Friday, April 13, 2012

Simple, Light Chicken Tractor DIY Plans

I have to admit, I've been reluctant to post directions for my chicken tractors (sorry, Lori!) because, honestly, I'm kind of embarrassed by how simple - and, frankly, redneck! - they are. Blue plastic tarps and zip ties aren't generally featured in Better Homes and Gardens! But, on the other hand, they do make it possible for a wimpy, carpentry-challenged girl like me to achieve my pastured poultry dreams.

So, excuse their homely appearance and simple construction - they really are useful (and cheap!)

This tarp is two years old, and obviously needs replacing.
. I haven't gotten around to refurbishing this pen for the current year yet.
10 2x2 furring strips
1 1x2 furring strip for door frame
8 corner braces
25 feet of hardware cloth
cable ties ("zip ties") and galvanized deck screws
6 foot by 8 foot tarp
2 carbiner clips or double-ended snap hooks
All of these should be available from your local home improvement store (Lowe's, Home Depot, Menards, etc.) I included the links in case you weren't sure what each item was.

You will also need some kind of saw to cut your lumber to size (I used my brother-in-law's compound miter saw, which was a lot more tool than necessary - but it worked pretty slick!), and a drill for driving the screws.

First, you need to cut your furring strips to size. You'll need 4 in their original 8' length, cut four others in half for seven 4' pieces, and cut the extra 4' piece and the two remaining 8' strips into 2' pieces (nine total) for the 4 corner posts, 4 roost supports, and one for the door frame. Also cut the thinner strip into four 2' pieces.

Once you have them cut to size, you just need to screw them together. Use the metal corner braces and 1" deck screws to make two big rectangles, then join these to the 2' uprights with 3" deck screws. It can be pretty tricky balancing everything, so if you can get someone to hold them for you that will be a big help.

Once you have the basic frame put together, add the roost supports, and then the roosts (you don't have to be too picky about the height of the roosts; I usually go for about 1/3 of the way up the supports).
Now it's time to add the wire - simply wrap the wire around the perimiter of the pen (leaving an opening for the door, of course), connect it to the wood with zip ties (or whatever other fastener you prefer), and trim it to size. There should be enough left over to cover the door. You can also add wire over the top of the pen (which I would recommend, but I didn't add that wire to the cost/materials list), leaving room of course to open the pen from above to add water and food (and a nest box, if you have laying hens). Add the tarp (also connected to the wood with zip ties) to the back of the pen, being sure to cover the back and sides.

Next put your door together - simply screw the 2' strips of 1x2 into a square, with the hardware cloth sandwiched between. Connect the door to the frame (I usually have to use two zip ties per "hinge" to make them long enough to go around both strips of wood, with a little play so the door can swing).

Once the door is finished, swing it to the "open" position and add your water support bar just behind where the door rests, so that you can swing the door freely without hitting the water bar (I have learned to add this step from frustrated experience). (See picture at top of post to see the water bar if that description doesn't make sense to you.)

To keep the door closed, I like to use either carbiner clips (pictured) or double-ended snap hooks. I can usually get a tighter close with snap hooks, although I haven't had any problems with either predators or escaping chickens with either one.
Obviously, this design is not going to win me any awards for beauty, but they are functional. Of all of the different styles of pen I've tried, these are the only ones light enough for me to move without straining my back.

And believe it or not, in the three summers I've been using these pens, I haven't lost any of my chickens to predators (while the chickens are in the pen, anyway - if they are out of the pen at dark, they rarely see the light of day again. There are plenty of coyotes, owls, hawks, skunks, raccoons, and other varmints around who love a free chicken dinner.)

So, even though they're pretty redneck, they're also pretty useful. I'd love to hear any ideas for improvement you might have (that preferably don't add any weight - I am still just one wimpy woman!)

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop and Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.


  1. I love your ingenuity! There is nothing to apologize for. If it works and it's frugal, then it's a winner in my books :-).

  2. Thank-you for this much needed post. We got our first baby chicks and to be honest right now they are in my back bathroom tub with a heat light on, we didn't have anything set up for them so this looks like a great idea for a starter kit for our weekend project . we have a small .short stack of wire and this idea just might work out. I really love the idea that you say it hasn't bothered your back i am an extreme 6 years back sufferer , even after many treatments A+ for me, and besides this is the only kinda frugal building we do :)

  3. Thanks for the directions Ruth! All I needed was something simple and not too expensive, and this fits the bill perfectly :)

  4. I don't think the chickens care what their accommodations look like. I'm working on adapting a dog run to attach to my little coop.