Measure the height of your doorway and cut 2 -1”x4” to fit. A little gap is ok, as the door is supposed to be removable, hence why there is no hinges.
66. Measure the width of your doorway. Remember the horizontal boards on the top and the bottom will be fitting inside your door way. So be sure when securing them horizontal with the vertical you leave enough room so it will sit in the doorway properly.
67. Be sure to drill pilot holes, and secure the boards together using 1-5/8” exterior screws.
68. Measure and cut your door crosspiece and secure as you did in the last step.
69. Take your remaining chicken wire and secure to the backside of the door. (On the picture above it wire is on the front side.
70. Hang your door.
If you want, this is optional you can install roosting poles for your chickens to sit up, I installed two, but this is your preference:
Also not shown is the nesting box, which again it depends upon if your tractor is for layers or meat birds. If you choose it to be for layers, the best spot to install your nesting box is on the backside, just remember to cut the chicken wire out of the way:
Well I hope you have enjoyed building your chicken tractor, always remember that this is a learning process and the biggest thing to remember is this:
“The Chickens will not care what it looks like!”
Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Footsteps Farm and Ms. Floyd Family Homesteader for all of their help!!
I hope you have enjoyed,
Until Next Time,
Jann Olson says
I’ve never heard of a chicken tractor, sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing with SYC. I’m sure it’s not intentional, but I’m not seeing a link back to the party.
Modern Homesteader says
Hi Jann, thanks for posting. I actually have you listed on the blogs I hop page. I hope that is sufficient: http://floydfamilyhomestead.com/blogs-i-hop/
What a great DIY! I became interested in chicken tractors after watching a Joel Salatin video. So many wonderful benefits! Perhaps one day… for now, we just try to let them out into our alfalfa fields in the afternoon after they lay. Thank you for sharing your instructions on the Art of Home-Making Mondays! I will pin this!
Modern Homesteader says
Thank you very much!
Shelly @ Frugal Family Home says
I would like to have chicken, but my husband doesn’t. For now we babysit the neighbor’s chickens when they are on vacation. Thanks for sharing this tutorial at the Tuesday Garden Party!
Modern Homesteader says
Aww maybe you could let him taste the difference in eggs, tell him how much money you all could save above all keep pestering until you get them 🙂
Looks like a great project for my husband and son! Thanks for sharing!
Modern Homesteader says
Thank you for reading, I greatly appreciate it.