S decided we should raise meat birds this year.  Since we’ve lived in the higher altitudes of CO for the last few years, where cornish hybrids don’t survive well, we have only raised heritage type breeds so far.  The problem with them, though, is they eat.  And I have to feed them for about 6 months to get any actual meat out of them, and even then, they dress out to about half the carcass weight of a cornish hybrid.

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So, as much as I am not thrilled about the hybrid versions, I wanted some actual meat with really big, juicy breasts to make the effort worth while this year.  Due to their growth rate, they also only have to be fed for 6-8 weeks and then they are ready to harvest.

Source: Internet Stock Photo

Source: Internet Stock Photo

To encourage good grazing and reduce their consumption of organic chicken feed a bit, spread manure, and decrease the stink and maintenance required from these birds, I decided to house them in a portable chicken tractor.  After researching several versions, I decided to go with a type based on the model used by Polyface Farms.

I took some scrap lumber S had cut with his lumber mill (so it is untreated), and cut it into 2×2 boards, each 6 foot long.  Then I cut 8 2×2 pieces 30 inches long.

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I assembled these to make a 6 foot long x 6 foot wide x 30 inch high frame.  Then I cut and installed braces for the corners out of scraps, most of which were around 1×1.5 inches.  Finally, because this unit will be dragged across pasture on a daily basis, I also put larger braces around the top section, just to give some extra stability (though I forgot to take a photo of that part).

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I should mention that the original intent was to have a top-open panel, but I didn’t think through the 30″ tall really well, and it wound up far too tall to conveniently work in the tractor by bending over.  So, since the chickens are primarily M’s job anyway, I decided at the last minute to build her a little door.  It simply required one additional 30 inch “stud” in the frame, and then I used more scraps to build a little door.  I just used a simply hook-and-eye closure for the door.

The door.  Look on the top, and you can see a large top brace I put in and forgot to photograph.

The door. Look on the top, and you can see a large top brace I put in and forgot to photograph.

Then I installed all the chicken wire, using staples and U-nails, followed by the galvanized roofing and siding.  I used barn roof screws with neoprene washers to install the metal.

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To ease the job of transporting a bit, I installed an eye-hook on each front corner, with a rope tied to each to help a single person lift it.

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I also installed a bike hook on each rear corner, which made a lovely handle-of-sorts so a single person could easily lift a back corner and stick a skid or whatever underneath.

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Finally, I had ordered (only because I didn’t have time to hunt down the individual parts, though it would probably save a bit of $$ if you have time) a 3-nipple gravity-fed chicken waterer, connected to a 5 gallon bucket that just sits on top of the tractor.

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The chicks seem to love all the open space to roam.  They are only 2 weeks old, so technically a little young to be out yet, but since our temps are over 90 in the day right now, they seem fine.  I have a heat lamp tied up in the corner that we still use at night, though, as they do get a bit chilled at night without it.  In addition, due to their age and size, we put them on freshly mowed pasture, so they don’t strain their legs trying to manuever through tall grasses, and if there is a threat of rain, we pack straw or hay in the sheltered area, to ensure they have dry bedding to climb up on and get off the damp ground.

The yellow chicks are the cornish cross meat birds.  The other colors are our replacement layer pullets.  They will be added to the chicken coop when they get big enough, which will also give the meat birds room to grow in the tractor.

The yellow chicks are the cornish cross meat birds. The other colors are our replacement layer pullets. They will be added to the chicken coop when they get big enough, which will also give the meat birds room to grow in the tractor.

I actually like the design.  All the scraps I used were hard wood, though, and once the siding was added, it wound up quite heavier than expected.  A shorter size and less dense wood would have been lighter, but I wanted the tractor to be versatile in its use.  In this size, I have the option of raising turkeys, weaning goat babies, letting rabbits out to exercise, or whatever else won’t push through my chicken wire.  I still need to build skids for it to move on, and will just be dragging it in the mean time, with a little help from the kiddos.  The birds seem really happy, though, running all over, going from sun to shade at will.  M even opened the door and let them out yesterday to graze outside the tractor, which they seemed to enjoy.

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