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 risk an attack during the daytime? The answer is chicken tractors.
You could 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 increasing their egg-laying!
Note: Read How Much Room Do Chickens Need if you are looking at making your pen and need to work out how big it needs to be.
Not heard of a chicken tractor before or wondered 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 probably wonder what exactly a chicken tractor is?
A chicken tractor is a portable pen that you can move around your garden to provide your chickens with a constant fresh grass supply.
Chicken tractors are usually just dragged across the garden; however, you can get ‘fancier’ tractors that have wheels to make them easier to pull!
At this point, you’re probably wondering how this is any different from my regular chicken pen.
Chicken Tractor Vs. Chicken Pen
The most significant 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 from digging underneath the pen.
However, the pen’s downside is that 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 feet.
Throughout the summer, our girls free-ranged in the garden. However, we kept them in pen during the winter because we were worried about foxes attacking them (they get desperate and will attack in daylight if necessary).
The summer was fantastic, and our girls were lying well, then winter was coming round, so it was time to place the girls back in their pen.
Within a month, our girls had utterly 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 even get time to recover because the chickens were always there.
During this winter, their egg-laying plummeted- granted, the number 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 scratch around in, and they didn’t like this, and it unsettled them.
If we had used a chicken tractor back, we could have moved our chickens around the various patches of grass. This would have allowed the new 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.
We planned 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 particular area.
One unexpected side effect 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.
Since then, we’ve been using the tractor for several winters 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
The grass is suitable 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! A chicken’s daily nutrient requirement is one-quarter of the way fulfilled 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 that we only use the tractor to keep them safe during the winter.
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. The bumpy ground is not ideal for tractors because it can leave gaps which the chickens might escape from.
Close It on Snow Days: We keep the girls in their coop/pen on concise winter days. 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 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: While searching for any hidden eggs, make sure there aren’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 is- does this mean I don’t need a chicken coop anymore?
This 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, chickens need the coop to stay warm during harsh winters in colder climates.
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.
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