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A chicken tractor is a bottomless pen which is designed to confine poultry to a specific area where they can roam to their content. The “tractor” is a reference to the fact that many chicken tractors are built with wheels so that they can be towed behind a tractor or truck, which can be useful when moving a large chicken tractor across a long distance. There are all sorts of reasons for people who keep chickens to build chicken tractors, ranging from organic pest control to keeping the chickens out of trouble with the neighbors.
In addition to being used with chickens, of course, a chicken tractor can also be used with ducks, geese, and other fowl. The idea is that the bottomless design allows the animals to dig for grubs and weeds, dustbathe, and engage in other natural behavior, while the pen keeps the animals limited to a certain region. A chicken tractor also typically includes space for the birds to roost and nest, making it sort of like a mobile home for poultry.
For gardeners, a chicken tractor can be very useful, because it allows them to turn the birds loose on selected areas of the garden to eat pests, turn up the soil, and provide free fertilizer without having to worry about chickens shredding the garden. This is also appreciated by neighbors; chickens can be very destructive in a garden in addition to being helpful, and the ability to confine them can keep them out of trouble. Many people build chicken tractors which are customized to the width of their garden beds, making them very easy to use.
A chicken tractor can also be used to control a flock of semi-free range birds, ensuring that they eat a diverse diet while also preventing depletion of a particular area. On some farms, chickens are rotated with other animals and crops, and the use of a chicken tractor prevents cross-contamination and ensures that one area doesn't get more attention from the chickens than others. Chicken tractors also keep the birds safe from predators ranging from hawks to poorly controlled dogs, ensuring that all of the members of the flock stay healthy and alive.
For urban areas, a chicken tractor is extremely useful. Urban birds must be kept from roaming too far to ensure that they stay safe. Rather than covering an entire yard in unsightly fencing or designating a specific area for a chicken pen, poultry keepers can build a chicken tractor rotate the flock around the yard or garden to keep the birds happy and healthy. The inevitable byproduct of food consumption can be used as fertilizer or given away to regional gardeners if the volume becomes overwhelming.
Several companies produce chicken tractors commercially, and it is also relatively easy to build one. Many people like building their own because it allows them to create a custom size while recycling building materials.