The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Chicken tractors in winter

Chickens eating in the snow
"Do you actually have chickens in the tractor during the winter or do you have a non-portable chicken house where they reside until spring? If they're in a tractor, do you move them every day or periodically despite the snow, sleet, wind and gloom of night?"
--- NaYan

We have both a stationary coop and a chicken tractor. The former houses the majority of our birds, while the latter gets the mavericks who like to fly over fences and scratch in the garden. If we didn't have a tractor, these ladies wouldn't be back in the coop...they'd be in the pot.

I used to worry about tractored hens in the winter, but as long as you manage them carefully they don't seem to suffer at all from their more exposed conditions. Our lay rates are actually superior in the winter tractor despite having no lights, perhaps because the tractored hens eat about 40% more laying pellets than the coop birds do. (Other possibilities --- higher-laying hens are more likely to fly fences; tractored hens just don't have much to do other than lay eggs. It's hard to tease out the reasons on such a small scale.)

Shoveling a spot to move the chicken tractor

All of that said, tractoring chickens in the winter is a bit more work. If we had snow cover all winter, we wouldn't do it since there's be no point --- the tractor would just be a small stationary coop. Even in our zone 6 climate, we still have to change out waterers daily in freezing weather in the tractor rather than using a heated waterer, which adds to the daily work load. So, no, tractors aren't quite as easy as cooped up birds.

Pulling a chicken tractor

On the other hand, it's handy to be able to fertilize the garden directly with a tractor during the fallow season. As I mentioned earlier, it's nice to be able to ground bad birds slightly less permanently than if we ate them. And Lucy thinks it's particularly nice to get her daily dose of chicken manure when I move the tractor. (Yes, I move the tractor every day, unless it's snowing.)

Covering a chicken tractor

Just remember to put a tarp over the tractor before it snows rather than afterwards and you'll be all set. And if you're going to have to leave your tractor in one place for more than a few days, treat the hens to some leaf bedding. Oh, and do be sure to keep them on dry ground if at all possible.

Do all of those things and you'll have happy, healthy hens even in January.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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My dog thinks goose poop is better than chicken, but goat pellets are the very best.
Comment by Deb Mon Jan 25 22:34:08 2016

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