Pushin’ Chickens

Alan Reynolds simply wanted to keep the chickens out of the blueberries.

The solution, he reasoned, was a chicken tractor, a self-contained, bottomless mobile coop of sorts for domestic birds.

Photos by Leigh Reynolds

You may have heard of chicken tractors before. They were popularized by Joel Salatin in the 1980s as an option for raising free-range chickens. Salatin was featured as a prime example of a sustainable farmer in Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Often these tractors are personality-bereft affairs, constructed of chicken wire and light-weight lumber. Aesthetics aside, they allow the chickens to migrate from place to place without becoming dinner for predators, while eliminating their free reign to treat the garden as their own personal buffet. A chicken tractor is low-impact solution for small-scale urban homesteaders who don't want a mess of yard birds hanging about, pecking at the petunias. It also makes for happy birds, and fertilized pastureland.

Chickens prefer to spend their day scratching at the dirt, rolling around in the dust, gobbling up bugs and weeds and generally acting like barnyard animals. In a normal coop, this isn't always possible.

Being barnyard creatures, chickens tend to make a mess of things — pooping and digging up grass and, if they're allowed to reign free, often pecking at things that aren't to be pecked at. Since the open-bottomed coop can be piloted to a fresh spot once the birds have scratched, de-bugged and fertilized a patch of soil to their heart's content, the birds stay happy and the ground maintenance, so to speak, can be controlled.

"They can dig up all the dirt and fertilize, then you can plant grass on top of that, till that grass in, and plant a garden on it. It amends the soil — builds it up," Reynolds says.

Many of the tractors Reynolds had seen were little more than bottomless playpens, with little or no shelter for the birds, who had to be transferred elsewhere for roosting.

Also, lugging a coop around simply seemed a chore, Reynolds thought, and it tore up the grass a bit to boot. The solution? A fully self contained unit — think chicken RV. The chicken tractor contains room for the birds to roam and peck, then a roost in which to retreat in the evening.

Bicycle-sized wheels on the back make the whole package highly portable. Everything can be pushed around smoothly, much like a wheelbarrow. The chickens can simply ride inside, comfortably perched in their roost.

Reynolds, who has 17 years of experience in construction, primarily with Jade Mountain Builders, custom-makes chicken tractors for others now. He builds off site and delivers, "so people won't have construction going on in their yard," he says.

The tractors start at $500 for a basic design, he says, adding that clients can custom order just about anything their heart desires — keeping in mind that the heavier the material, the harder it is to keep the tractor portable. "They can have it match their house, even. It just depends on what kind of look they're going for," he says.

Reynolds says that he adds creative embellishments to each of his custom-built tractors. "I like to make each one unique," he says. "I change the design a little bit, add little details to the trim." The coop that Reynolds built for his property, for example, is decorated with limbs of mountain laurel on the walls, and recycled barn trim for the roof.

The tractors can be tailored to a number of other factors, he says — how many chickens customers are trying to raise, for example. He recommends keeping no more than five birds in each enclosure.

"It's nice to be able to move them around to fresh grass,” he says of his own coop. "You can put it out of the way to where it's not in an obvious place. It just seems that everyone that sees it thinks it's a great idea, but they don't necessarily have the craftsman skills to do it."

To order a chicken tractor or for more information, contact Alan Reynolds at leigh200@wildblue.net or 551-4156.

Send your home and garden news to mlunsford@mountainx.com

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