Introduction: Turn Old Pallets Into a Chicken Tractor!

Picture of Turn Old Pallets Into a Chicken Tractor!
Learn how to use old, discarded (free!) pallets to build a chicken tractor, reducing your carbon footprint and making your chickens happy!

Here's the ~9-minute video version:

What Is A Chicken Tractor?
A chicken tractor is a movable chicken cage, allowing you to keep your chickens under control while still moving them around the yard.

Why Would I Want One?
-Have your chickens till and weed your yard
-Buy less food for your chickens
-Eliminate your need for petroleum-baed fertilizers
-and, last but not least: make your chickens happy!

WARNING: please see the warning below about my use of tools in the video. This is NOT meant to encourage you to use tools beyond your skill level, and I'm not going to try and defend the safety practices (or lack thereof) in the video. Be careful, take responsibility for what you do, and don't chop your fingers off:)

Where Can I Learn More?
Here are 3 resources you may find helpful if you choose to dive into the pecking world of chicken tractor design:
-General overview of raising chickens, including square feet per bird
-Pictures of much-groovier-looking tractors
-A $690+ but stylish commercial alternative

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Picture of Gather Your Materials

You'll need the following supplies:
-~4 wooden pallets, or something else to create the 'skeleton' of your structure. These are in the garbage outside large grocery and department stores pretty much anywhere. You want the oldest, ugliest ones you can find that are still more or less intact. I used pallets that were about 45"x35", but size is flexible. It'll make your project easier to have 4 pallets of the same size (the 5th is just torn apart for scrap wood).
-Chicken wire, or something else to keep your chickens in and cats out. This is available at any home improvement store.
-Something to shade your chickens from the rain. I used a piece of an old plastic tarp that I had laying around my yard.
-Something to secure it all together. I used staples, both 1.25" with a compressed air staple gun and .25" with a hand-powered gun.

And I used the following tools:
-Saw-zall (my favorite tool of decontruction:))
-Table saw (both this and saw-zall can be replaced by any decent hand saw + some extra patience)
-Hammer and crow bar (to separate the 5th pallet into usable scraps of wood)
-Utility blade (to cut the tarp; scissors would also do the trick)
-Hand-powered staple gun (used to secure the tarp, as the air-powered staple gun goes right through the plastic)
-Air compressor with staple gun and nail gun (overkill: a hammer with a coupla nail and some 1" staples would definitely work)

Of course, you can improvise widely on this. Just try to avoid buying (and polluting via the manufacture of) something if you can find a free, reused version (like the pallets).

Step 2: Prepare Your Pallets

Picture of Prepare Your Pallets

I have chosen to cut my pallets in half and remove unnecessary support slats. Please be more cautious with your use of a table saw than I was! Here's how I did this:
1. Cut your pallets in half. My 10" table saw cut deep enough to separate the halves on most sections, and I finished the others with the saw-zall.
2. Cut the middle support with the saw-zall, making sure the separated halves don't land on your foot.
3. Remove unnecessary wood from the side of the pallet that looks like a picket fence. Save these: you'll use them in the next step

Step 3: Create the Tractor Frame

Picture of Create the Tractor Frame

I chose to make my frame 2 pallets long x 1 pallet wide, with the vertical being the shorter dimension of the individual pallets.
To connect the pallet sections together, I used the pieces of wood that we removed in the last step and an air-powered staple gun. Other methods of attachment will work as well, just keep in mind that you're dealing with used, lower-quality wood that splits easily. It's probably a good idea to stick with thinner (higher-guage) fasteners, whether you're using screws, nails, or staples.

Order of connection doesn't matter, just make sure to line up the pieces before connecting them together. I found it helpful to attach my joining piece to one of the pallets and then just align this assembly with the other pallet, rather than trying to grow a third arm:)

I overlapped onto the bottom section of the split pallets more, to strengthen the pallet's joint as much as possible.

To further strengthen the design, I added a cross-piece on top by using the thicker wood in the middle of a pallet. Because this wood wasn't long enough to reach across the tractor, I nailed 2 pieces to a small (~8 inches) board to join them together.

