Why Using Chicken Tractors Makes My Chickens Lay More Eggs

Why Using Chicken Tractors Makes My Chickens Lay More Eggs Blog Cover

In an ideal world we would let our chickens free-range all year round, and we’re sure they would appreciate us for this. However what do you do during the winter, when predators such as foxes are desperate and will risk an attack during the daytime?
You could just keep your chickens in a coop and pen during winter but we found this affects their egg laying… massively. This is why we decided to use a chicken tractor and the girls rewarded us by increasingly their egg laying!
Note: If you are looking at making your own pen and need to work out how big it needs to be, read How Much Room Do Chickens Need.
Not heard of a chicken tractor before or wondering how to use one? Let’s get straight into this week’s article.

What Is a Chicken Tractor?

First of all for those of you who haven’t heard of a chicken tractor before, you are probably wondering what exactly is a chicken tractor?
Portable Chicken Tractor
A chicken tractor is a portable pen which you can move around your garden to provide your chickens with a constant fresh supply of grass.
Chicken tractors are normally just dragged across the garden; however you can get ‘fancier’ tractors which have wheels on to make them easier to pull!
At this point you’re probably wondering how is this any different to my regular chicken pen.

Chicken Tractor Vs Chicken Pen

The biggest difference between a chicken tractor and a chicken pen is that a chicken pen isn’t portable – a pen is attached to the side of your chicken coop.
A pen tends to be more secure because it’s a permanent structure and you can bury the chicken wire down into the ground to stop predators digging underneath the pen.
However the downside of the pen is, because it’s a permanent structure you will probably find your chickens eat all the grass in their pen and leave it just dirt. Unless you provide your chickens with a large pen this will always happen and for most backyard chicken keepers, we don’t have the space to extend the pen.
This is where the chicken tractor comes in. Because chicken tractors are very mobile, it means you can move them around when your girls have cleared a patch of land. This means they get access to fresh grass and different areas of your garden which stops them from overgrazing any one particular section of your garden.
It also stops them from eating things they aren’t supposed to… i.e. seeds you’ve planted, vegetables and flowers!

Our Experiment with Chicken Tractors

So let’s now talk about how using chicken tractors made our chickens lay more eggs.
We still remember fencing off their pen when we first got our chickens at around 18 weeks old. We started with six chickens and they had a pen roughly 15×8 foot.
Throughout the summer, our girls free ranged in the garden. However during the winter we kept them in the pen- because we were worried about foxes attacking them (they get desperate during the winter and will attack in daylight if necessary).
The summer was fantastic and our girls were laying really well, then winter was coming round so it was time to place the girls back in their pen.
Within a month our girls had completely wiped out the grass and it was turning into a mud bath in the middle of December!
Hmmm. Not ideal…
We extended the pen by another 15×8 foot and again by the end of January their entire pen was just dirt – and worse yet the grass didn’t ever get time to recover because the chickens were always there.
During this winter their egg laying plummeted- granted the amount of eggs they laid should reduce anyway during the winter, but it was literally off the spectrum.
We think the problem was because they had eaten all the grass, they only had dirt to scrat around in and they clearly didn’t like this and it unsettled them. If we would have used a chicken tractor back then we could have moved our chickens around the various patches of grass, this would have allowed the unused grass to recover and grow back.
We had a dilemma, we are happy for our chickens to roam anywhere in the garden, but during the winter they need to be secure due to the risk of them getting attacked. We can’t place chicken wire around the edge of our entire garden (it would look like a prison!) and the size of their current pen wasn’t big enough because they turned it into a mud bath!
So the following winter we decided to try instead and use a chicken tractor.
Our plan was to keep the girls in their coop overnight to roost and then during the day we would put them in the tractor. The tractor would be moved each week- to stop them overgrazing any one particular area.
One unexpected side effects of this was that although their egg production slowed down during the winter, they still laid far more eggs than the previous winter!
However the eggs were slightly dirty- not to worry because we just followed the guide How To Store Your Chickens’ Freshly Laid Eggs.
We’ve since been using the tractor for several winters since then and seen great things happen. Some of our friends came over and wanted to know how we used the tractor so we wrote them a list of things we do- so we thought we’d share them with you too!

