Introduction: Chicken Barrow

Picture of Chicken Barrow

I call this a Chicken Barrow instead of a Chicken Tractor because it really reminds me more of a wheel barrow than a tractor!

Anyway, after researching chicken tractors in-depth online, I finally decided on the "hoop house" type design and am very pleased with how it came out. I think this is a good project for someone with little to no building skills, and it's easy to get your friends to help because they want to know what it is!

I enlisted the help of some girlfriends and my carpenter husband, who offered lots of advice for my project and helped us end up with a perfectly square frame and very solid final structure. For example, I probably would have used galvanized nails, but he said pre-drilling and using screws is the way to go, which now makes sense, but I would have never thought of that myself. Additionally, I'm pretty sure you could get away with a structure that was not perfectly square, but it certainly made it easier to align the PVC.

I wanted something relatively heavy to deter predators from trying to move/lift it, so 2" x 4"s were used (and because we had some on hand). A smaller dimension of wood could be used if you think predators are not as much of a problem. We have raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions (rare, but chickens might attract them!), and dogs and cats (including my own) that freely roam the neighborhood.

My barrow is based on this guy's design, with some slight modifications: His is 4' x 10', but we already had a 3' x 6' sheet of plywood in the garage as well as some 8-foot 2" x 4"s, so we decided to make mine 3'W x 3'H x 8'L to minimize waste.

A few things still need to be added:
- On one end, we will use a jigsaw to cut out a door (and attach it with simple hinges) as well as two wheels.
- The wheel bolts I bought to attach the 6" ball-bearing wheels are not long enough to attach to the 2" x 4"s, so I will need to find longer bolts at the hardware store, which is why we did not attach them yet.
- On the other end of the barrow, we will add a nesting box with a hinged lid (for egg gathering) made out of plywood as well as two handles for maneuvering the barrow. The handles will also act as extra support for the nesting box.
- I will attach two 4-foot 2" x 4"s to the ends of a piece of tarp to provide the chickies with shade in the summer and wind protection in the winter.
- Both the hinged door and the hinged lid of the nesting box will be secured with padlocks to deter the opposable thumbs of determined raccoons.

I plan to get four chicks. I think they will be quite comfortable! I will post more pictures when these last items are added and the tractor is painted and finished...

Materials/tools needed:
- six 8-foot 2" x 4"s (three to be used uncut for long pieces, and three to be cut down into smaller cross braces and diagonal braces)
- one 3' x 6' piece of 3/4" plywood (can fit into a non full-size truck!)
- twelve 1/2" pipe straps
- six 1/2" pieces of PVC cut into 8' lengths by your local hardware store
- about 20 feet of welded wire (you will have some left over - use it for garden cages)
- about 20 feet of chicken wire (ditto)
- lots of galvanized 2 1/2" deck screws
- cordless drill gun
- cordless screw gun
- jigsaw
- circular saw (optional)
- at least an afternoon's worth of time!

Step 1: Cut the Plywood Ends

Picture of Cut the Plywood Ends

We first cut the piece of plywood in half and screwed both pieces together so they could be cut with the jigsaw at the same time.

Then, using screws as a guide, we carefully bent the PVC, following the edges of the plywood, and then fastened the ends with two pipe straps for safety. We used a pencil to trace the the shape of the PVC.

We removed the guide screws (but not the screws holding the two pieces together) and cut through both pieces of plywood with the jigsaw.

We then unfastened the remaining screws and set the two pieces aside.

Note: we ended with a flat portion at the top of the curve of the plywood, which ended up being useful later.

Step 2: Build the Frame

Picture of Build the Frame

We used two 96" (8-foot) 2" x 4"s for the long ends and two 34 5/8" 2" x 4"s for the short ends (takes into account the true dimensions of 2" x 4"s so we would end up with a frame that was exactly 36" wide to match the width of our plywood).

My husband cut the short end pieces with the circular saw because he's fast and I'm afraid to use it. I am, however, comfortable with the jigsaw and could have easily used it to cut any of the 2" x 4"s.

We added three more 34 5/8" horizontal cross braces to the rectangular frame. These add stability and double as roosts for the chickens!

We then squared up the frame and added diagonal cross braces.

