There are a number of different ways to house chickens, and lots of different styles of coops.
The approach that I like best for a small flock is the chicken tractor.
What is a Chicken Tractor?
A chicken tractor is basically a bottomless coop that keeps the chickens contained and gives them direct access to soil and grass.
The simplest chicken tractors are not much more than a rectangular frame covered with mesh to keep chickens in and predators out, plus a cover made of some type of sheet material — such as metal, wood or a tarp — to keep out wind and rain.
The reason these are called chicken tractors stems from the fact that you move them frequently and that they are often used in the garden.
Chicken tractors work well in the garden, where the chickens can scratch and aerate the soil, eat weed seeds and deposit manure to fertilize the soil, but that’s not the only place where they’re useful.
But I Don’t Have a Large Vegetable Garden …
If you don’t have a large vegetable garden, then you may wonder: Why would I use a chicken tractor?
While chicken tractors are definitely useful in the garden, they also work well on yards and pastures. Some of the lushest grass that I’ve seen is in areas where people have rotationally grazed chickens.
To rotationally graze your chickens, you put them in one area for a while — it could be a day or even a week, depending on various factors — then you move them to a new area, typically adjacent to the first area. You continue that process of moving them day-by-day or week-by-week until the grass has regrown in the area where you first had them before you move them back to that spot. Typically this may be 30 to 60 days, or longer if you’re in a dry season and if your grass isn’t irrigated.
Rotational Grazing in a Chicken Tractor
Rotational grazing is excellent for your grass. It concentrates the manure in a small area, fertilizing it well. It also focuses the grazing on a small area at a time, then gives that area many days to rest and regrow before it gets grazed again.
One of the keys to rotational grazing is moving the animals frequently so that nothing gets overgrazed. Overgrazing isn’t primarily a result of putting too many animals on too small area. In fact, in rotational grazing, you would often do just that, to concentrate both the grazing and the manure.
Rather, overgrazing occurs when animals eat back an area over and over again, and the grassy plants don’t get enough time between feedings to regrow. This weakens the grass, and if done too long, kills it. So again, the key is to move your animals frequently so that overgrazing doesn’t occur.
When done properly, rotational grazing benefits the grass, causing it to grow thicker and more lush, and reducing the amount of bare soil between the plants.
Rotational grazing is also an effective way to help control parasites naturally.
Chicken tractors are an ideal way to rotationally graze your chickens. Simply put your chickens into a chicken tractor at one end of your yard or pasture, then move them to the next adjacent area each day.
Sketch out the path of movement in advance so that when you have grazed all the grazing areas in the rotation, the coop will be close to where you started, and you can start all over again without needing to move the chicken tractor a long distance.
One caveat: I would be reluctant to use a chicken tractor on a manicured front lawn because the grass where you’ve just had the chickens for the past few days will be eaten down and there will be a lot of manure on it. This is going to make it a little unsightly for a few weeks until the grass grows back. A backyard or a suburban yard that is less manicured or a pasture would be a better place to use a chicken tractor.
To Be Continued …
We’ll look at more ways to use chicken tractors in future articles.