Author Topic: Poultry Tractors  (Read 7482 times)

Don

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Poultry Tractors
« on: January 30, 2016, 02:38:32 PM »
I've had a request for information on "Tractors" or movable pens that we have or would like to build.  I have used a few of these for several years for small groups of birds both for breeding and grow out pens.  The nice thing is that they have access to fresh grass/ground with less mess.  The down side is that they really need to be moved often because they will destroy a patch of ground in short order.  So the tractor needs to be light enough to move easily but heavy enough for wind stability and to deter predators.  I have several that I made earlier that have become stationary pens now that my helpers have grown up and moved away.  I will try to get a few pictures of the ones that I am using as soon as our snow/mud goes away.  Anyone else have a design that they would like to build or are currently using?

This link is to Patty Pickard's website where she shared info about her farm.   Patty was a really great asset to the breeds that she raised. And her version was pretty simple and useful for the AM bantams that she bred.   Sadly I doubt that her family still offers these for sale though now.   
http://www.faithvalleywaterfowl.com/chicken_tractor.html
« Last Edit: February 02, 2016, 04:27:27 PM by Don »
Don Cash
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Don

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2016, 04:23:46 PM »
The mud has not gone yet but another storm is coming in.  Here are two pics of more recent tractors we've used.  I can move these with some effort using a small limb on the end opposite I am lifting.  I slide them sideways so they only move about 4-5 feet each time.  The white plastic was chosen to help keep the birds cooler in the summer heat, but obviously shows residue much more than a darker color too.  the plywood rectangular unit is 4x8'. The white plastic sided one is 5x8'. The slant wall gives more ground space but less room in the night coop.

I am sure that there are others with different schemes being used now.  Please post what you like to use. 
Don Cash
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Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2016, 10:50:05 PM »
Don, I could never understand why they call these poultry tractors? Don't you have to have a motor for it to be a tractor?
Gordon Gilliam

Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2016, 09:56:10 AM »
Yes, Gordon! Mine need motors for sure!

We built three coops and pens this past year, and I really like the concept of our design. We still have to make a few tweaks to the system, though.

The coops was initially going to be mobile, but the real mobility lies in the pens. They are 10X10. One side of the pen has the hatch-type door. The coops have a "run" underneath the floor enclosed by hardware cloth. On each of the four sides, there is a hatch door. The pen lines up to each door. We also have two 5 ft tunnels for each unit. Once I have moved the pen around to each side, we attach the tunnels giving them access to new ground. If I move the pens every three days or so, it is nearly a month before the pen comes back to the first location. Since I feed my chickens a whole grain feed mix, whatever had spilled has normally sprouted up, and the grass has regrown back before they come back.

This system makes moving the coop less necessary, since they get the fresh ground. The pens are light enough for me to move by myself. The trick is just getting out there to move it while they are locked in their coop, so generally after they have gone to bed.

The tweaks we are working on include ease of lining up the doors, keeping the pens lightweight, yet sturdy, yet able to handle the frequent, bumpy moving, and designing a better handle for lifting the end and steering it easier.

I do love our system, though! Some pics are on my facebook page. I can't figure out how to shrink my photos to post them here.
Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3

Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2016, 02:50:42 PM »
Sarah, Did you see Susan's helpful post recently on reducing the size of your pictures so they will post on the Forum? It was posted under "Online, easy image resizing". Check it out and see if that will solve the problem.
Gordon Gilliam

Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2016, 09:55:25 PM »
Ok, I think I figured out the picture thing. :)

The white coop, the "Ameraucondo", is our first set up. The next two had little improvements, such as the different type doors on the run (under the coop), the front door on the coop, the different roof, and the pen (not pictured) has a better door that opens in instead of out. I do like the metal roof better. Because of the shape, it gives more ventilation. Plus, it is much lighter weight.

We did not put the peel and stick tiles on the inside of the third coop. They don't hold up well. I use sand on the interior for moisture control and more heat retention up here in Northeast PA. The nesting box is blocked off in this pic, but is opened up when they get close to laying.

The Ameraucasa houses my Paul Smith babies from Texas, and the Ameraucondo holds my babies from the Bayou (LA Mike) as well as my Wyandottes and sex links. 

