Introduction: Building a Chicken Tractor, the LONG and DIFFICULT Way! (UPDATED!)

Picture of Building a Chicken Tractor, the LONG and DIFFICULT Way! (UPDATED!)

For my first Instructable, I'll show you how NOT to build a Chicken Tractor, which is a portable, enclosed pen for chickens. Each day you can move it to a new part of the lawn, so the chickens inside can get fresh grass. This design turned out to be pretty cheap, not too ugly, and easy to move around. The way I assembled it was NOT. I tend to come up with pretty good final products, but my methods to get there are ... bad.
I will show ALL the steps I took to make this project, unlike most Instructables that only show the good steps. Bear with me, enjoy the chaos, and please, if you decide to build one of these, READ ALL THE STEPS FIRST! It will save you the problems that I bestowed upon myself.

Step 1: Materials Needed

Picture of Materials Needed

10 sections of 1/2" conduit, 10 ft in length
8 ft wide plastic mesh, 1" grid, 30 feet or so left over from winterizing the fishpond
pile of 1-1/2" ABS pipe scavenged from a fire company's old carnival booth
pile of 1-1/2" ABS pipe fittings you bought to make something with that pipe, but then couldn't remember where you put them and had to buy more, only to find the first ones as soon as you got home
14-ga galvanised electric fence wire- the stuff you bought 3/4 mile of to make chainmail, until you discovered that it was too soft
1/4" grid galvanised hardware cloth you bought to keep the rabbit from chewing the porch railing, but never put up
ABS cement (see above regarding pipe fittings, do same with this cement)
2" galvanised wood screws, squaredrive head because they were $1/ box
3/8" drill
reciprocating saw
Sharpie Marker
drill bits

Step 2: Finding Your Assembly Area

Picture of Finding Your Assembly Area

You're going to build this thing in the front yard of the house. Most of the materials and tools are in the barn, WAYyyy over there. No electricity in the barn, which you need to run the drill and saw. Lug all materials and tools from the barn to the house. Take the mountain bike, too. You'll need it later.

Step 3: Assembling the Base

Picture of Assembling the Base

The base of the frame is made out of the 1 1/2" ABS pipe, and is 10' long by 5' wide. Start by squaring off all the poorly cut ends of the pipe.Measure and start gluing sections together using the connectors. Mark the pipe pieces with the Sharpie marker, so you can cut them with the recip saw.
The Sharpie is still in the house. Go get it.
Make the first long section 10 feet, 2 inches long.
Cut off the extra 2 inches, because you measured it wrong the first time.
Notice that one piece of pipe says 2", not 1 1/2".
Duh, you glued a fitting over the "1 1/ " part!
make the second section 9 feet, 10 inches long, because you cut those 2 extra inches off the other piece, so now the last piece for this one is too short. cut a second piece the right length to make both sections 10 feet. Measure carefully, mark with Sharpie while holding its cap in your mouth.
Poke yourself in the lip while trying to put the cap back on the Sharpie, leaving a black stripe on your face.
Glue together enough pieces to make the two 5 foot end sections... if you had enough... but you don't. Wait, this was and entire 10' by 10' carnival booth you got the pipe from, where did the rest...go?
Find the rest of the pipe under the hedges by the fishpond, where you were going to use it to make the winter leaf cover's frame, but made the frame out of wood instead. (THAT'S what all those fittings were for!)
Remember to NOT glue all the elbows on until after you test-fit everything, that way the base will lay flat... except you've already put glue on one elbow. Pull it off, quick!
The frame base is assembled!

Step 4: Bending the Conduit

Picture of Bending the Conduit

You'll need 6 hoops for the top of the frame. Bend the conduit by putting it in the gap between the tree and the power outlet post, then bending it around the tree.
Discover that what you thought was rain falling on you was actually ants falling out of the tree.
Carefully bend 6 matching hoops. Make joke about playing Giant Croquet.
To nobody. No one else is home.
Break for Egg Salad Sandwiches on whole wheat bread!
Discover that the only beverage in the fridge is apple juice boxes that expired over a month ago.
Drink one anyway.

