When you have poultry or waterfowl grow-outs (but especially waterfowl, since they make such a mess with water), a tractor is invaluable. It keeps them safe from predators but allows the growing birds to scratch, bathe, find bugs, eat greens, and enjoy fresh air and sunshine – creating a “controlled” free range (more precisely, pastured) environment. Buying a well-made hoop tractor can be expensive, so we make our own.
We’ve built a few different styles of tractors for different purposes on the farm. Our first was a hoop behemoth, completely enclosed with – and I still can’t believe we did it – hardware cloth. And because we initially used too large a tarp on the first design, a windstorm blew the tractor down a hill, rolling it completely over and severely damaging the PVC supports and wire cladding. 😬
We know better now, and have greatly improved on that original design. This tractor is very secure, reasonably lightweight, and built to last!
Trial and error has brought us to this design: 8×8, about 5′ tall. It’s covered in 2×4 welded wire, with another layer of hardware cloth (there’s no escape!) about 2′ up from the bottom (to keep animals from reaching in).
With our first hoop tractor iteration, we used zip ties. It went quickly, but over time, those zip ties grew brittle and snapped off. Not good. In the two subsequent designs, we opted to twist wire in combination with clamping welded wire together with “c” rings. Though twisting wire loops around the PVC pipe arches is a painstaking process, it fastens the wire to the pipe beautifully. The “c” rings are a massive pain to crimp around wire, but they hold the wire together securely and will last far longer than plastic zip ties.
Another change is using a larger (9×12) tarp on top of the tractor to provide protection from the elements. Previously, even in v2.0, we used a smaller tarp that covered the top but didn’t extend far down the sides, resulting in gaps in coverage. This tarp fits so that only 2′ is exposed on the sides and the back and front are open, allowing good air flow (no one wants a tractor to get airborne). We’d also affixed shade cloth in earlier versions, but have foregone it in v3.0 – and the tractors are staying cool and shaded with the single, larger tarp.
We find that all those scraps of lumber and wire from previous projects that we’ve kept can really come in handy for later projects. We were able to repurpose some lumber and wire for this one, saving money and a trip to the store. Save your scraps – you never know when they’ll have purpose!
We hew to the motto “if you’re going to do it, do it right“. The waterfowl in the newer tractors seem to enjoy the increased access to sunny spots as well as an improved view. Importantly, they’re able to stay in there safely overnight, and the prodigious amount of poop stays outdoors, where it belongs. Another win-win!