Right now, for winter air, I have a type of black tarp covering all of the sides of both the pens and coops except for the southern sides, as well as over the top of the pens. This helps protect them from the wind and snow. Of course, right now we have NO SNOW! Since we normally do have a foot or more by now, I didn't intend to move the pens until the Spring thaw. I don't think I have a picture of them now covered. But when we did get pretty cold and windy, when I was tending to their food and water, as soon as I stepped inside their pens, it was immediately noticeable that they were warmer in there! So I am pleased with that.

What do you think?
Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3

Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2016, 11:35:25 PM »
What do I think? I think you have a pretty neat setup! It looks like you put a lot of thought into the plans and continued to make improvements as you went forward with more building. I'm jealous! You are right, a tarp can make a big difference as a windbreak and to shed water from above. With our winds here and frigid weather, I usually only get about two years out of heavy poly tarps. That's a pretty cheap investment compared for the comfort they provide for the poultry. Thanks for sharing the pictures with us.
Gordon Gilliam

Don

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2016, 07:36:17 AM »
Sarah I like the coop and run set up.   And I expect it works really well to get them out on new grass.  A rotation of 4 weeks should give the grass plenty of time to recover too.  Giving them access to the ground gives them both space to grow out, and makes them happy to scratch and find insects/grit.  Lots of us let some of our stock free range when we are able to carefully watch them.  Your system is one that gives them a level of protection and containment while giving them larger grazing areas over time.  You are right, the roof material can add significant weight.  Asphalt shingles are great for stationary coops.  But corrugated or 5 crimp metal and plastic does a pretty good job to make it more portable.  Gordon had a predator problem even with an asphalt shingle roof.  So I need to be aware that the  the lighter roofs, and even sidewalls in my case, can cause problems down the road.  I do have an electric fence charger that I can rig up when predators seem to return repeatedly.  This helps me deter damage until I can trap and reinforce the coops after trouble.  I do not have a dog that runs out at night, but that seems to be a good option.  The sand floor cover seems to work well too.  Does it help in the winter more than shavings?  How many birds can you comfortably keep in each coop?  What are the dimensions of the coop?  You touched on summer heat.  Do you have summer vents too? 

The woven tarps are really light and do a great job for a time.  Some breeders are able to get used billboard vinyl tarps for a reasonable price. I've seen these on Ebay too.  The free advertising you gain may not be to your liking.  But the reverse side is black and can cause heat gain problems during summer.  You can buy white Rubber roofing that is similar from contractors or suppliers in your area.  You can get paints that will cover roofing materials as well.  Hypalon paint seemed to work well for building roofs.  These tarps are heavier and last for a good while.

Gordon, I don't know what to tell you about the name.  I don't know if they are implying that we are the mules or if the chickens are the tillers of the soil.  But it's much simpler than saying "portable chicken pens...I have to move around the yard..."
« Last Edit: February 05, 2016, 07:48:33 AM by Don »
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Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2016, 09:54:37 AM »
Thanks, Don and Gordon! I do let my chickens free range as much as I can, but there are times when hawks come around, so this system saves them. Plus, when I start the breeding and hatching, this method keeps them in the breeding groups I want while still keeping them on good pasture and happy. Last year, I let them eat down and till up each area completely and when I moved the pen, I planted a chicken forage blend. I will do that again this year with all of them. As long as I am diligent with moving them before it is all tilled up, the "pasture" grows back nicely.

One thing we are going to be looking at this year is the summer heat. Of course, it doesn't get real hot here, but this coop is better suited for the cold. I would like to add a couple windows covered with hardware cloth, but have a flip down door over it for cooler days. The ventilation we have now seems to do well for the moisture control, but not as much for cooling off in the warmer days. So that is something we are looking at improving on.

I do like the sand much better than the pine chips. I use sand in my brooders, too. Stays much drier, easier to clean, and the chicks get their first taste of natural grit. I have learned, though, that the chickens dust bathe inside the coop a lot with the sand! That is fine, but the Ameraucondo girls are doing it right by the nesting boxes, which makes for a very messy nesting box! What is good about that, though, is I put DE in the coop sand now, since they are dust bathing in it, they are making it easy for me to keep them mite and lice free. The cleaning of the coops is easier with the sand, too. Just need a kitty litter scoop. I get play sand from Lowes or the hardware store. Some people prefer the construction style sand, but I like the finer grain...makes it easier to scoop the poop out. The sand also is a great insulator for keeping them warm.