Chickens Lay More Eggs When They Eat Healthily

Grass is good for chickens. So using a tractor naturally benefits our laying hens in their production departments. 
We noticed our eggs change when our hens had access to the grass under the tractor year-round. The yolks became darker, and tasted better!
Because grass meets our hens’ protein requirements, their production spiked! In fact, a chicken’s daily nutrient requirement is one-quarter of the way fulfilled just by eating grass. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals they also get from eating the greens (E, C, and Iron).
Implementing the chicken tractors in our poultry-raising routine allowed our hens to eat a more natural diet, consisting of high-value greens. 

How We Use a Chicken Tractor

Winter Use: The first thing to remember is, we only use the tractor during the winter to keep them safe.
Keep the Coop: In the evening we push the tractor back over to their coop and they roost in there at night.
Make Sure You Rotate It: Each week we move the tractor to a new place in the garden.
Protect Against Flooding: If certain areas of your garden are prone to flooding, make sure you place the tractor on higher ground.
Always move the tractor if the ground underneath it is bare.
You Need Flat Ground: Make sure you only use the tractor on flat ground. Bumpy ground is not ideal for tractors because it can leave gaps which the chickens might escape from.
Close It on Snow Days: On very harsh winter days, we keep the girls in their coop/pen. We think it would be too cold for them to be out in the snow.
Check for Eggs: Although we have a small nesting box at one end of the chicken tractor, some of the girls don’t like using it. So once you’ve moved the tractor check the grass to make sure there aren’t any hidden eggs!
Clean Up The Food: Whilst you are searching for any hidden eggs, make sure there isn’t any pellets or other food on the floor because this will attract pests such as mice.
Here is a great video I found showing what can happen to your grass without a chicken tractor!

Do I need a coop/pen with my chicken tractor?

When most people hear about chicken tractors, I think one of the first questions they think is- does this mean I don’t need a chicken coop anymore?
This really depends on the climate you live in and the bread of your chickens.
If you live in a warm climate all year round you could keep your girls in their tractor all year round (but we wouldn’t recommend it). However in colder climates chickens need the coop to keep warm during harsh winters.
Also, as a rule of thumb, only chickens grown for meat are kept in tractors all year long. Laying chickens need a substantial nesting box.We much prefer to keep our girls in their coop and like we previously mentioned, only use the tractor during the winter as a necessity.
So, are you going to try and use a chicken tractor now? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

26 thoughts on “Why Using Chicken Tractors Makes My Chickens Lay More Eggs

    1. Hi Danielle!
      Thanks so much- I’m so happy you’re enjoying it and finding it useful 🙂
      I bet you can’t wait for your chicks!?
      Let me know how you get on, and get in touch if you have any questions…

  1. We would love to have chickens free ranging out in our garden area but I’m scared to death a hawk might get them! Or a neighbor’s dog…or OUR dogs. We have our garden area separated from our dog yard but who knows if our Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix would jump the fence! LoL How do you keep your free range chickens SAFE in the SUMMER? 🙂

  2. I have just a 4 X 8ft chicken tractor for four years without incident. We don’t have any level or flat ground so I have to dig a hole for the wheels to go in, so there aren’t gaps. I never worried about my hens getting out, but about predators getting in. Lately i had gotten lax in doing the hole for the wheels. With the drought, the ground was so hard and nearly impossible to dig. I wish I had not gotten lax. On a Sunday, a raccoon got one hen. Wednesday a possum got my other hen. The opossum had crawled through a small gap. My hens are not only to provide eggs, but they were my pets. I’m heartbroken. The moral of the story is, while a chicken tractor is a wonderful way to keep chickens, one must take extra precautions to protect them.

    1. Hi Gayla,
      Raccoons and opossums are so very dangerous- I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.

  3. I’ve had 3 bantams for a while and recently (around 6 weeks ago) took on another 3 (who are all quite young ie 6 months plus). None of my chickens Are laying at all. I’ve checked flower beds, bushes etc but nothing. They free range my garden all day until they put themselves to bed at night, I’ve have the largest eglu coop so space is not an issue. They have the same food as always, layers pellets, corn and mealworms and bread as treats. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong?

    1. Hi Miss C,
      How well were the hens laying before you introduced the new hens.
      Also, did you quarantine the new bantams before you introduced them to each other?

