Chicken Tractor

Early this morning, I wrangled Kate out of the house to help me take the chickens to the 'tractor.' This was not as straightforward as it sounds. While Tom and I had worked on two designs of 'tractor' before settling on one, we had never figured out how to get the chickens from the coop to the tractor. This turned out to be a wee problem.

Why didn't we make a wheeled tractor, you might be asking? One that could be wheeled up to the door of the coop, fit neatly there, and the chickens could just walk on in, just like in all those YouTube videos? Well, we have raised beds right in front of the coop door, so there's not enough room to fit a nine-foot-long tractor there, so we couldn't go that route. And the tractor needed to be that long, in case we wanted to put it over one of our 4x8 raised beds for the chickens to clean up. So we went ahead with our plan, never figuring out the all-important travel bit.

I guess I figured I'd just get a bin, put some scratch in it, put it on its side in front of the coop door, and the chickens would stroll in.

I figured wrong.

You've got to understand, these are chickens who are scared of everything. I don't know if it's because I got them as 'coop-ready' chicks, meaning they were older and had already gotten set in their ways, or if they're just slightly demented. Maybe if you raise chicks from the time they hatch, they 'imprint' on you in some way and think you're awesome. My chickens definitely don't think I'm awesome. They get that I'm bringing them food, but they still don't come anywhere near me. They screech and squawk if I try to catch them. But it's not just me, they're afraid of everyone and everything. These are chickens who, when I hung a suet cake from the ceiling of their coop on a string just to give them some entertainment, huddled in a corner, far far away from the suet cake, literally all day - until I took it away, when they resumed normal activity, including laying eggs. I've always just fondly said, 'Well they're birds for heaven's sake. Of course they're skittish!'

So I don't know what I was thinking. But I blithely put the bin, as planned, in front of the coop door.

The chickens rushed to the furthest corner, trembling.

So I said 'screw it' and instead, terrorized them even more by coming in and grabbing them individually, then handing them to Kate to transport to the other side of the garden and the tractor.

Finally we got them all in, along with bowls of food and water, and a rubbermaid bin I filled with hay and put on its side, for nesting.

I felt quite accomplished. The chicken scene looked, well, idyllic.

The grass is pretty dead now, but there are bits of green weeds, and, I supposed, plenty of bugs for the chickens to eat, so heaven, right? They pecked around happily for about 10 minutes. I beamed. I thought, "This is the way it's supposed to be! I'm finally 'pasturing' my chickens!" All the guilt I've been feeling about keeping them (literally) cooped up, in order to save my plants, vanished. I'd found a way! A way to keep my garden safe, while letting the chickens roam free!

I felt happy for about a half hour. Then something happened. The chickens started looking stressed. They turned over the food and water. They pulled all the hay out of the bin, not showing any signs of actually wanting to go in it. They jumped on top of it and pooped. They ran back and forth, back and forth, crowing worriedly. They banged their beaks on the door. I kept scattering scratch around, hoping to distract them from their distress. It only worked briefly. Poor Tonks, our one very hen-pecked chicken, got even more pecked - there was no escape from Hermione, the Barred Rock, and Hermione was particularly vicious. Finally I pulled Tonks out around two o'clock and took her back to the big coop and run. She promptly went to the nesting boxes and laid an egg (and probably enjoyed the alone time). Then the barred rock and the two reds started pecking the remaining easter egger, which pissed me off. "Look, chickens," I wanted to holler, "you're having a field trip! Scratch! Dig! Dustbath! Eat! Go in the box and lay an egg! Explore your world!" But no, they were just too worried.

So clearly they had to go back to the big coop. But I discovered I had no way to get them out of the tractor. Tonks had been huddled in a corner, getting pecked, so she was easy to grab. But the door was chicken sized, not human sized, so once I leaned through, the other four ran to the other side of the tractor. When I opened up that whole side to get to them, they tried run past me and escape. I didn't know what to do.

Tom rigged up a sort of mini-coop on top of our old, little red tractor, with a ramp going up. He took it over to the tractor and opened the door, hoping the chickens would just climb on in. "Ha ha," they cackled crazily. And then there was utter chaos. Chickens escaped, heading for the road. Kate was in tears, figuring they'd all die. Tom and I chased chickens around the garden, trampling plants all along the way. The squawking was tremendous. All we needed was a soundtrack, like banjo music or something, to complete this picture. God knows what our neighbors were thinking.

We finally got everyone back to the coop, where egg-laying commenced with a right good will, several hours past the usual time, and where contented scratching and pecking is now going on. We took apart the tractor and stored the pieces in the garage. We won't be trying that again, any time soon.