The way I designed the roosts in that U shape and a flat board....the flat board makes it to where they sit on their feet, keeping them warm. We were going to see how they did this year in the sub zero temps, but we haven't had that frigid cold yet! But if they still struggled in that intense cold, we were going to put some heat tape on the roosts, like the kind you put around pipes...doesn't get too hot for their feet, and gives just a touch of warmth on their bums to take the chill off, without the risk of fire. We haven't done it yet, because we don't know if they will need it, and we haven't had it cold enough here to test the warmth in the coop yet. The U-shape keeps their body heat centralized, too.

As for capacity....the coop measures 4X8, but about 1 foot in the front is the platform and ramp down, so the interior is about 4X7. Right now, the most I have in one coop is 11, and they all roost on one side and about half of the back. So theoretically, I could easily put at least 5+ more birds in there without crowding them. Now, in the summer, I am not sure I want much more than that in there unless I get the windows in to let air circulate more to keep them cooled off. That's a lot of body heat! But the 11 roost lined up, and still have room to stretch sporadically. I actually sat and watched them one night just to see how they fared in the space capacity. These are full grown New Hampshires, Delawares, and Barred Rocks, so large sized chickens. Not as big as Jersey Giants or Brahmas, but bigger than Ameraucanas. The pen is 10X10 with two roosting bars running the length of the sides. Plus the ground under the coop gives approximately 130 square foot of ground. Only 100 square foot gets rotated unless I move the coop, too. It takes my 11 about 3-4 days or so to clear out the grass in that area. And especially when I have the tunnel in use, they run around back and forth a lot playing and having fun. It is so cute watching them go through that tunnel! It is like a game to them. And they all line up on the bars a couple times a day and rest. In the spring and summer, I dont' have the top tarped, just poultry netted. They bask in the sunshine, and the run under the coop gives them breezy shade. and protection when it rains.

Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3

Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2016, 12:51:58 PM »
Sarah, fresh grass, room to roam, secure roosting at night, shady well ventilated area in heat or rain, tunnel games and mite and lice free area. Now with the possibility of heat tape on roosts (I never thought or dreamed of that), do your birds know how spoiled they are? It looks like you have all your bases covered. Out of curiosity do you do anything special for frozen water in the winter. That's my biggest problem and time factor doing chores in the winter time. I use 5qt rubber tubs and don't fill tem clear full. If they freeze fairly full when it's 20 below they are hard to get the ice out. If I only fill them 1/2 full I just turn them over stomp on them and the ice usually comes right out. This adds up in time for all the pens, and in the mean time my hands are getting numb. Some days do the chores in shifts, go to the house and get warmed up and then out again. I have a few 3qt ones but the ice always freezes tight in them and are hard to stomp out. Chore time for me goes from 45 min to 1-1/2 hrs a day in the freezing winter. Yikes, when it's 20 below or colder!
Gordon Gilliam

Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2016, 04:39:36 PM »
 :)

Gordon, I actually use heated waterers. Last year, I tried the heated base, but that was a bust. I ended up getting a plastic heated waterer, and I am very happy with it. I got three more this year, but a different brand, and I like them better. I already have an outdoor extension cord ran out there for the Christmas lights, so we have splitters off of that for their waterers. This is the one I got this year and like....
http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/farm-innovators-heated-poultry-fount-3-gal?cm_vc=-10005

The only time it has frozen so far is when it got so low, there was only a small amount of water left in it. Of course, the lowest we have gotten so far this year is the single digits. We haven't really gotten subzero yet. The one last year stayed thawed in sub zero, though.
Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3

Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2016, 11:44:33 PM »
Sarah, I checked out the link you posted on the heated waterer. I was scared to death after reading all of the reviews. 25 out of 40 gave negative reviews and said not to buy. Main reason was filling unit and turning over or else coming apart while carrying the filled unit. 2 or 3 more said if not perfectly level water would leak out of unit until water was gone and froze all over floor of the coop. There was no negative reviews on not keeping the water from freezing. Manufacturer says good to 0 degrees. One review said they had no froze water to -15. What has been your experience on filling and inverting the unit. Most reviews say the tabs on the base are not large enough to secure the top adequately. I know you said you were happy with the unit, so just looking for insights on what some reviewers are doing wrong. 
Gordon Gilliam

Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2016, 05:43:25 AM »
Yes, I saw those reviews, too! I have to chuckle. The first waterer I ever used was the same style as these without the heated part. I vividly remember trying to fill the thing without getting soaked myself! After a few times of giving myself a bath with apple cider vinegar water, I figured out you have to be smarter than the plastic. lol

I now carry two gallon pitchers out to the pen with a small funnel. I turn the waterer upside down, and yes, a little of the water pours out. I use that to my advantage, because as we all know, chickens dirty their water, so this lets me rinse the basin and clean it a bit right there. Using a funnel makes for a much drier filling up. The stoppers are very secure, even in the frigid cold. They haven't leaked for me. When I turn the waterer back up, I figured out if I turn the side with the little water channel side going over the top and down (if that makes sense), then less water comes out.

Now, I also learned the hard way (as did my 11 year old son) that you probably shouldn't carry three gallons of water by hanging on to the base. It is inevitable that the weight and the movement of you walking is going to be a fun disaster and the base is going to give. I don't carry it that way anymore. The days that we bring the whole thing in to wash it and fill it inside, we carry it by holding the whole thing. No more fun disasters.

And yes, if it is unlevel, water will pour out, at different speeds depending on how unlevel it is. This is true even for pans. That is why they come with a handy hanging rod. Hang it up, gravity levels it, no leaking. :)

So in short, yes, the first time I used a waterer of this style, there was a time of learning the best way to handle them. But once I figured it out, operator errors became fewer and more far between. The only reason I like this particular waterer over the one I bought last year is this one is a bit easier to secure the base back on after washing and filling. The first one you really had to work to line up the tabs. Not fun when it is super cold outside, and the stopper (for funnel usage) was a pain to secure, while this new one is much easier.

Last year, we were below zero every day for two-three weeks straight, and then several times after that. The only time the water froze was when there was just a little bit of water in there. I don't let them get that low anymore. This year, we have gotten below zero, so I can't say how the new model will do yet. But in the single digits, it has done beautifully.

So I guess all that is to say the majority of those negative reviews are truly due to operator error and people like me learning how to best work the things. I hate that people give bad reviews based on operator errors, instead of just laugh at themselves and go dry off like my son and I do.  ;D 
Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3

Birdcrazy

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2016, 09:57:08 AM »
Thanks Sarah for the input. I guess that I'll order 1 and try it to see if I like it. If it works out I can get some more. I counted up and at the present have 31 designated breeding cages and pens. Most are Wyandotte bantams and Old English bantams either quads or trio's so a 3 gal waterer is probably not going to work for those. I have 12 LF Ameraucana breeding pens so will probably try these waterers on the larger breeding pens of 6-8 chickens for now. I'll probably continue to use the rubber tubs for the trios and quads. Do you know how many watts each waterer uses. It did not say on the description or specification tab on the website you posted.
Gordon Gilliam

Sarah Meaders

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Re: Poultry Tractors
« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2016, 09:24:09 PM »
Gordon, 31 designated breeding cages and pens??? 31?? WOW!

I have no clue how many watts each one uses! But I can tell you, with four plugged in, I have notice zero change in our electric bill. Our heat is not electric, so the bill is pretty steady this time of year, and there hasn't been any change.

Let me know what you think of the waterer! Don't carry it upside down by the base! Hold the whole thing, or you will be laughing at yourself later! :)

We are set to go subzero Saturday, and today was very windy and cold in the low teens. We brought all of the waterers in today for a good scrubbing, and I made them some cream of wheat and flax meal mixed in. Inside the pens was SIGNIFICANTLY nicer than out of them. I need to put a thermometer inside their coops...
Proclaim Yahweh's greatness with me! Let us exhale His name together! Psalm 34:3