Step 4: Make a Gate

Picture of Make a Gate

This part's a bit tricky if you try to be a purist like I did and construct your gate hinge out of bits of a pallet. The challenge is to create something that keeps the gate from being pushed out from the tractor frame (the chicken wire keeps the frame from being pushed in) while still allowing you to slide the gate on and off of the chicken tractor to dock your chicken tractor against the coop. If you're up for the challenge, check out the pictures below and the video to get a sense for the hacked-together wood shim arrangement I used. Otherwise, I recommend cheating by using 2 hinges and a latch:)

Step 5: Chicken Wire All Over

Picture of Chicken Wire All Over

Next, coat the chicken tractor and the gate with chicken wire. This was a breeze to attach with the air staple gun, but you can use many different methods.

Some tips:
-The more tension you put on the wire, while stapling, the nicer the coop will look. Create tension by pulling away from the area you'd like to make taut: if i'm nailing the upper-right corner of a chicken wire ractangle, I'm pulling up and to the right while I staple.
-Make sure you don't attach wire to the end of the tractor on which you're placing the door, unless you want a road to nowhere:)
-If you're buying chicken wire, purchase wire of the same height a your tractor: this will save you cutting the wire down to size.

Step 6: Create Some Chicken Shade

Picture of Create Some Chicken Shade

You wouldn't want to hang out in direct sun all day, and you're (probably) not covered with feathers. So, treat your chickens to a little refuge from sun and rain by attaching a impermeable barrier to the top of a section of the tractor. I covered about a third of my tractor roof with a doubled-over piece of plastic cut from an old tarp I found, and my chickens seem pretty happy with this. My air stapler went right through the plastic, so I used the hand-powered stapler to attach my roof.

Step 7: Test Chicken Acceptance!

Picture of Test Chicken Acceptance!

You're now ready to bring in the flock! You or your beautiful assistant can herd, throw, or otherwise prod your friendly poultry into their new home. If they're extra lucky, you'll even provide food, water, and a return to the coop at the end of the day.

Some enhancements you may want to make:
-Add wheels to one end to make the tractor easier for one person to move.
-Offer your neighbors a chicken-based lawn maintenance service.
-Create a 'chicken tractor roomba,' using solar power to move the chicken tractor around your yard. Of course, you'd have to name this Robot Chicken:)

Congratulations on your new superhip recycled chicken tractor, and be sure to send me a picture when you're done!


zz383mero (author)2014-02-19

You sir do not need to be near power tools, but I like your idea!

foodcyclist (author)2013-09-30

My hat's off to you. Working with pallets is a pain in the neck. Advice to anyone who goes this route that pallets take time to take apart if you want the end product to look nice. Also gather more of them than you think you will need. Even for chicken tractors.

cdog557 (author)2013-08-15

I like it but I like a chicken tractor

pheenix42 (author)2012-03-26

*chuckles* Every time I hear the term, I think of a rooster on the seat of an old Massey-Ferguson!

Chandlerpackrat (author)2011-07-24

Great video, man. I also use old pallets for many of my building projects. I am wanting to build a chicken tractor to allow my bird to ( free range ), while still remaining safe from predators. I have one concern though. I would love to see more videos from ya in the future, so lets get rid of that table saw.. Very scary! Thanks for the info.....

ledzep567 (author)2008-05-07

we made one of those. except its a triangular rectangle(whatever the heck its called, i failed geometry the first time so give me a break) its about 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. we have bantam chickens, thats why its smaller. but we have wheels on it and we just slide it around the yard.

it called a rectangular primid

Actually it's called a "triangular prism" -- rectangle bottom and sides, triangle front and back.

A rectangular pyramid looks like the Egyptian kind, but with a rectangle on the bottom instead of a square. (Those are kinda hard to build out of wood -- so many non-right angles! But the triangular prism is fairly easy -- lay two rectangles together, voila! This is how I made a couple greenhouses out of glass doors -- hmm, maybe I should make an Instructable about it!)