Step 5: Drilling the Holes in the Base

Picture of Drilling the Holes in the Base

You need to drill 3/4" holes into the top of the pipe, so you can push the ends of the conduit hoops into them and secure with a screw.
Since you are using a drill that has a removable chuck, make sure to put the chuck somewhere other than on the drill.
Go to the barn to find the chuck.
Discover that the biggest bit that will fit in the drill is 3/8".
Go to the barn for a 3/4" bit.
Come back 20 minutes later, without one. You have 9 toolboxes, but can't find one drill bit in any of them.
Drill one hole in the elbow of the base, then mill it bigger with the 3/8" bit by wiggling it around.
Drill second hole same way on next elbow.
Go to the barn for a 3/4" bit.
Find it immediately in the first box you looked in before.
Measure and mark every 2 1/2 feet for the other 4 hoops (3 along the pipe, one in the elbows on the other end.)
Drill 8 holes with 3/4" bit in less time than it took to drill the first one with the 3/8" bit.

Step 6: Attaching the Hoops

Picture of Attaching the Hoops

Using a 1/8" bit, drill a hole sideways through both plastic and metal pipes for first hoop, so you can run a screw into it.
Break bit.
Remove chuck to expose 1/4" drive socket for screwdriver bit. Put squaredrive bit in holder.
Discover bit is too short.
Pull bit out with pliers and put in longer holder.
Push end of hoop into hole, and run galvanised screw into the side hole using the drill.
Break the head off the screw, leaving the stump jammed into the conduit and preventing you from pulling the hoop back out of the hole.
Fix it.
Push end of hoop into hole, and run galvanised screw into the side hole using the drill.
Repeat at other end of hoop.
Push end of second hoop into hole, and run galvanised screw into the side hole using the drill.
Break second bit.
Push end of third hoop into hole, and run galvanised screw into the side hole using the drill.
Repeat until all 5 hoops are secured.
Didn't you bend SIX hoops?
Drill holes through ends of unbent section of conduit, and , using wire, attach the straight piece to the tops of all the hoops, to keep them from wobbling.
Remember how you made the base sections 10 feet long to match the top conduit, which is also 10 feet? You also added elbows to that length, making the base about 10 feet, 5 inches long, and the end hoops more than 10 feet apart.
Cheat. Angle the ends in so the top pipe will fit.
Go to the barn to get a roll of electrical tape, to add some security to the wired connections on the hoops.
Discover that you knocked the glue over, and since you didn't screw the lid on tight, half the can is now a sticky puddle in the grass.
Frame is DONE!
Drink second expired Apple Juice Box.

Step 7: Adding the Mesh

Picture of Adding the Mesh

Measure and cut two 11-foot sections of the 8-foot mesh. These will be long enough to fit crosswise over the hoops, with 6 inches on each ends to wrap around the base. Wire the mesh to the base by threading the 14-gauge wire through the mesh.
This would work better with thinner wire, or nylon string.
Go to the barn to get some string.
Come back 20 minutes later, no string.
Continue to wire mesh to frame.
At end, curl mesh around and wire together to close end off.
The Tractor is done!
Except for the door end, because you haven't figured out how to make the door yet.
Try out the Tractor by putting two rabbits inside. Push the tractor against the bunny pen while you get that piece of wood right over there to act as a door.
5 seconds later, both rabbits squeeze through the 3-inch gap and escape. Go catch them and put them back in their pen.

Step 8: A Door!

Picture of A Door!

Remember that 6th hoop? THAT'S what it is for! You subconsciously knew you needed 6! You won't need the other 3 unbent pieces, though. Put them in the barn for some other project.
Using a section of pipe slightly shorter than the base end, drill holes for the hoop and screw it together. Cut a piece of mesh 6 inches larger than the doorframe, then lash the mesh to the frame using the nylon STRING you couldn't find earlier, but then found under the porch swing. Use the white string, not the PINK stuff!
Fit the bottom pipe into the Tractor frame so it sits on top of the base pipe. Using wire, tie the two pipes together. make a latch at the top with more wire.
NOW it is DONE!
Add chickens!
The chickens need food, water, and shelter from sun and rain. Inside the tractor are a feeder, a waterer, and a big storage tub made into a coop. The non-door end has a shower curtain wired over it to act as a sun shade/ umbrella.
Move the Tractor, with the chickens inside, (but take the feeders and coop out), by holding the end hoop and SLOWLY sliding it across the grass while your wife calls, "Come here, Chickies!" They will waddle along inside, frequently stopping to sit down, and thinking that the 15 feet you made them walk is the most strenuous exercise they have ever had.
4 to 6 weeks later, enjoy another Egg Salad Sandwich. It will be the best one ever, because YOUR grass-fed chickens laid the eggs!
Except you accidentally bought Broiler (for eating) Chickens.
And they're all Roosters.
And you can't eat them, because they have names. You don't eat pets that have names.

