In the earlier part of this series, we discussed how you can use chicken tractors to rotationally graze your yard or pasture. Then we discussed ways to use chicken tractors directly in your garden.
Now let’s go over some of the advantages of using chicken tractors as compared to using stationary coops or letting your chickens range freely in the yard.
1. Direct Access to the Soil
Chickens, by nature, scratch in the soil. They eat bugs, grass and weed seeds.
They even consume small rocks, which go into their gizzard and enable them to grind up what they eat, particularly seeds.
The more natural an environment that you can provide your chickens, the healthier they will be. A chicken tractor works with the chickens’ natural behavior and natural tendencies by providing direct access to soil and grass.
2. Keeps Your Chickens Well-Contained
A chicken tractor contains your chickens well. They won’t be able to peck your tomatoes or scratch up your newly planted flower bed or drop manure on your front porch.
3. Protection against Predators
A chicken tractor can provide good protection against predators. To do so, there are some important design considerations.
There are two basic types of chicken tractors. One type has a secure area where you can put your chickens at night. The secure area is completely enclosed with mesh and keeps predators out very effectively. This is the most secure type of chicken tractor that I know of.
To take advantage of the extra security does require that you shut a door to lock the chickens into the secure area at night, then open it in the morning.
The other type of chicken tractor has an open bottom throughout the coop. With this type of coop, there is some chance that predators will dig under the coop and eat your chickens or their eggs. Generally, that’s more of a problem with loose sandy soil or soil that does not have good sod cover on it than it is with heavier clay soils.
If you live on very sandy soil and have difficulty with predators it would be better to use the more secure chicken tractor design discussed above.
If you live on clay soil, which is harder to dig and if you move your chickens frequently (ideally, you would move them once a day in a chicken tractor) you probably won’t have much problem with digging predators unless they are particularly bad in your area.
You’ll also want to position the coop so that it is on flat ground and so that the sides of the chicken tractor make good contact with the soil all the way around.
If you do this and still have trouble with predators digging under, you can position boards, large rocks, or wire around the perimeter of the chicken tractor to keep predators out.
I’ve kept chickens for about the past 25 years on clay soil. For most of that time, I’ve had kept at least some of them in chicken tractors.
The main predator that I’ve had trouble with digging under a chicken tractor has been skunks. They seem to be worse during some parts of the year than others.
Normally, skunks won’t harm adult chickens, at least in my experience, but they will eat eggs, and the will kill baby chicks. They’ll also come back repeatedly, so they’re somewhat of a nuisance.
Whenever we’ve had trouble with them, we’ve resorted to using boards and or rocks around the coop to discourage digging. That has always kept them out pretty well.
Since there is an overabundance of skunks in this area and they seem to reproduce quickly, we’ll also usually set out a live trap, so that we can trap and dispose of them. Generally once we’ve gotten rid of one or a few skunks, then we cease to have trouble with them for at least a few months.
4. No Trouble with Rats
When you have a stationary coop, eventually rats can become a problem, since they are drawn to the ongoing supply of feed and water in the chicken coop.
Generally with chicken tractors, rats are a non-issue. Unless you’re using the deep mulch method, discussed earlier in the series, the chicken tractor simply does not stay in one place long enough for rats to become a problem.
5. Fresh Ground Each Day
As I’ve mentioned previously, moving your chickens to fresh ground every day is healthy for them. It’s one of the most effective things you can do to keep them from having trouble with worms or other parasites.
It also gives them access to the most nutritious grasses and plants. Consider this: the first day that your chickens are on new ground, they’re going to eat the things that they like or need the most. Day by day, as time goes on if you keep them in the same spot they’re going to eat things that are less and less desirable and nutritious.
By moving them every day you give them daily access to the things that they want or need the most, as compared to keeping them in a stationary coop and pen, where they’ll quickly eat up the things that are most nutritious for them.
6. Gives Grass Time to Regrow
Grass needs a rest period to regrow. As mentioned previously, overgrazing results from pasture not getting enough rest between grazing. When your chickens have access to the same part of your yard or pasture all the time, they will eventually overgraze it, and it will become covered by a mix of bare ground and weeds.
If you give your grass enough rest after grazing, it will begin to grow better than before, benefiting from the minerals and nutrients in the chicken manure. As your grasses improve, there’ll be more for your chickens to eat.
7. Manure Goes Where It’s Needed
To manage manure with a chicken tractor is very simple. Just put the chicken tractor in the area that you want fertilized — in an area of your yard or pasture or on the garden. Your chickens will drop their manure right where it’s needed. You won’t have to shovel it, and you won’t have to clean out the coop frequently.
That’s hard to beat.
As already mentioned, chicken tractors are versatile in the you can use them in your yard and garden to benefit both. Because they’re generally small, they’re convenient to use and to put into different locations. In summer, you can position them to where they get natural shade from trees. In the winter, you can position them south of a barn or home to give them a natural windbreak. Or add a few hay or straw bales on the windward side to give extra wind protection.
If you have a large flock that you keep together, occasionally, you will need to separate out a few birds. A chicken tractor works well for that also.
In the next article, we’ll go over some of the challenges of designing and building chicken tractors.