Chicken Tractor Electrification
Today there is no fancy tea party, no sewing lessons…just a how-to on chicken tractor electrification. If you read our post about homesteading hardships, you know we were having problems with chicken predators. There are a few things in life that will really upset a homesteader/farmer, and predators getting their animals is very high up on that list. What makes it worse for us is that we’re still fairly new to this chicken raising business, so it becomes easy to doubt yourself. Raising chickens is easy. Dealing with predators…not so much. Especially when it comes to chickens. Chickens are an invitation to predators in your area to come dine. Rather than give in, we decided we needed to step up our chicken farming game and find another way to keep our birds safe. Electric fencing was the only thought that crossed my mind, so we began doing some research. (I meant to share this post last week Thursday, but I ended up being really busy and didn’t get a chance to publish it. It also gave me an extra week to prove our new system before sharing it with you…)
We were having problems, one after another, and mobile electric fencing was just about the only solution I had heard of that might help us out. Problem is, those fences and their solar chargers are kind of pricey. I’m not against getting one, and in fact, we probably will next year, but for now, it was going to be a bigger project than our “right now” budget would allow. By right now, I mean that we really needed a fast solution to our predator problem, or risk losing more of our birds. The other problem is that a chicken tractor is really supposed to be moved daily. It confuses the predators and gives the birds fresh grass to eat (and a fresh pooping place…see this post to understand what I mean). Moving the fencing AND the chicken tractor that often would be a bit too much work for this year, so we needed to figure out something else.
Scott spent some time thinking and researching and found a way to put the electrification system ON the coop itself. He found a video that John Suscovich did about electrifying his chicken tractors. But it seemed like his set up maybe had some unnecessary steps. John grounded his fencing in all corners of the tractor, but Scott felt that was more than necessary, and he came up with his own plan/modifications.
We would not need a large solar charger since the plan was to use this exclusively to electrify the perimeter of the chicken tractors. We were able to get the 2-mile Zarbera charger, which was around $100. We also needed a grounding rod (we used something we had on hand), wire, and insulators. It cost around $125 to get ourselves everything we needed.
*We purchased our supplies through the local Fleet Farm, and our prices were actually less than those in the Amazon links. We are an Amazon affiliate, however, I put those links in there for your convenience in case you want more details on the product before shopping…purchase through a local farm store or online…do what works for you! The wire and insulators are the same product we used, but different brands, yet should work just fine should you choose to purchase them.*
The solar charger is supposed to charge in the sun for 3 days before being turned on. We did this correctly, only, we did not hook up the battery, which is kind of an important step since the battery is what is being charged 🙂
Scott did all of the work on this one…well, with the help of one of the boys. The goal was to get the wire mounted off of the frame of the tractor, about 6″ out from the tractor and 6″ up off the ground. He had to laminate boards outward from the frame of the tractor to get us to the right height and distance. From there he installed the insulators at the appropriate points on the frame.
The solar charger was mounted to the tractor near the peak of the roof, and we ran our wire down the frame to the bottom of the tractor, using insulators to prevent the wires from touching the frame.
The wire was then run around the frame of the tractor through more insulators. It was a joined up in the back by the solar charger.
The wire for electrification gets connected to one of the two bolts in front of the solar charger. It will say something like “fencing”. The other bolt will say something like “ground,” and that is where you will need to connect your ground wire.
Scott used a metal rod we had lying around (it’s possible it’s a ground rod, but we really don’t know what it is for…if you know, you can leave your answer in the comments) as our grounding rod. He wrapped a length of wire to the rod, and then using insulators, ran the wire up to the solar charger where he attached the wire. (Using insulators to help hold the wire in place will make it all hold together and we will not have to disassemble every time it gets moved…see above pictures for more details.)
He also made an adjustment to the back board during this process. Since he needed to build up the wood on the back of the tractor to make sure that the insulators were far enough from the coop, it would not allow us to fully remove the back board from the tractor, which is actually what we had planned to do all along. Now we have a bolt that we can slide into the back board, through the built up boards, and hold the board up off of the ground for moving.
So now you need to know how we can use this system. We still need to move the tractor daily (or often) to keep predators confused and to give the chickens fresh grass. That means we need to shut off the system for moving and turn it back on when we are done.
I’ll start with turning it on because if you are going to be doing this, that is what you will start with. With all of your wiring in place, you will want to start by making sure the charger is turned off.
Put the grounding rod into the ground.
Make sure that if you need to put boards in the down position on front and back that you do it now.
Then turn it on and test it! No, not with your hands…unless MAYBE it is your first time using the system and you are making sure there is flow…but I don’t recommend that…it will hurt.
Scott may or may not have tested it that way, just to be sure. It may or may not have hurt his arm a lot. Use a fence tester to make sure it’s working. You put the little ground stake into the ground and hook your tester onto the fence wire. There are little lights on the tester that will blink to show you how much power is running through your fencing. If it’s not blinking, it’s not working! (Different testers may work a bit different than ours..make sure you do the read your directions for use for anything you are using.)
