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Exploring the Pros and Cons of Raising Broiler Chickens in a Chicken Tractor

Updated: Mar 26

Egg-layer pullets can also be raised in tractors before being moved into a setup better suited for egg production

Introduction

Raising broiler chickens in a chicken tractor has become increasingly popular among small-scale farmers and homesteaders. This method offers several advantages, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. In this blog post, we'll delve into the pros and cons of raising broiler chickens in a chicken tractor to help you make an informed decision.


A heat lamp and sheltered area of this chicken tractor allow us to brood our chicks directly on the pasture

Pros

Pasture Rotation: One of the primary benefits of using a chicken tractor is pasture rotation. These mobile pens allow chickens access to fresh grass, bugs, and other forage while preventing overgrazing. Moving the tractor regularly ensures that chickens have access to fresh vegetation, which can improve their diet and overall health. Increasing consumption of greens and bugs will significantly increase the omega-3 content of the meat, and decreasing or eliminating soy & corn will decrease the harmful omega-6 amounts.

Natural Fertilization: As the chicken tractor moves across the pasture, the chickens naturally fertilize the soil with their manure. This process enhances soil fertility and promotes healthy plant growth. Additionally, the constant movement of the tractor helps distribute the nutrients evenly, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. This method has allowed us to establish very healthy pasture in an area that was void of nutrients. You'd be shocked to see how much greener the grass is in addition to being more tolerant of extreme heat & cold.

The small area on the left did not have chickens and went dormant with the below freezing temperatures whereas the section that was covered by a chicken tractor was still green and vibrant despite the winter conditions

Pest Control: Broiler chickens are natural foragers and will eagerly consume insects, grubs, and other pests present in the pasture. By utilizing chicken tractors, farmers can harness this natural pest control method to manage insect populations without the need for chemical pesticides. This is especially important for the health of anyone consuming meat or produce grown near an area sprayed with pesticides. Many pesticides are known carcinogens, even 40% of those that are USDA certified organic. It's best to let nature do the work for you as it's cheaper, easier, and safer!

Reduced Disease Risk: Chicken tractors allow for better sanitation practices compared to stationary confinement systems. With regular movement to fresh pasture, the risk of disease buildup is minimized as chickens are not continuously exposed to their own waste. This can result in healthier birds and lower mortality rates. The stress of being confined can lead to a decline in their immune systems, so proper sanitation is crucial.

Cost-Effective: Building a chicken tractor can be a cost-effective alternative to constructing a permanent coop and run. Chicken tractors are often made from lightweight materials such as PVC pipes and chicken wire, reducing construction costs. Additionally, the ability to utilize pasture for forage can lower feed expenses. We ran an experiment on our farm comparing the feed cost of broilers raised in a chicken tractor compared to free-range birds. We used the exact same breed and fed them the same type of feed to eliminate as many variables as possible. The chickens in the tractor ate an average of 13.23 lbs (6 kg) from birth to processing day. They averaged about 4.5 lbs (2 kg) each. The feed to meat conversion was 3:1. Our free-ranged broilers at an average of 14.14 lbs (6.4 kg) and had a processed weight of only 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg) on average. That made our feed to meat conversion rate 4:1. The meat from the tractor-raised birds was also more tender than the free-ranged chickens.

Free-ranged dual purpose chickens enjoying the open pasture

Cons

Labor Intensive: Managing chicken tractors requires regular monitoring and movement to ensure chickens have access to fresh pasture. This can be labor-intensive, especially for farmers with larger flocks or limited time availability. Additionally, the need to move the tractor daily or every few days may not be feasible for some farmers. You can increase the amount of time in one area by reducing the number of chickens in the tractor. We've found that one 8-week old bird per 10 square feet can give you no more than 3 days in one spot without overgrazing.

Predation Risk: While chicken tractors provide some level of protection from ground predators, they may not offer sufficient security against animals that can dig under the tractor. Farmers must take additional measures to safeguard chickens from potential attacks, such as covering the tractor with 1/4" hardware cloth or providing supplemental shelter. Animals that will try to get your chickens: raccoons, foxes, dogs (feral and domestic), opossums, minks, hawks, and more. You'll need to be aware of the potential predators in your area and safeguard your chickens.

Cornish-cross broiler chickens in a chicken tractor

Limited Space: Chicken tractors have limited space compared to stationary coops and runs. This can be a concern, especially for broiler chickens raised for meat production, as they require adequate room to move and grow. Overcrowding within the tractor can lead to stress, aggression, and reduced overall welfare. Males will grow faster & larger than females, but roosters beginning to mature will attack each other and potentially cause injury or death.

Our 8' x 8' chicken tractor has walls & a roof to protect our birds from the weather

Weather Considerations: Extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain, strong winds, or extreme temperatures, can impact the effectiveness of chicken tractors. In inclement weather, chickens may require additional shelter or protection to ensure their well-being. Farmers must be prepared to adapt their management practices accordingly to mitigate weather-related risks.

Ethically raised chicken makes every chicken dish better

Conclusion

Raising broiler chickens in a chicken tractor offers numerous benefits, including pasture rotation, natural fertilization, pest control, reduced disease risk, and cost-effectiveness. However, it also presents challenges such as labor intensity, predation risk, limited space, and weather considerations. By carefully weighing these pros and cons, farmers can determine whether a chicken tractor system is suitable for their operation and implement appropriate management practices to maximize its success.

Farmer Nick Riggin getting a selfie with a reluctant hen

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