Today I’m going to talk about the chicken pyramid, which is my new concept for a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor, for those who haven’t heard the term, generally refers to a portable chicken coup. This is in contrast to more typical coup-and-run situations for a lot of backyard chicken owners, or intensive barn situations from the industry.
First, I’d like to address the question of why one would use a chicken tractor in the first place.
Chicken tractors versus free ranging. A common question about chicken tractors is “why use them at all?“. Why not just let them free range? Well, do you like to eat chicken? Chicken is the most popular meat in the US, beating both beef and pork by a nearly 2 to 1 ratio. There’s a good chance that you like to eat chicken. You’re not the only one. Here are some other chicken fans: foxes, wolves, coyotes, weasels, racoons, hawks, opossums, and eagles. Young chickens especially are prone to predation, and therefore need protection from the ground and above if you don’t want to lose everything to other animals. Older chickens are bigger and tougher and can run for shelter during attempted daytime predation and they are smart enough to seek out secure sleeping spots if they are available. However, free ranging older chickens often isn’t as free range as you might expect. If food, water and shelter are stationary, then they serve as anchors and the range patterns will often be based around those anchor points. Moving in tractors ensures fresh greens for eating and ground that is free of excrement from the previous day.
As a side note, most chickens you see in grocery stores that are labeled as Free Range, are not free range in the manner that you might expect from the term. The USDA definition of Free Range or Free Roaming is “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside”. This is often just a door on the side of a barn with access to a small mud lot outside where there is no food. So, many chickens will not even bother to venture outside their whole life.
Chicken tractors versus barns. Most of the chicken meat and egg products sold in grocery stores are raised indoors for their entire lives. Egg chickens may live in tight cages with a few other chickens or they may roam on the barn floor. Meat chickens typically roam on the barn floor. Meat chickens are usually all the same age in a single barn, and when they get to processing age, the chickens are sent off to the processing facility and the barn is cleaned and a fresh batch of chicks are introduced. Barn production has many advantages for labor efficiency and predator safety, but comes at great costs otherwise. One major issue is pathogens. Because the barns are in continual use and have thousands of birds in cramped conditions, disease spreads easily. To combat this, antibiotics are included in the feed of non-sick chickens to prevent the spread of diseases. (That’s one reason why antibiotic-free chicken costs more – there are greater losses from disease.) Furthermore, the air becomes filled with ammonia from urine and manure dust, which the chickens breathe. Also, there aren’t any fresh greens or bugs to eat. A chicken tractor solves a lot of these problems. The ground is fresh every day, and in our case, we only run one batch of meat chickens over a single piece of ground once in an entire year. So, by the time the chickens come back, the ground has digested everything from the previous year. The flocks are small, so disease outbreaks are avoided. The fresh ground also plenty of fresh greens and bugs, which the chickens love and which makes them healthier.
So now that I’ve talked about chicken tractors in general, let me reveal the chicken pyramid. The chicken pyramid is my latest design of a chicken tractor that should accommodate both meat and egg production models, with slightly different versions for each.
The chicken pyramid has 3 walls, each being an isosceles right triangle. (For those of you who weren’t paying attention in geometry class, an isosceles right triangle is a square that was cut in half down the diagonal. So, there’s a long side along the bottom, and two equally long sides going up.) The bottom is open to the ground. The base, viewed from the air, is therefore an equilateral triangle. (Again, for those who forgot geometry, equilateral means that all sides – and thus all angles – are the same. 60 degree angles for the case of triangles.)
The nice thing about a triangular base is that you can move it by pivoting on a corner rather than dragging the entire thing. So, you lift one side and leave the opposite corner on the ground and pivot 60 degrees on the opposite corner. You can pivot another 60 degrees on the same corner the next day, and then after those two pivots, you take the next corner for 2 days, and by doing 2 pivots on each corner, the triangle can move down the pasture in a straight line – touching all the ground exactly once.
The pyramid has a large door on one side. The highest point is about 5 feet high, so an adult can crouch inside with the door closed. If the kids want to play with the chicks, the door can be closed and the kids can stand. (But the chicks can run off to the side where the ceiling is low if they want a break from the kids.) The open walls are covered with 1″ poultry mesh. Other kinds of fencing would probably work, but poultry mesh is inexpensive and durable. The sharp edges of the mesh are between the boards for each triangle.
The feeder is a 4 in PVC pipe with a 4″ to 2″ reducer fitting at the bottom and a small round feeder tray below that, and it’s all capped with a simple cap to keep the rain from coming in the top of the feeder. The feeder can be filled from the outside. Its height is easily adjustable. Feed spillage is least when the feeder is about at the chicken’s head-level. So, as the chickens grow, the feeder can be raised to accommodate their increasing height.
The waterer in this pyramid is supplied by a 5-gallon buck outside the pyramid with a hose feeding an array of 6 poultry nipple waterers. The array is hung using copper wire, so I can easily change the height as the grow. The nipple waterers, you never have to worry about spilling when you tip the tractor or are on uneven ground, and you never have to worry about poop or dirt in your water. (If you’ve had backyard chickens with a non-nipple waterer, you’ve probably cleared poop and dirt out of your water many times.)
The back of the pyramid has a sheltered area. This lets the chickens hide when they are scared or when the weather isn’t right, and it provides juvenile chickens a place to sleep. As the chickens get older, eventually they will have the desire to sleep in an elevated area. But when they are young, they like to sleep on the ground. However, they generally prefer sheltered areas, so the back provides them a nice cozy place to sleep. (Chickens like to sleep close together for warmth.)
The chicken pyramid provides the chickens with a good experience and makes it a breeze to give them all they need for a happy, healthy lifestyle.