If you are considering starting a small backyard flock of chickens one of the best ways to house them is in a chicken tractor.
The first time I heard that term I had a mental image of Foghorn Leghorn bouncing along on a John Deere, with a red baseball cap on. That has nothing to do with chicken tractors at all. A chicken tractor or chicken ark, as they are sometimes called, is a rectangular, portable home for a few chickens. It can vary in size, craftsmanship, and detail, but all have the following features:
Shelter - some sort of shelter for the chickens at one end. Usually perches are available as well as a nesting box or two.
Door - there is some sort of opening so you can collect eggs, feed, and clean the tractor.
Wire - chicken wire is on all sides, including the bottom. This allows the chickens to eat grass and bugs while keeping predators out.
It is a simple theory, really. The chicken tractor can be moved form one area to another in your pasture, yard, or garden. This allows the chickens to eat bugs, grass, and even clear weeds to their heart's content. When they have been in one area for a day or two you move them to the next area. They always have fresh pasture and yet they are completely protected.
Lest you think that keeping the chickens in the chicken tractor is cruel and unusual, I would like to tell you that the number of totally free ranging chickens we have lost to hawks, dogs, raccoons, and other predators is disheartening. We have had raccoons snatch a biddy as she sat on her nest in broad daylight. They just don't play fair.Building the Chicken Tractor
A three foot by ten foot chicken tractor is plenty of space for four or five chickens and they are completely safe.The tractor that Marc built cost about $100.00. Depending on the materials you use and what you can salvage yours could well be less. You are going to build a basic rectangle using wood screws to keep it secure. The back will be covered on four sides with plywood, and the whole thing will have chicken wire secured to it with staples every few inches. Remember, you want it to be secure enough that a raccoon or other predator pulling on it will not be able to break into it.
You will attach the top with hinges. This makes it easy to do what you need to do to care for the chickens, whether that is collecting eggs or feeding. Marc secured the top to the sides with a couple of latches that he felt were raccoon proof.
Once you have a few of these your chickens are completely safe, completely contained and completely happy. Your neighbors will be happy because the chickens won't be heading over to their yard. You won't have to hunt eggs every day to figure out where the newest nesting area is, and if you want to raise more than one type you can keep them separate easily so the breeds don't intermix.
Want to know more about chicken tractors and backyard flocks? A website that I visit over and over is Backyard Chickens. There is enough information on that site about caring for, raising, and building things for chickens to keep you busy for a long time.
One of the things I like best about the site is the gallery of images of coops and tractors. It is a great place to get ideas.