A good chicken tractor should be portable, simple, and secure. Through many years of experimenting with various homemade chicken designs, we never settled on a setup that fulfilled these needs to our satisfaction. Eventually, we chose to purchase a manufactured “Egg Cart’n” unit, after researching various options, and we have been very pleased with it overall.
Our “classic” unit is easier to move and maintain than anything we’d built, and we felt it was more secure. However, this spring a predator (likely a young fox) exploited a weakness in the design and slaughtered the coop’s residents.
After realizing what had happened, we found a simple way to close the loophole and help restore our trust in this otherwise excellent and convenient product. Here’s the problem and our solution.
Egg Cart’n Classic, showing ramp assembly
The Egg Cart’n Classic has aluminum framing and mesh, so the unit is light enough to be moved by one person but still impenetrable to predators from the sides. The bottom is open so that birds have access to fresh ground. However, the sides can be tunneled under by a digging predator such as a fox or mink. The design attempts to solve this problem by housing the birds at night in an upper level, closed off by lifting a ramp. This ramp is the weak point — there are several minor flaws in the design which create opportunities for predator access.
When we found our slaughtered chickens, all were in the upper “secure” area of the coop, the doors locked and the ramp raised. However, an impressive tunnel had been dug under the aluminum siding, so something had clearly dug into the lower area, then squeezed past the ramp into the upper area, reversing the process when all the chickens were dead.
We often use this chicken tractor in conjunction with an electric net fence, as the electric acts as an additional barrier to ground-based predators, day and night. Use of chicken nets also allow us to give the birds daytime access to an area larger than the footprint of their coop. Occasionally, though, nets are inconvenient or power fails, and we knew we needed to find a way to increase the nighttime security of the coop so that the birds would be as safe as possible even without secondary electric protection.
Upon closer inspection, we decided that two aspects of the ramp assembly needed to be altered. Here’s what we did:
1. Fill the gaps around the ramp. At the back and inner side of the ramp, even when raised, there is still a significant slot through which a predator can squeeze. To fill this gap, we cut pieces of scrap wood and screwed them together (above and below the deck), holding them in place to block the gap.
Inner deck and ramp, showing wood filler closing gaps around ramp.
2. Secure the ramp’s deck. The ramp has an aluminum frame with a rubber mesh deck set into it. We hadn’t realized, or considered, that this deck was simply held in place by gravity, not secured to anything. It can easily be pushed up from below, creating a significant gap for a predator to crawl through. So we wove lengths of wire around the deck frame, through the deck itself, holding it securely in place.
Closeup of wire wrapped around ramp frame to hold deck in place.
One major strength of the Egg Cart’n design is its modular construction — it’s easy to assemble or disassemble. These changes would have been difficult if we’d had to crawl into the coop to make them, but instead we simply removed the roof and lifted out the main deck. Once we’d made the alterations, we simply put everything back; the whole process probably took half an hour.
Predators such as mink or foxes can squeeze through a smaller space than would seem possible; it’s worth checking your chicken accommodations for any gap or weakness that can be filled or secured. Even a professionally manufactured, high-quality shed like the Egg Cart’n contained a fatal flaw that we discovered the hard way, but the fix is quick and easy. We’re happy to have this flaw fixed, as we’re very fond of this product overall.
Eric Reuter and his wife, Joanna, founded their homestead farm in 2006, within a narrow Ozark-style valley with diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Chert Hollow Farm seeks to integrate food and farming into the ecosystem, at various times managing vegetable & grain crops, perennial fruits, dairy/meat goats, poultry, timber resources, and natural habitats. Read all of Eric's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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