Kiki -- a Montessori child, where geometry begins at 2.5yo :) (We thought the geometric shapes were fun to play with, but they were sneaking learning into all we did! :) )

NinaPWA (author)kikiorg2011-04-04

Kiki, thanks for the link about rectangular prisms...and the idea about the greenhouses made out of glass doors. Would you mind elaborating on that? Or make an ible, please?

thanks, Nina

gcoleman (author)2011-04-04

Wonderful idea and great use of discarded materials, but using a table saw to cut pallets is wrong on so many levels! As an avid woodworker, I can't imagine a more dangerous stunt - please don't ANYONE (professional or not) try this at home! Not only do you risk permanent physical damage up to and including death - you also risk damaging a multi-hundred dollar machine building a $20 tractor. Go for the handsaw or sawz-all. They work great and are much safer! The two prime directives in using a table saw are BE SAFE and NEVER cut anything that might have metal buried in it (and all pallets do!). My philosophy is that DIY is great for everything except suicide! :) Thanks for the idea, though, my son and I are talking about options for a chicken tractor - this one is definitely in the running! Gary

titchtheclown (author)2011-03-17


rrcole (author)2010-08-05

This is perfect! I built a chicken coop for my wife and now I was looking for plans for a chicken tractor. We even have old pallets laying around. Thanks for sharing.

prometheus442 (author)2010-05-09

That video was terrifying.
Here's some advice just to save you time and supplies: anything you can do with 5 nails, you can do with 2. they really don't provide much structural support. careful next time.

fishhead455 (author)2008-03-25

FLATULATIONS--Hey Guys, I counted--he still has all of his fingers, a pleasant personality and this instructible will hopefully make some happy chickens. My yard birds: 15 chickens, guineas, and five Peafowl all roam the many-acre yard. The chickens return to their night-time cage at sunset, line up on their roosts and wait for me to close the door. I live in the woods and anything that sleeps out at night will be supper for the predators: Raccoons, foxes, possums. The peafowl sleep way up in the tops of the tall pines and can take care of themselves. Liseman has done a service to those with limited space for their yard birds. And Norml has given me some good ideas for predator control. (Now where did I put my M-6 potato launcher)? Oh, for the dog that kills chickens try this south Florida solution: Wire the dead chicken around the dog's neck. Let it stay there until it rots off, about a month. The dog will be so miserable it will let the yard birds peck a flea from between it eyes an not even growl...forever. Love these "Ibles."

maven (author)fishhead4552010-03-25

One tip I just read was to paint a stripe of Syrup of Ipecac down the backs of your free range birds.  One mouthful and the critters will drop the bird!  BARRRRRFFFF!
Good for training chase happy dogs too!

Nettiemac (author)2008-06-21

Thank you, thank you, thank you for a wonderful instructable on how to do this. I have some chickens, and for now I am keeping them in my glass house (when they are not free ranging during the day), but come summer that won't do. Now to figure out how to build a coop for them!

maven (author)Nettiemac2010-03-25

I'd use a skill saw rather than a table saw...

benthekahn (author)2008-05-26

I DID IT! Well actually I did it a while ago. It has a nice door and two wheels for rolling it around. Unfortunately, we gave away our chickens because they weren't laying any eggs. Well heres the a picture of my pallet chicken tractor...

Judith756 (author)benthekahn2009-03-11

Chickens stop laying after two years usually. You rebuild your brood by letting some of the eggs hatch if they got fertilized. Good luck with future birds.

maven (author)Judith7562010-03-25

My chickens are going on 5yrs and still averaging an egg every to every other day.  Breed has a lot to do with it.  Go for Buckeyes or Cochines.  I also have Jersey Giants, but they need to be close to a year old before they'll start to lay.  Even my few Dark Cornish meat hens are still laying after 5 years.
Expect a no or few egg stretch during the winter while they molt (which they start to do around 2.  They'll recover and start laying again.

joshuaduck (author)2010-03-14

Dude Safety!!! lol hey quick question how can i get thos pallets i no there in regular stores but how do i ask for them?

Tornado of Knives (author)2009-09-08

Good motives, but poor execution. 1) Your tractor lacks guarded corners. Chickens are stupid birds, and run into the corners instead of the middle for safety, becoming easy prey for crafty mammals. Next time build a fully-enclosed side, or better, a nesting box. 2) Chickens like to roost high above the ground. Add perches. 3) Your tilted, thumping video is not watchable. Fair first try, but you can do better.

romedeiros1970 (author)2009-08-26

Thank you for sharing your work. Just out of curiosity, how many fingers and eyes do you have left??? As a former safety specialist for an airline, your video scared the heck out of me a few times! Stay safe, and keep those chickens happy!