    2. how do you like your iglu coop? I am using the iglu go up for 4 bantoms. so far I really like it. except the price.added an larger pen and wheels..this will be the first winter so i’ll see if I made the right choice.
      regards terry

  4. Just found your website and am glad I did. having trouble with my girls not laying…when they slowed down I put it off to shorter days then some started to molt…the first time since I had them. now it’s been nineteen days since the Americanas have laid an egg but the Rhode island reds still lay a few and the astralorpe does too. after reading your info I am ready to wait and see what happens. they don’t seem to have any symptoms of illness and their diet seems to be on track. I do use a warming light in the coop when we get down in the twenties…that may encourage a few eggs though I prefer not to make an artificial environment…just want them to stay warm. Thanks agaIn.

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for the nice words!
      What you’re explaining sounds normal to me. Unfortunately if you don’t ‘artificially’ induce egg laying during winter then eggs can be few and far between…

  5. Great article and I love the idea of a tractor for safe “free ranging” ! However – the lack of egg production in the winter is due to the shortened day length. Give your hens a light in their coop in the winter months – until about 10 pm – will be the real key to good egg production.

    1. Hi Colleen,
      True, but this can have negative consequences for your hens. Make sure to read my article on winter lighting 🙂

  6. Bought new coop and located it a 100 feet or so away from old one. Free ranging chickens used to “obey” my “house” command. Now they keep going back to the old location and don’t want to move to the new one. Any ideas

    1. Hi Frank,
      When you get a new coop you need to keep them locked up inside the coop for around 24 hours so they can become familiar with their new coop. Did you do this when you moved them?

  7. We are building a chicken tractor this weekend. I really like letting the girls out to free range after work, but I want them to get more access to their natural diet. My plan is to put them in the tractor before work, and let them free range after work when I’m playing outside with the kids. We have about two acres or so, and it isn’t fenced at all. So I have to keep a close eye on them when they are out!

  8. Been using tractor for our birds this summer and with winter coming on considering what to do. The tractor I built for them has a pretty big coop on top (makes for a heavy tractor, but means the coop travels with them). The concern I have is that grass goes dormant in the winter, so even moving them frequently (currently we move every three days), seems like wouldn’t take long to have a big mud patch.
    Been considering parking the tractor and adding temporary fencing around to give them a bigger run for the bulk of winter.

    1. Plant winter rye grass. It grows during the winter and doesn’t kill your regular grass. It then goes dormant or dies depending on the species at the end of spring.

  9. My hens (4) are Kentucky Reds, 2 1/2 years old. They laid very well until last fall. We get (at the most) 1 egg per day and those eggs have very thin shells, so they are most times broken. We have been buying eggs now for 6 months now. We have tried everything: giving them oyster shells, egg shells, the right feed, plenty of space, grassy area, etc., etc. They get a lot of attention and love. What gives?

  10. I got this idea from Possibility Alliance in LaPlata, MO.
    You section off your chicken yard when you make it, with the house in the middle. Then you only open one section at a time for them to graze on. Shut that one and open the next when it has been grazed down a ways (before you have bare spots). That way each section has a chance to regrow before you back to it again.
    However, in times of drought you’ll have to water for this to work.
    The inner ring around the hen house will be bare no matter what.
    Sometimes I get busy and one of the sections gets too grazed down.
    This is like rotation grazing for livestock if you know that concept!
    I keep certains ones in the hen house/paddocks area all the time, and I have 2 chicken tractors that I use to keep different breeds or cocks separate during 3/4 of the year.
    It is too cold and the snow makes it too difficult to use them in the winter; plus I heat the hen house a bit to prevent frozen combs and waddles.
    🙂 Enjoy!

  11. Love the idea but my yard is to small so I loved the deep compost in the coop and run idea better! I think even if I had the land I still do the deep compost flooring.
    Thank you for the good reading article tho! Always great to have options 🙂

  12. I have a chicken tractor–a run with a coop attached–and when I move it, I place hardware cloth around the outside, so six inches extend into the run and one foot extends outward to keep digging predators out. My ground isn’t level either, but I have some 2×4 wooden posts that I place around the exterior. Heavy rocks go on top of those. I get a bit of a workout when I move the coop and all its accessories, but I’ve had my four hens for more than a year now and have never lost one to a predator. And they lay like champions.

  13. I want my chickens moved around the yard – 1 1/2 acres – during the day and then back to the permanent coop for the night. Would this still necessitate a coop for the “tractor”?

  14. I am learning a lot from this site thanks a lot and I will be sharing my experience and results soon with the project i have undertaken.

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