Introduction: Chicken Tractor

I constructed this chicken tractor for an Environmental Anthropology class, aiming to be able to accommodate around five laying chickens and the possibility of raising chicks. The roost space is in the sheltered upper portion of the A-frame as are the two nesting boxes that are accessible from the outside ends. The floor is uncovered to allow for scratching and eating, and the unit is designed with weight restrictions in mind to allow for continual movement. The unit cost around $100 but could be constructed more cheaply if modifications to the materials are made as I will note in the end. It took around one day to construct, although I completed it in parts.

Step 1: Materials

The plans are above, and describe the relationship between the structure, roof and other elements. We will progress through each part of the plan in each step. Please note that the two runner beams are the 2" x 4"s while all other beams are 2" x 2"s.

Materials required are as follows:

2"x 2" x 8' beams (8)
2"x 4" x 8' boards (2)
4' x 8' roof appropriate material such as chipboard (1)
Shingles, enough to cover 4' x 8'
24' x 2' chicken mesh
Hinges (7)
3" screws (45)
Washers (45)
8' rope
Some scrap boards or plastic

Tools required:

Drill Bit - appropriate for pre-drilling the screws
Measuring Tape
Right Angle
Hammer and Chisel
Staple Gun
Vice (if possible)

Step 2: Cutting Materials to Size

The materials will need to be cut from their original dimensions to fit the design, and a number of the joints are lap joints and will need to be cut to fit into each other. This is due to the fact that the 2"x 2"s allow for a lighter object but are too weak to take multiple screws in one location. Thus, the lap joints allow for only one screw while retaining the lightweight advantage of the 2"x 2"s. We will proceed in the order the materials were listed. The overall dimensions of the tractor ought to end up at eight feet in length with an equilateral four foot a side triangle on both ends. The plans that refer to each board are drawn on isometric dot paper, and thus they are usually in 3D, but are only in 2D when they are referring to any joints that have angles other than 90 degrees.

2"x 2" x 8' beams (8) :
These beams are represented in the plan by the letters B, C, D, E, J, H and I.
B (2) - One of the beams must be cut into two 3'9" sections and will become B on the bottom of both ends of the tractor.
C (4) - Two of the beams must be cut in half but at a 60 degree angle to accommodate for the fact that that they sit at a 60 degree angle to the bottom 2"x 4"s (leaving four 4' sections). The other end must also be cut at 60 degrees in the opposite direction to ensure that they meet flush at a point at the apex of the structure. Finally, the apex ends must be cut with opposite 60 degree 1.5 inch lap joints to allow them to sit into each other. This is the hardest cut. See Lap Joint 1 for a strait on conceptual image. The darkened section indicates a visible lap, while its pair is on the opposite side on the other beam. We do this to allow a single screw to pass through this lap joint and into the uppermost long beam in one shot. The final length of the board should be just shy of four feet, as we loose a small portion to creating the angled joints. If you have trouble getting the angles to look correct, try laying the pieces out as they will fall and using the angles they hold in that position as a reference point.
D (3) - Three of the beams must be cut to 7'9" to accommodate for the fact that they need to fit into the A-frame end pieces which are then resting on the 8' 2"x 4"s. The loss of 3" is due to the fact that the end boards take off 1.5 inches each in their own thickness. One of these will become the apex beam, while the other two will rest half way up the end C boards.
E (2)  - These cross beams should rest just above the longer D beams to allow the screws to not interfere with each other. This will mean that they will have two 60-degree ends and be around 2' long at the bottom and 1'9" at the top due to the angles. Feel free to cut these after the main structure is together to ensure that they fit.
I would advise cutting pieces J, H and I after assembling the main structure, as they serve as a hinged door to allow access and will be easier to size with the actual dimensions available. In a perfect world, they would have the following dimensions
H (1) - This should be 3'9" long on its longest side and have opposite 60-degree cuts.
I (1) - This should be 2'3" long on its longest side and have opposite 60-degree cuts.
J (2) - These should be 2' long with parallel 60-degree cuts on the ends.

2"x 4" x 8' boards (2)
A (2) - These should be left at their length but a 1.5 inch nock should be take out of the inside of both ends in order to allow sections B to fit in and be screwed in from a location separate from sections C.

4' x 8' roof appropriate material such as chipboard (1)
G (2) - This can be neatly cut into two 2'x 8' sections to serve as the roof. The shingles will be stapled onto this.

24' x 2' chicken mesh
The chicken wire will cover every section not covered by the ground or sections G or F. The door made by sections H,I and J will be covered in chicken wire. Cut the wire when you have stapled each section on to ensure that it ends up in the right dimensions as it tends to stretch and distort its shape as it is stapled into place.

