Chicken tractors and static chicken coops or runs/pens are both good ways to house a backyard flock of hens; but, there are key differences besides the obvious (of one being mobile and the other not) that people should take into account before they make their final decision to buy.
The main thing you will want to establish when considering buying or building a static pen or chicken tractor is whether the dwelling will house the hens 24/7 or just be a place for the chickens to lay eggs and roost at night? The reason I pose this question is because chickens are very inquisitive animals and they actually like to roam. Even though they typically won't go too far from their home (perhaps 150 metres max) ranging is in a hen's DNA. Therefore, if we are going to keep them with access to a free ranging area at certain times throughout the day (even if it is just a small suburban backyard) then size of the tractor or pen isn't that important; however, if the hens are to be kept within a strictly contained area, namely the tractor or pen, then size does matter.
The Somerzby in the image above and others can be found on eBay here
Hens will usually take it in turns to lay so you can get away with a tractor or coop allowing for about one nesting box per four birds and when it comes to roosting down for the night most flocks will cram in together happily enough given a foot of perch space per chicken. So, although adequate laying boxes and perch space is important the MOST important factor regardless of the coop being mobile or static is space for the hen to move around (if it's to be as happy as it should/could be).
Keeping "space to move, or roam, or range" in mind you can then have a starting point to calculate the number of chickens to keep. For example, if there will be a provision for hens to be allowed out into a backyard or free ranging area throughout the day with their tractor or static pen used only for feed, water, laying, and roosting then you could keep twice or three times more hens than if there was no extra free range area at all.
Chicken tractor on acreage we would open the door and allow our hens to freely range (image above)
This is where the main differences of a static pen and a mobile chicken tractor start to materialise, especially in the suburban backyard setting, because one would think in a welfare sense that a mobile tractor is better for hens than a static pen since it can be moved to a new spot each day when in fact the opposite might be true and a tractor may actually be worse!
Here's another question to ask: what is the main reason for the chicken tractor is it to move to a new patch of grass each day so the hens can get a nice new spot? Or, is it more so we can spread chicken manure around and have the greenest lawn in the neighbourhood? Because even though the chicken tractor is moved daily to a different location the hens inside still only have the same space to roam around. In other words, a mobile chicken tractor will give hens no more freedom just because it is moved around. I'll elaborate more about the "freedom" line of thinking in a few paragraphs time…
There's another thing to consider also when it comes to chicken tractors on a suburban block and that's the physicality of moving it… Most suburban chicken tractors are built with the assumption they will be moved by hand and usually by one person as well as being required to manoeuvre around obstacles like: trees, clothes line post, or other tight areas typical in a smallish backyard. Therefore, they are generally of a compact build design and made from lightweight materials meaning they are not very roomy.
Now lets consider a static pen such as a coop with a small run in the backyard corner of a suburban block. The hens in this situation don't see a new patch of grass every day – that's true; however, they almost always will have more room to move than a chicken tractor because a static pen doesn't need to be built for mobility.
Before I built our static coop (surrouded by a large pen) I used the chicken tractor with a tarp as a temporary static hen house (image above)
Furthermore, it's not just "roaming" that hens like to do they also like to dust bath and a static pen allows chickens to establish a dust bathing area. On the other hand, a chicken tractor (being mobile and moved daily) doesn't give hens enough time to scratch away at the grass and dig a hole in the dirt to make a good dust bath area. Also, most good chicken tractors have a predator proof mesh floor, which keeps the flock safe by not allowing predators to dig under and attack the birds, but unfortunately this mechanism also prevents the birds from digging or properly scratching the ground.
Let me reiterate, if the chicken tractor just acted as a coop (where the hens could lay and roost safely at night) there wouldn't be an issue because the hens obviously are free ranging through the day, scratching around, and dust bathing; however, when the chicken tractor doubles as the coop and ranging area full time, then I'd advocate for either a big chicken tractor or probably more sensibly a static pen built as big as practically possible.
Dust bathing is a natural instinct for chickens and helps keep them healthy (image above)
By reading this article through you can see clearly which way I lean when it comes to chicken tractors vs static pens in a standard suburban backyard. In my opinion, chicken tractors work best when used as a mobile coop such as on a large property where hens are let out to free range a paddock for a period of time and then once they are all back in the tractor it can be moved to a new location. Yes, there's nothing wrong with using a chicken tractor the same way but on a smaller scale in an inner city suburban block as long as the hens are actually allowed out to roam the backyard.
However, the best way (if at all practical) to house chickens in suburbia is to keep them in a static pen somewhere out of the way like the back corner of the yard. Build the coop and run as big as possible and if you can let the birds out into the backyard occasionally or if not they'll still be quite happy in their static pen clucking away.
Chickens do well in small spaces but they do even better if allowed out sometimes to free range around in the backyard (image above)
In conclusion, both chicken tractors and static pens are great ways to house chickens I have used both methods and I obviously prefer the latter. Nevertheless, chicken tractors are excellent when used in the right way and for the suburbs if the hens will be let out regularly to roam/range it really doesn't matter too much if you keep them in a tractor or static pen but if it's to be their home 24/7 I'd go for the static pen over the tractor any day.
If you are considering buying a chicken tractor or coop there are some excellent and reasonably priced examples on the following sites:
- eBay USA chicken coops;
- Amazon USA chicken coops;
- eBay Australia chicken coops;
- Amazon UK chicken coops.
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