Step 9: All Done!

Wasn't that a fun way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon, which also happened to be your BIRTHDAY? Go get cleaned up, you're going out for dinner!

Step 10: One Year Later...

Well, it has been a year since I bought my first four chickens. Yes, it turns out they WERE all Roosters. When I wrote this instructable, I wasn't sure, but soon there was an awful noise coming from four competing crowers at 4:30 AM, and the truth was out. Those four have since moved to a different farm, where they are waddling, crowing, and mating as much as they want. (As far as I want to know...)
I purchased 6 more chicks at a Tractor Supply store while on a work trip in Western New York State, resulting in an overnight motel stay in Bradford, PA, with six peeping chicks.
At least these ones are egg-layers, and 4 of the 6 are hens.
These chickens outgrew their tractor after a few months, so now they just roam around the yard during the day, and sleep in a modified childrens' cedar playhouse at night. Of course, they have food names. The 3 Australian Orpingtons are Cinnamon, Rosemary, and Basil (a Rooster.) The 3 Rhode Island Reds are Ginger, Olive, and Pepper (the other Rooster.) We get 2-4 beautiful brown eggs every day, and enjoy watching the chickens run around, scratch for food, and dig in the compost bin. Pepper thinks he is in the Circus- he found a red kick ball, and he will jump on top of it, then paddle his feet and roll the ball across the yard!
If you have the room, don't mind a bit of crowing, and can eat a LOT of eggs, I certainly recommend getting chickens. They're worth the effort!


kfmccalla (author)2015-08-28

Thanks for making me laugh!

jenn.graham.146 (author)2015-05-07

Thank you for the laugh! Very well written...I'll be sure NOT to make a chicken tractor this way :)

ninagn (author)2014-11-18

chuckle - thank you for the realistic "repertoire" I had a good chuckle thinking about my own diy projects ;)

dhoke1 (author)2014-08-22

Was here for the info on how to build, now leaving with knowledge and a smile on my face. funny stuff here :)

IvliaVespasia (author)2014-05-16

Like the idea, if it were squared off it would also make a great run for my rabbits so they can mow the lawn for me during the day (and evening). Agree about the chickens though, I used to have enough (20 in the end) that I did nothing but eat eggs every day. They make fabulous listeners as well, the best way to unwind when I came home from a hard day at work was to go and sit beside the chicken ark (run) and tell them about my day. Made me feel better and relaxed.

scubabon (author)2014-03-04

Great In-tertaining-structable. I too share the joys of farm life; where toolboxes and benches full of generations of old tools go to hide from me. I'm guessing that your father in law would have a stroke just like my dad would, if we ever tried to organize anything. Plus the tools would NEVER go back where I put them. It would just make things too easy! Thanks for keeping it real. Always refreshing when people do.

adickson5 (author)2014-02-10


kenbob (author)2013-08-31

Great instructable, I am still smiling:) Loved the hilarious sidebars!

PlaidCat (author)2013-08-31

You are my hero! This is how all most all my projects go. Thanks for sharing :)

tim_n (author)2013-08-28

Brilliant. Thanks for sharing

Siagonrocks (author)2013-05-20

Thank you for hump ring yourself. I'll try this with 8' bamboo I can get for ten cents a pole.

Mschilling27 (author)2013-05-06

Hilarious! Thank you for sharing this; it sounds like many of the projects around our farm. :)

stumitch (author)2012-04-25

THANK YOU for such an entertaining instructable!

killerjackalope (author)2008-06-05

This is a great instructable, well featured... It's got alot of sarcasm and humour so it's ticks all the boxes for me since I'm planning on something similar but for our rabbit, we need to let it out to cut the grass but the wee bugger goes for the good plants, so now I can do it... I added a few extra keyowrds to help people find this as well as adding it to the outdoors category as the second one.

FireBAT (author)killerjackalope2008-06-05

Thanks for the Feature, and the tweaks to the listing! I'm planning on building a Bunny Tractor out of the leftover conduit. I was suprised at how quickly the buns escaped from this one, though. Bunnies are smarter than Cornish Rock chickens!

killerjackalope (author)FireBAT2008-06-05

Well I know that, our rabbit figured out how to open cage doors, threw the whole cage off the bottom part, dug holes in the garden, though it's trapped now, it's in a run and the grass is roll out, it can't dig deep enough to get out of the cage... No problems and if you need a hand with anything give me a shout...