Hinges (7)
These will go on as indicated, although there will need to be two hinges for each F section due to their size.

3" screws and washers
Pre-drill and apply a washer to every screw, as there are not many and they will need to be strong. Most of the structures integrity, however, comes from the inflexibility of the roof that will be stapled on, and from a tight chicken wire installation which creates tension and rigidity if done correctly. 

8' rope
N (1) - This is tied onto sections A one one end to assist in the movement of the device, and can be left hooked over section f or the roof peak when not in use.

Sections K, L and M can be constructed after the project is complete out of scrap wood or other discarded items. The L sections can easily be cut from branches and provide roosting space for the hens, and will need to be two feet long. The K sections must be flat and covered with straw to allow the hens to lay or brood, and must be 2'3" x 1'6". The ladder can also be made from branches or a scrap board, and chickens tend to be pretty able to climb or jump up anything and will not need much guidance from the ladder. The ladder will need to be about three feet long. Ensure that you hinge on the ladder in such a way that when the tractor is dragged around it is able to glide over the grass easily and won't catch on any obstructions.

Sections F would ideally be perfect 1'9" equilateral triangles and would fit inside the E and C sections with a hinge. It may, however, be wiser to measure the finished tractor and cut these pieces to fit it. The will also need a simple locking mechanism made from nails and rope or store bought.

Note, to make lap joints, first draw out what section needs to be removed (the dimensions in these pictures are not accurate) and then cut with a saw across the grain. Finally, use a chisel and hammer to carefully remove and clean the section by splitting it from the end. Use a vice if possible. Look to the images provided for guidance.

Step 3: Assembly

It is important to assemble the parts in a logical manner in order to prevent them from taking unnecessary stress during construction. Try to be conservative with screws and staples in order to preserve the integrity of the beams, although you must still ensure that the roof and chicken wire will stay in place permanently. Also note that I designed this for my class to complete and thus a number of the photos are from that construction period.

Join sections A and B by pre-drilling and passing a screw and washer through the side of B and into A. You will need to do this for all four corners. They should fit together to make a rectangle with no indentations or irregularities. The screw will run parallel to sections A, and will pass through B about one inch from its end.

Next, pre-drill and push a single screw through the lap joints of two of section C and then into one of section D. Do this again with the remaining two section C beams into the other end of the same section D. The completed object will have one central beam and four legs. 

Join these two objects by pre-drilling (always pre-drill) and passing a washer and screw through the tabs on the end of section A and into the untouched end of section C. This will need to be done four times and is at an odd angle. It is easiest to do this by lying the second object (C, D) on its side and holding the first object (A, B) against it while drilling and screwing. When this is complete, you will have the basic 4' equilateral triangular prism that forms the backbone of the A-frame chicken tractor. Return it to its upright orientation by laying the side that contains sections A and B on the ground.

Install the two remaining section D beams 1'9" from the top such that the G sections will be able to be attached to both the top D section and the bottom two D sections. The screw will go first through the side of the C sections and then into the ends of the D sections. Then install the two E sections just above the two parallel D sections in the same manner.

Screw sections K, L and M into place. Sections L will need a screw through D on either end, while sections K will need screws through sections D and E, but may need to be screwed into these beams from beneath or above, depending on your material and preference. Screwing them in from beneath will enable sections E and K to prevent eggs from rolling out, but with straw this may not be necessary. Lastly, screw the ladder M into the section K that is closest to the front of the object by using a hinge.

Put in the chicken wire around the bottom sections on the longer sides and on the front, keeping it as tight as you are able while stapling it into place. When you have completed this, staple the roof into place such that it covers the upper edge of the chicken wire and shelters the whole inside of the structure.

Using two hinges, screw sections F into place so that they fit within sections C and E, with the hinge on the outside to ensure that they can't swing inwards. A simple rope and nail lock will be sufficient, but a store bought slide lock will work also.

Make the final measurements and cuts for sections I, J and K if necessary, and screw them into each other, with screws passing through Sections I or H and into the ends of sections J. Staple the remaining mesh onto this structure in such a way that it may still sit in place easily, and using the remaining hinges, screw the door in place and provide a lock in the same manner as you did for the F sections. 

Finally, tie or staple the rope under sections A on the end without the door so that the whole object can be pulled around easily. 
Please note that there is a rabbit in the pictures rather than chickens. The chickens will be arriving shortly.

Step 4: Chickens at Last

Acquire chickens, feed and water, and install them within the device. Due to space limitations, this device may accommodate no more than five regular chickens or seven smaller chickens. Don't forget to move the chicken tractor at least every other day to ensure that your egg producers do not also become your landscapers. 
Enjoy fresh eggs.
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