If you decide you want to raise pastured poultry, whether for eggs or meat, you'll need to provide your chickens with fresh grass, bugs, weeds and such to eat. How? By making sure they always have a new patch of grass to munch.
When I first started raising chickens, I didn't understand the different options. What was electric fencing for? How often would I have to move it? Did they need a chicken tractor too? Could they be raised in just a chicken tractor with no outside pasture? I found the answers and want to share them with you as you venture into the world of keeping chickens.
Electric net fencing, also called electronet, is one option for containing poultry. Light, movable, and quickly installed, electric net fencing is used for sheep, goats, and even cattle. For poultry, high netting is usually recommended - 42 or 48 inches - and the nets are spaced closer together, preventing small hens from escaping.
How does electronet work? Electronet consists of horizontal electrified wires held in place with vertical plastic strings. You need an energizer, which is powered by a connection to electricity, a battery, or a small solar panel, and a ground rod, which is driven into the ground near the energizer.
One other key with electric net fencing: you must move it often and mow underneath, because brush in contact with the fence will reduce the voltage on the fence and therefore its effectiveness.
A chicken tractor is simply a movable coop for a flock of chickens. The idea behind a chicken tractor is that the birds can be somewhat confined and moved often to a fresh patch of grass, eliminating the need for a permanent coop area and bedding, and allowing the hens to eat fresh grass, grubs, bugs, seeds, and weeds without having them roam completely freely over the land.
You can confine their scratching, pooping and nibbling to a small section of land and move the tractor often, or you can spread their effect over a large area. Your choice might depend on your land preparation needs.
Chicken tractors can work one of two ways. Sometimes they're used in conjunction with electronet, and chickens are moved less frequently. This allows the chicken tractor method to work with larger flocks where a coop large enough to comfortably house the whole flock would have to be so large, it wouldn't be very portable.
Or, the chicken tractor is built large enough for the entire flock to live in it all the time, and move it as the patch of grass underneath is used up. Oftentimes these chicken tractors have part of the tractor enclosed only in mesh and part with a roof, so the chickens can have sunshine and shade. (Chickens love shade!) The benefit to this design is that you don't have to move both a fence and a chicken tractor. The drawback is you may be moving the tractor more often, and the chickens are truly confined all the time. This method works better with smaller flocks, where the chicken tractor doesn't have to be very large for the hens to be happy with the space. It works particularly well in suburban or urban settings where electric net fencing would be unwieldy or unattractive.
There are many plans and ideas for chicken tractors available on the Internet, and they range from tiny, for 3 or 4 hens, to large. This particular design from the October/November 2007 issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, is one I built for my chickens. Most chicken tractors are built for broiler or meat birds, with no roosts or nest boxes. This one has both. It is wind-resistant, which is key because we farm on an open slope of northerly exposed hillside. It's large enough for our 30 or so chickens. And it's relatively inexpensive to build.