Many small farmers use mobile chicken coops called field pens or chicken tractors that require daily repositioning to provide chickens with fresh grass, soil, and air. The system spreads nitrogen-rich droppings that naturally fertilize the land.
James Cassidy, founder and leader of the OSU Organic Growers Club, proposed an automated system, and mechanical engineering students Tanner Alberts, Kelsey Fisher, and Brandon Haley accepted the challenge to create a modular unit suitable for egg-laying chickens. Their design takes chicken tractors to a whole new level.
The team’s invention is a solar-powered, self-moving system that features automatic watering and feed dispensing in addition to temperature reporting and flock monitoring by webcam. The nesting boxes are easily removable for cleaning, and an automatic security door shuts the chickens in at night to protect them from predators.
Theoretically, an operator could stage the tractor at the beginning of a field and trust the program developed by the team to initiate the tractor move at night when triggered by a photocell, after the chickens retire to their roosts. “Once it gets dark enough, at a certain threshold, the tractor waits 15 minutes before moving to ensure the sun isn’t simply blocked by a passing cloud, then closes the security door, lifts up, moves forward, then lowers back down, and eventually opens up the security door again, to return the chickens access to their run,” said Alberts. Monitoring feed and water levels and repositioning the tractor from time to time, collecting eggs, and periodic cleaning would be all that is required daily from the operator.
The prototype must be field-tested to determine how chickens will react to living in the automated tractor. “The only field testing that we’ve performed is movement related,” said Alberts. “The tractors will be truly tested in mid-June when the chickens arrive at the Organic Growers Club farm.”