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Discussion Starter #1
Most know I have been experimenting with different Tractor designs this summer. I have found that Tractors are indeed handy to use and a worth while investment if someone plans to raise chickens. Especially if you do not have a permanent coop or may consider moving your coop in the future. Tractors allow mobility not found in permanent coops. This means you can move your chickens to clean areas often and possibly use some yard space otherwise unused. They also provide some protection from the elements and predators.

However, as with most things there is a learning curve to their proper construction and use. First let me say I do not believe there to be a "Best" tractor design out there, only "Different" tractor designs, some may be better or worse based on your individual needs.

I will share my experience as I have injured and killed a few birds this year due to some of the inherent dangers of some of the designs I have tried. I am not saying tractors are dangerous. As with most things, if you are aware of the hazards you can choose to use them and be mindful of the dangers or you may choose a different design to eliminate some of the hazards if certain features are not needed.
 

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Note in the pictures below. This is a fairly large tractor 8'w x 10' L x 2' H. This is a Joel Salatin design and one that he uses successfully. The idea is to attach rope or cable straps to either end and use a wheeled dolly on the other end to lift the cage, then use the rope to pull it along to the next spot. The hazard this presents are several.
#1 the dolly wheels when in the mobile position are inside the cage where the chickens are. When the tractor is pulled along, if a chicken is standing too close to the wheels, the wheels can easily run over a leg or part of the chicken and injure or kill them.
#2 The other danger in this design is the fact that you are lifting the cage up onto the dolly. This creates a gap under the sides where small chicks can escape. This also creates a place where a chicken may hunker down and when you remove the dolly and lower the cage back to the ground they can be crushed under the weight of the cage. Please note in the second picture the laying boxes and their proximity to the ground. A chicken can hunker down under the laying box while the cage is up on the dolly and when the cage is lowered from the dolly again the chicken can be crushed under the weight.
#3 Notice also that half of this tractor is covered in sheet metal. This offers good protection from the elements, but poor visibility from outside. These are very difficult to move by yourself, as it is hard to see where the chickens are prior to, or during moving. This means a chicken can be in a dangerous place to be crushed or knocked down by the movement of the cage, or caught under the wheels and you may not be able to see them, until it is too late.
#4 The sheer weight of some tractors make them a hazard. most tractors are designed to be moved by pulling or pushing them manually by hand. When they are heavy we tend to jerk or lunge to attempt to move them in small increments. These jerky movements do not allow the chicken time to keep up and can sometimes cause injury as the chicken does not anticipate the sudden movement and can be run over or knocked down and injured.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
This design, while not as hazardous as the first, still has some safety considerations in its use. I am not sure if it shows up well in the pictures, but the bottom of these cages have 2"x 4" wire on them. This allows the cage to be lifted and moved, without the chickens simply escaping out the bottom. Without the bottom wire, if you pick up this cage a bit to high, the chickens can simply walk out from under them to freedom.
#1 The main consideration with this type of cage is the wire on the bottom catching a foot or leg and injuring them. When you are alone it is very tempting to simply try to pick up one end and drag it along. The chickens will be at the opposite end from where you are and it is easy to drag it along and break a leg, as their feet can go through the wire and they will be standing on the ground. if you must move it alone, be patient and move only in very small increments. Always check after you have moved this type of cage that they are all free to move around and you have not set the cage down trapping their toes under the wire. Here you may ask, "Why not use smaller wire?"" The purpose of this cage is to allow them to eat the grass in between the garden rows, once you go to smaller wire, it makes it difficult for them to reach through and do this. These cages are best moved by two people by completely lifting the cage before moving.
 

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While this is not a tractor per say, it is a Brooder. I did not originally build it, but retrofitted it for use. This brooder offers a hazard also. Note the braces at the top of the brooder, running front to back. These braces hold the plywood apart at the proper distance, as the plywood is otherwise unsupported at the top. The problem here is, once your chicks get a little older when you raise the lid to feed them they can hop up onto these braces. if you do not see them or one hops up, while you are lowering the lid, they will be squished between the brace and the lid when it is closed.
 

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The picture below of my new Ultra Light tractor, hopefully will eliminate some of the hazards mentioned above. You will note with the open design, whether moving it from the front or back you have a unobstructed view of the inside, so you can see the chicks, in relation to the moving tractor. This will help immensely, as if you see one in trouble you can simply stop. These are also much lighter in weight, so you will not be straining and making the jerky, lunging movements, which the chicks can not anticipate or move out of the way in time for. A negative consideration with this design as well as most, is the need for a level place for it to set. Once moved, you should quickly look around the base to make sure it is sitting flat all the way around. I once moved one and there was a hole under the edge, I did not see. We were lucky that my daughter went out a short while later to find most of the chicks on the outside looking in. A predator could have had an easy meal.
 

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Most of us have made considerable investments in time and money to get what we think are the "Perfect chicken setup". There is nothing more discouraging than to spend time and effort building what we think will protect our chickens only to have a preventable accident injure or kill one. I know for myself I would feel better knowing one dies of old age or a sickness than my own oversight of a preventable accident! I have lost a few this summer due to these preventable accidents that I have mentioned above. I have also been lucky and came close a few times and caught my mistake before it was too late. I hope some of you who are thinking of building and using tractors can learn from my mistakes and avoid such losses. Think of these things while you are building your tractors. Inspect them before you add chicks. Ask yourself if there are hazards. Pull one around a bit and ask yourself if you would be able to see the chicks from that position while you are moving it??. Watch them closely the first time you put them in, is there a place for escape? Think twice if it requires two people to move it safely "Is it really that important that I move it now" It may be better to move it later when someone can help?

Good luck with your tractors and their use. Chicken Tractors can be a valuable tool in helping to manage and raise poultry, just be aware of the hazards their use may present, and be mindful of the chicks anytime you are moving one from one location to another. When in doubt, get someone to help so you can do it safely. You can not save enough in feed cost by getting them to new grass "On Time" to make up for an injured or dead bird.
 

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Thank you for taking the time to post this, and the chicken plucker thread yesterday. I have often wondered why I don't see more tractors like the Ultra Light design you posted. It seems logical to me (I am neither a carpenter not an architect, so what do I know?) to use the "upstairs" part as a secure nighttime sleeping place, and the "downstairs" as the safe grazing area, without creating something with a huge footprint. Maybe I can convince DH to help me build something like this for next spring.
 

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While this is not a tractor per say, it is a Brooder. I did not originally build it, but retrofitted it for use. This brooder offers a hazard also. Note the braces at the top of the brooder, running front to back. These braces hold the plywood apart at the proper distance, as the plywood is otherwise unsupported at the top. The problem here is, once your chicks get a little older when you raise the lid to feed them they can hop up onto these braces. if you do not see them or one hops up, while you are lowering the lid, they will be squished between the brace and the lid when it is closed.
Muleman, you can solve the problem with the chicks jumping up/out by placing a light weight piece of bird netting over the open top/under the lid attaching to the back only, pulling it back where needed to get access to the chicks/feeders/etc leaving the other sections covered, then you do not squish the chicks.
 

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Muleman - if you could post a picture from the rear of your last tractor I will gladly take advantage of all your thought processes and copy your work. :)

Never mind of course since I just came across your other thread. Good job on those and they look simple to use and build.
 
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