White Paper: Brooders and Chicken Tractors

Brooding and Chicken Tractors, have you ever even heard those terms? 

What in the world do they mean?

Brooding is quite simple really. It really refers to an age of chickens.  Brooding is the process that is done for little chicks from hatchlings up to about one month old. 

Chicken Tractors are floor-less moveable pens for chickens on pasture.

Hi, Farmer Bob here to share a last bit of information with you about how I raise my Perfect Pastured Poultry.

I’d like to compare how your grocery chickens are brooded, but frankly can’t get any good information about their practices.  So, I’ll just tell you how I do it.  I’ve already covered the differences in the different systems of raising chickens grocery store vs. Perfect Pastured Poultry, but I thought I’d give you a little description of my brooding and “tractors.”

When I get chicks they’re about 1-2 days old.  They’ve not even had their first drink of water yet when they show up.  Which is fine, they can go at least 3 days without any ill befalling them. 

When they arrive the first task is called “dipping their beaks” which means just what it sounds like, we dip their beaks into water and get them to drink.  Sometimes they have to be dipped 2 or 3 times before they actually get the idea and swallow water.  Then we set them into the nice warm brooder.

These little chicks need four things to be Happy and make Perfect Pastured Poultry.

  • Clean brooder
  • Water
  • Feed
  • Warmth

Before I move forward allow me to mention a quick note about grocery store chicken.  In all the videos I’ve watched, and everything that I’ve read, I’ve only observed one time that the idea of brooding was even shown, and that was for such a brief moment that if you didn’t know exactly what you were seeing you’d miss it completely.  I mention this because I’ve nothing to compare the way I do it to grocery store chicken.  :-/

Alright,  the four things needed for brooding chicks:

  • Clean: I don’t mean vacuumed and dusted.  I mean clean dry fodder for the chicks to lay on and walk on. 
    • These little guys are very vulnerable at this stage. They’re tiny, yellow, fluff balls that move rather quickly. 
    • They are unable to control their temperature, so if they get wet and yucky they get sick and may die, or just remain sick the rest of their lives.
    • I add fresh dry wood shavings as needed. When they’re brand new, fresh shavings last a few days.  After they’re about 4-5 days old I need to add fresh every day.  After they’re 10 days or so, sometimes they get fresh shavings twice per day.
    • When the chicks move out of the brooder, we clean it out, and compost what we remove.
  • Water and feed.
    • I give them well water from day one. They don’t get the harsh chemicals contained in “city water.”
    • Their feed is the same from the first day to the last. Kalmbach certified non-GMO. 
  • Warmth
    • Brood chicks need to be able to be kept about 90 degrees.
    • They also need to have an area that is cooler that they can get to easily when they get too warm.
    • I have my brooders set up with two heat lamps on one half, and one heat lamp on the other half.
    • When they’re brand new I locate their feed and water right in the warm area. As they grow, I move both to a cooler area.  I do this so they have to get up and move.  Even at this early stage they will simply lay down next to the feed and water never getting up if they don’t have to.  I want them to be vigorous, so I make them move.
  • After two weeks in the small highly controlled brooder, I move them to a larger brooder, both of which are contained in our greenhouse. They still need heat lamps, but they also need more room, and to be taxed a little so they grow feathers.  They stay in this second stage brooder for two to three weeks.  Each group is different and the outside weather plays a role.  When they begin getting a good growth of feathers, they’re done in the brooder and ready for the good life on pasture.

Chicken Tractors on pasture described:

  • The tractors I build are 12 feet x 12 feet and two feet tall.
  • They have no floor at all, as that would defeat the whole purpose.
  • I wrap all four sides with chicken wire, affixing it to the wood frame. The chicken wire keeps predators from getting at my precious chickens. It also keeps them contained a bit, more on that later.
  • I cover half of the top with chicken wire, so it’s open to direct sun, rain, and whatever else may fall from the sky, sometimes sleet and snow too.
  • The other half is covered by a white tarp, which extends all the way to the ground on the whole covered half.
    • I use white so it reflects the hot summer sun, which helps lessen the stress on the chickens when it’s really hot.
    • I also have the tarp attached in such a way so that I can roll the sides up when it’s hot. By making it this way I can provide shelter to the chickens when it’s inclement, and maintain shade when it’s hot.
    • And when I first take new chicks out onto pasture, I have extra tarps to cover 2/3’s of the open end of the tractor so they stay nice and comfy, giving them some time to acclimate before a full half of their new home is exposed.
  • The tractors also carry two five gallon pails for water. These are attached to a small tote with a float device, which allows water to gravity fill the water tote.
    • When it’s hot out, 100 birds in a tractor will drink 20 gallons of water per day.
    • Upon occasion when it’s really hot, I lightly spray the chickens with water to cool them without soaking them.
  • I feed my chickens right on the ground. I don’t use feeders when they’re on pasture.  I do this for several reasons:
    • I want them to have to eat some vegetation so they learn to like it when they are first introduced to the pasture.
    • I want them to learn to scratch the ground. This has multiple reasons too:
      • It is what chickens should do naturally
      • It makes them stronger
      • When they learn to scratch, they scratch under the whole tractor thus working their poo into the pasture soil.

Why do I use tractors instead of “free range pasture?”

Some farmers do this.  I don’t on purpose for several reasons:

  • In my opinion a free range meat chicken makes tough stringy meat. These chickens are getting too much exercise to make a nice final bite of meat for you and me.  At the end of everything, that’s what I’m trying to grow, enjoyable healthy chicken.  If it’s stringy and tough you won’t want to eat it, so this is one reason for tractors.
  • The chickens are safer from predators, hawks in particular, in a tractor.
  • I can control their poo placement. Chicken poo contains loads of nitrogen, so much that farmers call it “hot.”  It’s so hot that if the chickens were all contained in one roosting building at night, the foot print of that building would be burned for at least one season.  By keeping them in tractors, moving them twice daily, I don’t get burned “hot” spots, and I fertilize the whole pasture.  I think this is better soil management.
  • We have found that chickens that are free range like my wife’s flower beds around our house. They poo on our deck and sidewalk, and decimate my wife’s flower beds.  This is bad for Farmer Bob!
  • Lastly, the chickens all group together at night. They all fit together, even when full grown, into about 25% of their tractor.  So, they have more than ample space to move around and get exercise, while being managed and safe.

That’s pretty much the life of my Happy Chickens.  They have a great life, and one single bad day, which is harvest day.

If you’d like information about harvest day, I’ll gladly tell you, but most folks are a bit squeamish about such so I’ll tell you verbally and invite you to come help harvest if you like.  🙂

I hope you’ve found these pages informative.  I hope that I’ve plainly explained the different ways chickens are raised, and why I’ve chosen to raise them the way I do.  Further, I hope that I’ve explained to you that my system is actually considered, that I have real reasons for the things I do, and that you agree with me.

Now, let’s get some Perfect Pastured Chicken on your plate!

Eat Well!

Farmer Bob