Give a hen some shelter, food and water, and it’s all set to produce eggs for your farm. Add some wheels to the structure, and you’ve got a chicken tractor that you can move around your farm, allowing your chickens access to fresh forage while spreading valuable nutrients throughout the property via their manure. Take a structure that already has wheels—the bed of a pickup truck, an old Volkswagen bug or even a school bus—and your chicken tractor can be the envy of the egg layers.
Repurposing a vehicle into a chicken tractor is a creative project that not only saves a hunk of metal from the scrap yard but also gives your farm more visual interest. Using an old vehicle with enough space to accommodate your flock (2½ to 3 square feet floor space per bird), make these nine modifications to create a new mobile chicken coop.
1. Remove Unnecessary Pieces and Parts
This is a fairly obvious vehicle modification, but it could also be the trickiest. Remove the seats and exterior fixtures—anything you leave in place has the potential to be damaged by your chickens (and could harm them). Plus, you want to give your chickens room to roam inside the vehicle.
Some vehicle parts can be useful in other farm projects; others can be sold as scrap metal. The rest should be disposed of properly. Vehicles contain many toxic materials—from car parts to liquids. Check with your municipality about hazardous-materials disposal and electronic-waste recycling.
2. Replace Floor with Wire Screen
The beauty of having a movable chicken pen is the ability to fertilize various areas of your farm. Replace the solid vehicle floor with a wire screen so that when the chickens are roosting or spending time in the shelter, their waste falls through to the ground. A 1/2-inch-square wire mesh secured to the vehicle frame will keep out predators but allow waste to drop. This floor reduces the time you have to spend doing messy clean-up, too.
3. Install Nest Boxes
Build one nest box per four hens, at least 12-by-12-by-12 inches. Elevate the boxes from the floor by at about 18 inches, ensuring they have a ramp or roost to access them. Place nest boxes in a spot where you have easy access to gather eggs and keep them clean—hens shouldn’t deposit manure in the next boxes, but sometimes they do—and supply them with clean, dry straw bedding. If possible, mount your nest boxes on the outside of the vehicle so the hens can access them from the inside and you can access them from the outside via a hinged door or roof.
4. Build Roosts
Within the enclosure, chickens need a place to sleep off the floor. Provide 6 to 10 linear roost inches per chicken. Roosts can be as simple as 2×2 beams installed longways in the vehicle interior, 18 inches to 2 feet above the floor. If you have a tall vehicle, use a tiered system so birds can make their way to higher roosts.
5. Add a Water Collection and Dispensing System
Vehicles with sloping roofs can benefit from a gutter system that directs water to a tank mounted to the front or rear. This makes it easy to access water for the chickens; otherwise, you’ll find yourself running hoses and hauling buckets to reach your birds.
Engineer a system of PVC pipes with drip waterers if you live in an area with above-freezing temperatures; otherwise, use traditional chicken waterers. If you lock up your birds at night, provide water inside the structure; if they are free-ranging at all times, it will be easier for you and just as convenient for them to have the waterers located outside. Either way, make them easy to operate and access, as you’ll need to check them every day.
Allow 2 inches of waterer space per chicken.
6. Provide Feeders
Like water, you’ll need to check and fill feed every day. Hard-working laying hens on pasture require some form of feed supplementation. Each chicken needs 4 inches of feeder space. It’s less effort for you to mount feeders to the exterior of the vehicle, which works great for chickens that don’t get locked up at night. If you are keeping chickens confined overnight, they’ll want feed before you reach them in the morning, so provide feeders inside that are easy for you to reach, perhaps by opening a door or via feed trays that slide out so you don’t have to climb in.
7. Add a Power Source
As your chicken vehicle gets farther from your farm buildings, you’ll wish you had a power source. Running extension cords across multiple acres is time- and energy-consuming. A small, portable solar charger mounted to the roof provides an energy boost when you need to use heat lamps and water heaters, not to mention that sometimes you just need to turn on a light in the coop to check on things.
8. Make Storage Space
Conveniently, most vehicles already have storage space built in with a trunk or hood compartment. Trunks especially make watertight, chicken-free storage for things like feed, grit and tools. If your vehicle doesn’t come with its own storage, make space by mounting a nonoperational cooler to the side or even a simple, hard-plastic, chicken-proof box to the top.
9. Make It Movable
With the engine removed, you’ll need a means to get your tractor from point A to point B. Weld a hitch ball or pin receiver to the vehicle so you can pull it with your draft horses, farm truck, ATV or tractor. Keep an eye on your vehicle’s tires. You don’t need tires in super condition—it’s not like you’re making your chicken tractor road-worthy—but keep them inflated for better mobility.
Have fun with this project. As long as the structure is safe for your birds and your land, there’s no wrong way to convert a vehicle into a chicken tractor.