A poultry tractor, (sometimes called an ark), is a movable coop without a floor. This housing allows free ranging along with shelter, where birds can consume fresh forage such as grass, weeds, bugs, worms, or grubs. Most poultry tractors are lightly built A-frames which one person can drag to designated areas in their yard. It may have wheels on one or both ends to make travel easier. The internet is filled with various designs for chickens, turkeys and ducks, but all focus on the need for fresh air, sunlight, forage, exercise and protection from the elements. “It’s a convenient way to raise birds on a small property,” says Jon Cone of North Franklin, CT. This is his third season with his home-built movable system on one and a half acres.
The most important component was to get his housing to sit level on the ground to seal out invaders. Cone built the 8 x 12 ft. coop initially for raising his Thanksgiving turkeys and serving a home-grown dinner for forty family members. With ideas from the internet, he successfully created an A-frame, but did not include tires. “It was great!” Cone says of his first experience two years ago, but admits that “sliding” his coop along the grass was not easy.
“This is the first year with the tires. What a difference!” admits Cone. Using 8.50 x 8 pneumatic tires off an old snowmobile trailer, and box tubing to custom design an offset axle to ensure lifting when rotated. Two-inch Schedule 40 black steel pipe runs the eight-foot span and is sturdy enough to complete the rotation all from one side. As the bar lowers Cone clips it into place for safety, then can easily push or pull his poultry tractor to its next location. “I chose to make the coop heavy duty.” says Cone, with the use of pressure treated lumber and plywood, angle iron and steel reinforcements. “I wanted to be able to use it for many years.”
The term “tractor” directly relates to the poultry performing functions much like a modern farm tractor would; digging aerates the soil in preparation for planting a garden or to create more lawn area. Turkeys then naturally deposit fertilizing manure, and growth of crops is enhanced. Unlike standard stationary coops these poultry tractors have no floors so there is no need to clean them. Jon and his wife Janine like the “free range” idea that goes along with the moveable housing. “It allows the turkeys to have an extensive environment,” says Janine. “We move them once a day.” In 24 hours, turkeys can create large divots from digging. It’s imperative to the keep them on the move. Not only does the lawn or garden area then have time to recover, but also widens the diet of the birds, and lessens the need for purchased feed.
Cone’s daughters, Evelyn, five and Isabel, two are more than comfortable with their jobs of feeding and watering the flock. The girls also let the turkeys out once a day for free roaming. “I made sure the door opens easily and the feeding trays are easily accessible.” The birds have no problem with being rounded up and directed back into their coop. “It’s their safety zone,” says Cone. Complete with rafters for roosting and framed for nesting boxes, Cone’s poultry tractor can easily accommodate chickens, when turkey season is over.
Cone is raising five Narragansett, four toms and one hen. This breed originated by crossing the Eastern Wild Turkey with a domestic bird. His brother will be visiting from Vermont the week of Thanksgiving to help with the harvesting and preparing of the turkeys. “Flavor is not just in what you feed them, but what breed you choose.” Cone admits that his poultry tractor has made the seasonal experience more enjoyable and much easier to manage. He hopes to continue brightening the Thanksgiving season with his birds for many years to come.