Ray Unseitig (author)2009-06-15

Good job on video and project. You can set the depth of the saw blades on table saws and skill saws, (rotary hand saws) to be just a wee bit deeper than what you are cutting. It's good to do this because the angle of attack for cutting is better annnd there is less KICK BACK. You are a great instructor, Explaining some of the principles of the tools for safety would be great, even the pros could benefit from that.

beegirl (author)2009-05-28

This is going to be a wonderful addition to the pallet coop I'm building! Thanks!

Crusty_07 (author)2009-04-05

Dude, you and power tools should not mix. WTF would you try to cut pallets on a table saw and then try to catch the saw while it is spinning. And some of that stapling was scary too. Nice job with the instructable though.

bziganti (author)2009-03-25

great idea! I'm thinking of building one myself. By the way, how did you manage to move the tractor?

sadlm2 (author)2009-02-27

This is great! Thank you!

Dillis (author)2008-03-21

Nice Shopping cart! Also a very good instructable! I laughed when you were using the table saw you could've hurt yourself so badly there!

drawe21 (author)Dillis2009-01-19

Also loved the shot of him cutting with his sawzal with his hand right below his direction of cut, gravity sucks and then you have no fingers

slothman (author)2008-12-10

i surprised this guy is still alive by watching him with that table saw

drawe21 (author)slothman2009-01-19

Anyone count his fingers after he was done?

ac1D (author)2008-07-17

hhey! you wear a shirt! congratulation!

robbtoberfest (author)2008-03-22

So who's going to start a chickens group? lol.

leebryuk (author)robbtoberfest2008-03-26

That's actually a good idea. It seems that there are a lot of chicken hobbyist here.

chuckr44 (author)2008-03-25

The angle of the video was really annoying. Good idea about the chicken pen though.

Davenchi123 (author)2008-03-22

good idea and good project and semigood vid but the clicking or thumping or what ever that was drove me nutz so yeah i had to stop it and pull my hair out lol

GorillazMiko (author)2008-03-22

Nice project! It looks great in the end, but I don't have any chickens... This could probably work for your other pets if possible. Nice job!

antagonizer (author)2008-03-22

I was already to dish out a darwin award when I saw how you were one handing that reciprocating saw, but when the table saw started to flip over, that clinched my vote. It's a great project, but people are right when they tell you that you shouldn't be handling power tools.

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-03-21

Neat idea, you should put some wheels on it to move it easier. Also are they in the tractor overnight or do you remove them at the end of the day? Finally your tool usage is frankly dangerous. You should have let the table saw fall over and not tried to catch it. Oh well we have all learned from it. Nice instructable.

jaysbob (author)Mr. Rig It2008-03-21

dangerous doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. the most glaring thing is you shouldn't have your table saw set up on soft uneven ground like that, especially not when cutting something that big and unwieldy. A saw like that will take off a hand, fingers, legs etc; tools don't show mercy. Also when using a pneumatic staple gun like that, don't ever put your fingers on the side the staples are shooting towards. It doesn't matter so much if your doing this on your own. But on a website where people come to learn, if they see something like that their much more likely to replicate it. your instructable is very well put together, informative, and the idea is a great one, but your really lacking some basic safety precautions when it comes to power tool use. Don't learn to respect your tools the hard way.

Mr. Rig It (author)jaysbob2008-03-21

Very well said Jaybob.

liseman (author)Mr. Rig It2008-03-22

Fair points; thanks for the feedback. I edited the intro to include more of a warning. Any other language you think I should add, definitely let me know! Thanks, Luke

jdege (author)2008-03-21

My POSSLQ keeps saying she wants chickens, but she's worried about the dog. A tell her "he's a Jack Russel - he love's chicken". But that doesn't seem to reassure her much.

norml (author)2008-03-21

No way! I love the idea of chicken tractors. I thought it would be neat to combine with a goat. The goat would knock down the big stuff for the chickens. Then add the automated roomba hack for moving around. Automated airsoft gun turret predator denial system...don't get me started on chicken tractors.

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