When you are ready to move your tractor again, take down is easy. Turn off the charger, remove the ground rod, and lift the boards. Then move the tractor, and set the fencing back up…maybe after feeding the birds so you aren’t dumping water onto a hot line or tripping on an electric wire. The charger instructional book said that you may not feel the shock if you are wearing rubber boots as they will ground you, but I still would err on the side of caution. Just make sure that you turn that fencing on!
We have one additional precaution that we will be taking on the new chicken tractor that I am building, but I’ll share that when the tractor is done.
As crummy as it is that we lost so many chickens this year, I think we learned a lot and every time we fix something, we make our chickens a little safer. I don’t want to give up chicken farming, so finding other ways to keep them safe is worth the effort. I don’t know how long the solar charger life is, BUT if we raise 100 chickens a year for 5 years on that charger, we are talking about a cost of about$0.20 extra per bird to raise them. I’m okay with that.
The good news about this electrification system is that it works. The bad news is that it does not work if you forget to turn it on. We had to come take some measurements from the coop so I could finish building the second chicken tractor, and when we did, we turned the fencing off…and forgot to turn it back on when we returned.
There were 6 chickens in the tractor at the time. We didn’t want to put in too many in the event that the electrification was not working, so we were giving it a trial run. For 4 nights, we had zero issues. The night we forgot to put it back on…3 dead/missing chickens. Lesson learned. Always make sure the solar charger is ON before walking away from the chicken tractor!!!
After more days of testing this system after the loss of those chickens, we felt confident that the system was working, so we added the remaining meat birds to the tractor…it’s something like 24 birds (out of 100) that we had left. But we are not giving up! We found out we had a problem and figured out a way to solve it. Now we’ll just need to continue to be diligent in watching for signs of trouble.
If you decide to try our electrification system out, be sure to let us know if it works for you! And let us know if you have any questions comments…we always want to hear from you! Have any of you tried something similar before?
You guys are amazing!
Spring Lake Homestead
Thank you! That was really informative. We have a horrible predator problem. We used to have the best varmint-chasing dog but he met a bad end. One thing I’ve learned: chicken wire only keeps chickens IN, it doesn’t keep predators out. We’ve changed to much heavier fencing – but I wouldn’t think of putting them “out there” in a chicken tractor without electric fencing too. Your place looks like ours, very wild!
Spring Lake Homestead
Sorry to hear about your dog and the predator problem. I am so thankful we seem to have found a solution that works. The animals are always safe the first day or two or even week that they are out there, but once the predators realize they are there, they don’t leave the chickens alone.
It is fun to follow your blog and I am simply amazed at the time and effort you put into making things work. I had to learn all about how to keep the animals/predators out of the barns and house and over the years fine tuned it.
As far as your ‘grounding rod’ those were made for the use with a hunting ground blind. The ideal behind them was that a person in a wheel chair could use them, remind me to tell you about that when we talk the next time. I had at one time 8 of those and although the hunting blind is long gone I used the rods for various things around my place.
Spring Lake Homestead
Thanks! Yes, it’s always an ever-changing process for keeping predators at bay…if it’s on one predator, it’s another.
Ah! That’s what they were for! I thought they reminded me of a stake of some sort. I will have to try and remember to ask you more about that. I think we have a total of at least 4 of them (including the one we are using).
I hope that works for you. You’re right in that it’s really frustrating and upsetting to lose your chickens to predators, and there are so many of them! I get discouraged trying to protect my animals and plants from pests and diseases sometimes. It’s tiring.
Spring Lake Homestead
Yes, it really can be exhausting!
The Big Garden and Croft
J > There’s one thing we can rely on chickens for : to make life much more complicated than we ever thought could be possible!
Spring Lake Homestead
That is very, very true!
Hi there! Did this end up being an effective predator proofing method? We’re building a tractor system and are hoping to use a similar system to protect our hens from coyotes but wanted to check what your experience was like. Thanks!
Spring Lake Homestead
We’ve been using this the past few years, and yes, it has been very effective for us. I can’t say if it will keep coyotes away for certain, but it has been keeping the other predators away that we’ve had issues with. Electrification has been the only way that we have been able to keep chickens without issue. That, and having a dog. I give most of the credit to having the electric fencing/wiring, but our dog has also been a huge deterrent to predators.
Thank you! From what we’ve observed the main issue we’ll have with the coyotes will be them digging under the tractor. Our tractor system will be heavy enough to prevent flipping, but we’re trying to avoid needing to install a large opening wire floor. What predators/predator issues has your electrified system been successful in deterring?
Spring Lake Homestead
Our biggest predator issue is raccoons. We have coyotes in the area, but haven’t had problems with them. Between our dog and our neighbor’s pack of sled dogs, they stay far enough away from our place. We have fox in the area, but to my knowledge, we haven’t had issue with them on our land. Arial predators, mink, rats, feral cats, and raccoons are the big ones. (Rats will attack chicks.) If you space the wire away from the actual tractor like we did, it should do the trick. Too close, and they can still dig underneath it, too far, and they can step over it.