I saw a bunny cage in a magazine once, that used two bike wheel rims at either end of a mesh tube. The rabbits would roll the whole works around, all by themselves.

interesting, however I need the rabbit to be trapped in one spot so I can control its 'mowing'

I dunno, maybe a track or barrier system that only lets the cage roll around in a preset area. I think the guy in the article had the mesh placed on the inside of the bike rims, so it would be an inch or so from the ground, and the bunnies couldn't eat the grass down to a nubbin in any one spot.

Put rocks or bricks around the area you want them to stay in. They may not be able to roll over them.

I just plan to make an easily movable cage to shift about and give it so many hours on each, throughout a few days, curing alot of problems in one fell swoop...

Rishnai (author)killerjackalope2008-08-01

Of course he goes for the good plants. If you had the choice of eating grass or eating the garden, I bet you'd pick the garden salad, too. Or maybe you'd pick the alligator.

killerjackalope (author)Rishnai2008-08-01

You know it's the alligator...

Rishnai (author)killerjackalope2008-08-01

It's one of the few foods that comes with a free set of boots. Or maybe a tasteful handbag for the missus.

killerjackalope (author)Rishnai2008-08-01

I was considering a backpack, with most of the alligator intact, the tail would make it a lot more capable of carrying tall stuff and using the legs as the starts of the straps would make it look suspiciously like an alligator mounted you, then you beheaded it for doing so causing it to be inexorably attached to your back while you made a hat out of it's head, of course not being enough you had to go back to the swamp and fool the other 'gators with your new clothing and swim in to the middle of them, only to place simply obscene amounts of exotic explosives in the middle of the crowd, slither your way back to a safe distance and hit a button that looks suspiciously like the eye of the dead 'gator, you then collected your spoils and fashion a skin for your car out of them, being one of those twisted f**ks that decided leather wasn't kinky enough and PVC was too fake...

cory.smith (author)2010-07-22

"You don't eat pets that have names...." Hilarious!

lostbord999 (author)2010-07-22

Thank you soo much. I ended up getting a 1" bar that i needed to bend for my new bike trailor. Ended up using a tree that sprouted 3 in one spot.. worked perfict!

Ronyon (author)2010-07-18

Ive been wanting to do an Instuctible, but my style of making things is, like yours, seat -of -the- pants, and I thought"I cant show people that !". Thanks for showing me the way, in a hilarious fashion! I dont have chickens(yet) but this reminds me of a half finished pool cover, made of PVC plumbong fittings and electrical 1/2 PVC.Time to go source mosquito screen...

shannnn (author)2009-05-15

Please! Do more instructables the "bad" way! I can't raise chickens (except maybe "hardwood-floor-fed" or "linoleum-fed"), but reading this kept me thoroughly entertained (i.e. falling out of my chair laughing) while waiting for my supper to bake.

nonni53 (author)shannnn2010-07-17

Check out www.housechickens. com for your lino or hardwood floor chickens. there is even a company selling chick diapers (yes I bought them!!!) Finally moved the girls out of my office and outdoors. No one believed I had diapered chickens in my house. It worked for a year. Others in the group dress their chickens for birthdays and holidays. There is something for everyone right??

Azayles (author)2010-04-11

ALL 'ibles should be written this way, absolutely hilarious! You took us on the whole journey from start to finish and we shared your pain all the way.
A brilliant read, one of the best on this site! :D

autolycos (author)2008-06-05

Sounds like I need to make an instructable on how to eat named pets... Great instructable, and good humor. I really enjoyed it!

forgesmith (author)autolycos2008-06-05

It's easy to eat named pets, just need the right names. "Come here, Luscious, Savory, Tender! Here Sage, Onion, Thyme!"

FireBAT (author)forgesmith2008-06-05

Believe it or not, their names actually are Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme! Parsley will come if you call her. All our pets have food names. The rabbits are Bun and Muffin, our rats are Chio (Japanese for Salt, because she's white) and Jiao (Chinese for Pepper- She's black and white.) The guinea pig is Nutmeg. The mice were Butter, Jelly , Honey, Toast, and Tea. The iguana is... Dennis. OK, mostly food.

maven (author)FireBAT2010-04-11

You should submit this as an article to Countryside And Small Stock Journal, Mother Earth News, or Back Home Magazine.  I bet they'll buy it!

