Intro: Turn Old Pallets Into a Chicken Tractor!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
-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
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!
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!