Every connection was pre-drilled and screwed using two 2 1/2" galvanized deck screws. It is easier if you have two guns: one for drilling and one for screwing.

Step 3: Take a Break... Then Connect the Plywood Ends

Picture of Take a Break... Then Connect the Plywood Ends

We took a short break. My dog thought the barrow was being built for him. ;)

Next, we attached the plywood end pieces - again, pre-drilling and using screws. I think we used three screws on each end.

We attached another 96" 2" x 4" as a center support and recessed it below the tops of the plywood ends by a half inch to account for the width of the 1/2" PVC piping that would be bent over the top.

Step 4: Add PVC Supports

Picture of Add PVC Supports

We measured the distance needed between each PVC pipe to accommodate six pieces spaced evenly apart and then screwed twelve 1/2" pipe straps to the frame according to our measurements. I think they were spaced 27.5" apart.

We snaked the PVC pipe into one end and then the other and cut off the excess with the jigsaw.

I accidentally bought one 3/4" pipe strap, so we pre-drilled and screwed that end into the 2" x 4" since it was loose inside the strap. We later on decided to pre-drill and screw all the PVC ends, just in case the pipe straps became weak.

We also pre-drilled and screwed the tops of the PVC pieces into the top support piece. I didn't think to buy six additional pipe straps for this top piece, but I think the screws will hold it in place just fine.

Step 5: Cover Your Barrow With Wire

Picture of Cover Your Barrow With Wire

I decided to use both welded wire and chicken wire as a cover for my chicken barrow. The welded wire has the strength that chicken wire lacks, but the chicken wire is smaller than the welded wire to keep out grabby raccoon hands.

The welded wire came in 4-foot width, so even though the long 2"x4"s are 8', I forgot to account for the depth of the plywood, so two pieces of welded wire didn't quite cover the length of the barrow. Each length of welded wire was was stapled to the plywood ends, leaving a small approximate 2" gap in the middle of the barrow. However, I figure that I'm covering the whole thing with chicken wire anyway, so the gap probably isn't a big deal.

It was easiest to turn the barrow on its side to staple on the wire. We wrapped the wire all the way around the bottom of the frame, but not so much that the sharp edges stuck out beyond the width of the frame. My hand was pretty sore after all the stapling. :)

We finished stapling the chicken wire, so now all we need to do is cut out the door, attach the door hinges, attach the wheels, attach the handles, and build a small nesting box. That will have to wait until next weekend, though, because it started raining. I will also cover one half of the barrow with a tarp secured by 2"x4"s to provide shade and shelter for the chickies!

I hope you enjoyed my Instructable on building a chicken barrow!


jjimi (author)2016-11-05

i do like this.......

tsfehler (author)2016-05-29

i love this! Maybe i can make it this summer for my rabbits :)

bonnyjishop (author)2015-12-31

Can I ask, Did you put galvanised wire to close in the bottom ?

brianchadorourke (author)2015-02-27

This looks great. I'm going to make one and incorporate it with a coop. Thanks a bunch.

DYIgal (author)2013-03-27

I LOVE IT and plan to use this idea for my chickens...i just finished my greenhouse i built with the same exact concept just larger and it is GREAT, I used PVC as well 2o ft ones and built my green house and now i will use the same idea for the coop....just need to figure the nesting box for the design here or simply just do a rectangle shape...however i love this did great

Temper_Tantrum (author)2013-03-19

I'm late to the party, but your instructions for this "barrow" are really well done. I appreciate your thoroughness. I am getting chickens in 31 days! I am building a coop and run but also something like this so I can set it on my raised compost and garden beds. I will let them rove freely in my small fenced back yard. Well, that's the master plan, anyway. My beds will be placed on a second back lot that I will let them range on when I'm standing guard but a contained area would also be a great help. Thank you.

awang8 (author)2009-04-07

Hmm... Not a bad idea, although the curved supports look a bit... difficult! Would it be possible to build a rectangle version of this, and replace the PVC with wooden posts?

free scout (author)awang82012-09-16

awang8 re a square structure. as an earlier comment suggested, square or rectangular are weaker or have stress points. curved roofs look cool and are inherently stronger.