Rishnai (author)FireBAT2008-08-01

"The iguana is... Dennis." lmao!

maven (author)autolycos2010-04-11

Simple.  I make my husband do the deed then I clean and cook them!

hybridracers (author)2009-02-22

I found this hysterical just simply due to the fact that you thought conduit was the better choice to use instead of more hoops and T fittings....... You could have easily made this thing in about 1/4 the time had you used more pvc pipe and then just screw and washered the netting into it. Congrats for the chicken tractor though.........even if life turned to comedy to build it.

maven (author)hybridracers2010-04-11

We used schedule 80 black poly pipe and concrete re-wire covered with standard chicken wire for the hoops on our first tractor.  Wish we had used something other than 2x6 lumber for the rectangle base tho.  After 10 years it is starting to rot although the hoops and wire are still sound.  The ducks don't mind.
We upgraded to a wooden tractor with an elevated coop 5 years ago, and last winter my B-I-L welded me a pipe, square tubing, and sheet metal "Chicken Schloss" for my hens and peacocks.  I warn you, it's addictive.

persianfan (author)2009-07-13

OMG this was freakin hilarious!! i laughed so hard because it is everyone of my projects that i have ever done!! and im getting ready to build more chicken pens myself for some new chicks we will be getting so i can already see where this is going. thanks for the laugh.

snowfalcon (author)2009-06-26

It's nice to know someone else has projects go like this!

jlc1755 (author)2009-05-11

I love this. I swear you have been spying on my husband. This is exactly how he does projects around the house. He's been building a chicken coop for months now....

rustaholic (author)2009-04-21

Yes you can eat pets with names. Once it's dead it is just meat. Get yourself some Isa Brown pullets from Townline Poultry. (google it) You will get an egg a day per hen. Attach nest boxes to your closed end that open on the outside for you to collect the eggs. Around here you would need something a LOT stronger than that mesh. That plastic mesh wouldn't even slow down a hungry coyote.

Gardenclaire (author)2009-04-03

Very funny, I really enjoyed your instructable. And the broilers, hahahaha that is so typical of real life. But in the end, what a great chicken tractor you made! Should still eat the broilers though, even if they do have names. Should have called them "Dinner" hehehe!

A D (author)2009-03-26

Great!! I really got a kick out of the ending. Wait till those "pet Roosters" get their act together and we will see how long they stay "pets". I loved the overall project and the putting together reminded me of many of mine. Great Job!

shadesofsisyphus (author)2009-03-18

Thank you sir for making me feel normal. This is exactly how the vast majority of my projects go and it is good to know that not everyone is freaking perfect at this stuff like some on here claim.

sbparadis (author)2009-03-02

Okay- you are my hero of the day for this. My husband started a biodynamic farm project last year, which is a lot of fun and all sorts of satisfying (despite being The Thing That Ate Our Life) - anyhoo, I sent the link to your excellent post to him and the wonderful friend who is helping him with the project- they are in full Victorian mourning for a Buff-Orpington we lost last week (mean dog- long story) and will appreciate it- here's what I said- This is a great post. I love the way this guy writes. It's a realistic account of a guy who sort of knows what he's doing, learns from experience, has perseverance, is an optimist, and cheerfully embraces his own dumbassery while thoroughly celebrating his eventual triumph. Longish but worth reading. I want to be friends with this dude.

carolinew (author)2009-02-17

Laughed til tears were streaming! The best medicine I could have been given. (I'm in bed, sick, at the moment). It sounded just like my husband doing a project. I love this run, and will be emailing the link to my husband for a laugh and for a design. Thanks so much!

gallatea (author)2009-02-05

I agree this was a well-written, entertaining instructable. I couldn't eat them either (the chickens). That must be a weird experience eating the eggs the first time. My lovebird keeps laying eggs (she has no mate though) and I can't imagine eating the contents of one. But of course, we do this. And so do I but from the store, which is kind of stupid as if they are magical if from the store.

Anndobe (author)2009-02-05

I'd just like to find a guy sensitive enough to care so much about his chickens!

About This Instructable




Bio: Well, I am a Fire B.A.T. - A Breathing Air Technician for firefighting equipment. I repair and test Survivair Breathing Apparatus and air compressors ... More »
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