wire in the floor? chickens learn not to scratch and hurt themselves in a few minutes. i use chicken wire around baby fruit trees to prevent free-ranging birds from scratching up the roots. they soon give it up. the only loss would be tha the chickens can't really scratch the ground over. but if you mainly want eggs and green pick feed for the birds, and want to maintain a lawn, wire is fine. espaceially when you're moving the coop and want no houdinis. great build

scmtngirl (author)awang82009-04-07

Awang8, the PVC supports were actually quite easy to bend (slowly) and secure with the pipe straps and screws. You could certainly try building a square version using wood, but it would be a lot heavier. You could, however, make it square using PVC pipe and the appropriate PVC connectors, although it would be a bit more costly, and you would need to do more cutting of the pipe.

mhussey (author)2012-04-05

The 2x4's are better as roosts, especially for large fowl. When they are resting on the 2" side of the board, or have their toes wrapped around a dowel, they can't get the ends of their toes covered in the cold, and they can get frostbite. I have 2x4 roosts that I routed to make a softer edge, but they are mounted with the wide side for them to sit on.

I also would not recommend wire across the bottom, as they can actually tear out their toenails, or do similar damage to their feet. They won't realize that they can't scratch, just peck. Wire flanged out from the sides and staked "should" take care of the predator problem. To test, take a 3-yr-old boy and see if he can get it. Many raccoons are as strong and as smart as a toddler.

Great idea, and good instructions!

richardsan (author)2011-05-08

pretty cool idea! of course 'some' people are gonna ask questions/advice...
snakes as predators....what about them? i net one could get in, snag an egg and not be able to get back out very easily!

maybe drill holes along your 'ridge beam' to stabilise the pvc tubing some, and to also allow the cage part to lay down a bit. would also reduce some of the hardware if holes were drilled.

i'm guessing you didn't use treated wood for hen health reasons...are these 'barrows' meant to last very long? i'm on the gulf coast, going through drought like conditions but that is always subject to change!
thanks for taking the time out to detail this for us!

vtsnaab (author)2010-08-26

Great work ! Many years ago The Mother Earth News featured this concept and I was only just reminded of it by seeing one in use and decided to look for any new info - presto - here we are. Just FYI - is no longer there and it appears that is no longer an active domain.

Jural (author)2009-03-16

Great job. I built a green house similar to this once. I used a Forstner bit to drill holes and then slipped the PVC into it. Makes for a flush edge for tacking your wire down. The pipe won't be in the way then.

scmtngirl (author)Jural2009-03-16

Thank you for your comment. A greenhouse of the same design is next on the to-do list! I did think about threading the PVC pipe into drilled holes in the 2" x 4"s but was afraid of mangling the wood - maybe I will try it with the greenhouse.

rowendrew (author)scmtngirl2010-05-18

I would love to see the roosting boxes you have added. How has it worked for you since building it?

the rural independent (author)2010-04-11

Great instructable!!!  I'll likely post a link to this over on our homesteading froums.  This is one of the best designs for a tractor that I've seen.

Thanks for sharing!!

porkdemon (author)2009-03-19

this is awesome, i allways wanted some chickens but my mum says theyre too noisy, perhapes when i move out ill get some, and build em one of these, i was looking at the shape of it, you could make one with solid walls and a door to sleep in, its like a tiny house pod, lol. again good work, im totaly stealing this idea.

lasersage (author)porkdemon2010-03-26

ours are very quiet, only clucking a bit when you lock them up.
Roosters are noisy and different breeds of hen have different characteristics.
Ours are a sussex star and a rhode red black hybrid. Both dead friendly, quiet and good layers. Seems the fancier you go the more trouble they are.
£10 each at 24 weeks fully vaccinated, already had enough eggs to earn that back (only had them a month or so).
Read up on suitable breeds. I bet you could get some.
Ours are so easy, wish I'd done it sooner

manleyjames62 (author)lasersage2010-03-26

wow in missouri we get chickes for 3.00 after shipping and raise them in an old fish tank in the house

lasersage (author)manleyjames622010-03-26

yeh chicks are that cheap here too, but for £10 you get a healthy full size bird fully vaccinated. Vaccinations aren't free. Ours laid their first eggs the day after we brought them home and have been going strong since.
I think the price reflects that some one else has done a bunch of work for you.
Incidentally if you wanted a silkie or hen that layed blue eggs they're like £30 each!

manleyjames62 (author)lasersage2010-03-26

wish i lived closer to ya i just like rasing little ones i guessI train mine to come when ever i call and they jump in my hand its fun to watch new peoples see this and very useful for moving them around.
now as far as vaccination what all do you give them.
Around here we dont even know what that means

lasersage (author)manleyjames622010-03-29

dunno, as I bought mine already done, I don't know the specifics.
I just had a quick search around the web and plenty of people don't seem to bother doing it, and apparently vaccinations are expensive, like minimum order is 1000. So no use for small flocks.
Guess if your hens are happy then they'll be alright. Just don't let them mix with other peoples birds or you might get contaminated or something.

porkdemon (author)lasersage2010-03-29

god, want some chooks even more now, was so close to buying one the other day, guy had chooks, ducks, geese, quales, all manner of little birdies, i looked into it in my area, need a damn permit, that alone costs $200, plus the chooks, and the pen/cage, seems like too much trouble right now, but its still a dream, i just hope one day it comes to fruition, like i said previously, pretty much as soon as i move out, its chickens galore. thanks for the info and inspiration lasersage, mad props to you.

manleyjames62 (author)2010-03-26

men with beards can recline and place a few day old chick under the beard and on the chest just like mamas wing where they will sleep for a few min twice a day [ wear a junk t shift and be ready to wash that nasty out of your beard]
the great benifit to me is when im exausted and the cat or dog breaks in i will have chickens litteraly screaming in my ear if they can see me through the window that overlooks the chicken yard, a shelf ouside the window helps.
WARNING keep a good window screen closed or you will wake up with company[go ahead laugh i would]

manleyjames62 (author)2010-03-26

if you start with tiny chickes and put feed in the palm of your hand a couple times a day its just a matter of time till they jump into your hand.
so now i make a peeping noise and full grown chickens run to me and jump in my hand and i put them where i want amazes my neighbors and is very useful just be sure to give them nice rewardsoccasionaly when they let you put them down to keep them they get older 5 or 6 weeks start using a glove as a full grown bird can really put the clamp on you.

KD7CAO (author)2009-04-02

Something you need to be aware of is that small predators such as Raccoons, Weasels, Skunks, and others will quickly figure out that they can burrow underneath. A simple way to stop this is to use the chicken wire on the bottom as well. Grass and grubs will still come up through the wire allowing the chickens access to the tasty goodies, but will prevent the predators from accessing the chickens. It will also make it easier to move chickens and all if you don't want them getting loose.

jynnjynn (author)KD7CAO2009-06-23

From what I understand, you are not supposed to put chicken wire on the floor because chickens like to scratch and will injure themselves on the wire.

scmtngirl (author)KD7CAO2009-04-02

Thanks, KD7CAO. If flanging the wire out around the perimeter doesn't keep the predators out, I will probably put wire on the bottom, but the fella I got the design from made it sound like it wouldn't be a problem. The barrow will only be moved a little bit at a time, and I read that the chickens will just roost on the cross braces as you move it around - I also plan to let them out during the day anyway (supervised) and can move it then.

alex_conde (author)2009-06-06

What a great instructable! I'm actually following all of your steps, but the resulting cage will be for my 3 bunnies. I'm adding a woodden floor in order to keep them inside of the cage (won't let them dig his way out). I really appreciate this tut. Keep up the good work!

scmtngirl (author)alex_conde2009-06-06

Thank you for your nice comment! I'm glad that someone is able to make use of it - it is really working out well design-wise. My chickens are very happy in it. Please post a picture when you're done!

alex_conde (author)scmtngirl2009-06-14

Hey, it's me again. It's been a long week and I just finished the project. I'm not really familiar with tools and wood, but I did my best! Here's a pic of the result.

scmtngirl (author)alex_conde2009-06-15

That is AWESOME! I think you did an excellent job - congratulations! I'm sure your bunnies will be very happy in there. Please post a picture once you get them settled in!

carsam (author)2009-05-15

where is the door ?

scmtngirl (author)carsam2009-05-15

We added the locking, hinged door a few weeks later. Here are some pictures for you:

fishbuster (author)2009-04-13

You are also missing nest boxes and a coop of some sort for the chickens to get out of the bad weather. For the coop/rain shelter you could use a piece of plastic over one end. Otherwise nice build and nice design. I have built a couple chicken tractors in the past but eventually found that just having a coop with a chicken yard in one place and letting them out to forage in the afternoons works well for me. Then again I started with a few chickens and currently with the new chicks (hatched this week) and quail have about 40 birds.

scmtngirl (author)fishbuster2009-04-13

Thanks for your comment, fishbuster. I did mention in the introduction that I plan to build a nesting box on one end and that I also plan use a tarp that is half the width of the barrow and secured by 2" x 4"s as shelter from wind and rain. I did not want a stationary coop because I plan to position the barrow over vegetable beds at the end of the growing season and have the chickens till and fertilize the soil. 40 birds is a lot! I will probably stick with just four. ;)

fishbuster (author)scmtngirl2009-04-13

I must have missed that in reading. I started that way and now ended up with a bunch of them. I live in the country so I can have as many as I want but I also found out I can sell a few eggs and birds and offset the cost of the hobby thus the large amount of chicks recently hatched. I also have 15 quail along with the 14 hens with two roosters. 40 Was a conservative estimate I counted them today and it is 54 currently. Chicken leftovers in my opinion make the best compost. I also "feed" them anything I would normally have composted (leaves piled in as well) and every year I scrape the top layer of chicken yard and move it to the garden. Between them scratcing breaking and turning stuff, chicken poo, and the decomposition of leftovers they did not eat it is a no work compost pile.

mandm2525 (author)2009-04-09

I used a pen for hens on the same concept but certainly not as nice or fancy. Four hens kept us in plenty of eggs as I had a covered place for two nests. This domed pattern is alot stronger than mine. I actually only had wheels on one end and the chickens just walked along as I moved it. Nice job.

scmtngirl (author)mandm25252009-04-10

Thanks for your nice comment, mandm2525!

Mikey D (author)2009-03-17

Terific idea. My only comment concerns the longevity of the PVC. Sunlight (UV) will degrade the PVC (It will turn brown/black) and weaken it until it cracks or breaks. Give it a coat of paint (chicken safe paint) and it will last quite a bit longer, but it's life span will still be only a few years. I'm trying to think of another flexable material that will last for you but I'm drawing a blank. I keep coming back to steel. Ahh well - age will do that to ya. Great idea though! Post some picts when the chicknes take up residence! Mikey

shawnrmartin (author)Mikey D2009-04-09

I have made similar structures without pvc. I arched 2 cattle panels over to make the roof.

scmtngirl (author)shawnrmartin2009-04-09

Thanks, shawnrmartin. I saw something online where someone used cattle panels as well, but the PVC was more readily available where I'm located. Next time, maybe I'll try to hunt down a farm supply store...

shawnrmartin (author)scmtngirl2009-04-09

No, the PVC does fine. I just happened to have the cattle panels around. (and it saved me the welded wire for strength.) I have a greenhouse with PVC frame, and it's 7 years old, and going strong. (We do, however, cover it with shade cloth during the summer.) Central TX, brutal heat.

scmtngirl (author)Mikey D2009-03-18

Thanks, Mikey D. They do make UV-resistant PVC, but this was unavailable at the hardware store I went to. I thought of using electrical conduit, but the PVC was much cheaper. I plan to get my chickies tomorrrow and will post pictures once they're settled in (after being brooded indoors for a few weeks)!

drsnug (author)2009-04-05

Have you finished it yet?

scmtngirl (author)drsnug2009-04-07

drsnug: I haven't had a chance to add the finishing touches, but the chicks are being happily brooded indoors and will be ready to move into the barrow in about four weeks. I'm really hoping to find time this weekend to finish it so I don't have to worry about it anymore! I've added a picture of the chicks here - they're growing like crazy and have double in size from this picture taken a week ago!

drsnug (author)scmtngirl2009-04-07

Chicks look great. Can't wait to see the final project.

pinemom (author)2009-04-03

Hmmm. I like this a lot! We actually have a 10'x10' pen with 4 nest box inside. Was going to try to build pen bigger so they arnt free ranging all the time! (messy and get in garden when not wanted to) This would be great with the wheels on bottom for rolling free ranger. (husband love that he doesn't ever have to mow!!)

scmtngirl (author)pinemom2009-04-03

Thank you, pinemom!

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