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Trough Feeders vs Gravity Feeders for Poultry--including a DIY plan

Updated: Apr 24

I didn't grow up on a farm.

And, I can't do anything the "normal" way. Get some chickens and build a static coop with a run? Nope. Let's make it mobile. Preferably moveable by hand. I want to drag that thing all over 20 acres. Because, why not?!

So, everything I'm learning, I'm learning "from scratch." Including which infrastructure works best for us, on our farm, with our resources. We have tried multiple chicken coop/tractor designs, waterers, water heaters, brooders, feeders, breeds, feed, probiotics/prebiotics, etc etc etc. You name it, we've probably tried it!

I've used trough feeders inside my "Suscovich"-style meat bird tractors (below). I really liked being able to adjust the height of the feeders, depending on the size of the birds. And I liked that there was plenty of room for chickens to spread out and eat. I liked that I could use these tractors with both meat birds and turkeys. But to feed the birds, I had to step inside with the hungry little raptors. Chickens and turkeys can be mean little peckers, y'all!

Inside my "Salatin"-style tractors (below), I've primarily used round gravity-feeders. I can hang them off the ground, and they fit well inside these low-to-the-ground tractors. But even though the gravity feeders hold enough feed to make chores efficient, they only feed maybe 10 chickens at a time. With meat birds, to prevent them from growing so quickly that they can't move, feed is typically removed at night, and given back in the morning. By morning, they're pretty ravenous! So giving 1, or even 2, round feeders in a tractor, only 15-20 chickens at a time can eat. This is problematic when you have 30 chickens in a tractor, who have gone without food all night.

When choosing a feeder, you need to figure how big of a feeder--or how many feeders you need. Each chicken needs about 3" of space. At a minimum.

I typically have 30 chickens per tractor. So I need 90" of feeder space per tractor, or close to 8 linear feet per tractor.

I cut 2 4' sections off of a 10' piece of 4" diameter plumbing pipe. I then cut away about 3" off the top, all the way down, to make the trough.

I took a piece of wood we'd cut for firewood, and cut off slices to use in lieu of end caps. Make sure to predrill holes into the wood so it doesn't split when you screw the pipe to it. Use deck screws to attach the pipe to the wood.

I used 2 2' sections of 2x4 for the base, and attached the pipe to the 2x4 using 1 1/2" deck screws.

We always have baling twine we've removed from hay bales, gathered up in a ball, just in case. I tied one end around the base of the trough feeders, and wrapped the other end around the front of one of the chicken tractors, so as I move the tractors each morning, the trough feeder will move with it, without me having to pick it up. Which is great, because it quickly got covered in poop.

Each trough section holds around 15 lbs of feed--so I still get 30 lbs of feed per tractor at a time. Each 4' section is 96 linear inches. This gives me a total of 192 linear inches per tractor, which could feed a total of 64 birds at the same time. At the very least, it gives 30 birds plenty of room to eat all at the same time.

While this might not be completely necessary, just because of how chickens typically behave, there are a couple of advantages.

I've struggled with low weights on processing day for the last 2 years--especially this year. I spent a good chunk of last weekend pouring over notes, trying to figure out my problem--which I did solve. But throughout the year, as I've been wracking my brain off and on, one of my hypotheses was whether or not there was enough space at feeding time. While this one thing won't impact weight to the degree their weight has been impacted (that's a whole different issue--read the blog here for that info), it likely has some impact on processed weight.

The other advantage of a trough feeder over a gravity feeder is the poop. Poop is more evenly distributed throughout the space--and therefore throughout any given paddock. Even distribution of anything--in this case, holy chicken squat, aka black gold, aka God's fertilizer--is always better than having it more concentrated in one location. This being said, with our current operation size, this is really a non-issue. But, it is something for us to consider as we look towards scaling up more in the future. And depending on the size of your operation, and the space you run your chickens through, this is a factor to consider!

I still have to climb inside the tractors to fill the feeders which I make sure to do AFTER I've moved them to fresh, clean grass. The chickens still peck at my glove-covered hands. But, at least they're not trying to fly up in my face anymore!

I'm excited to see how these feeders pan out over time. While they are not the "perfect" solution, they have more advantages for us, here at our ranch, than disadvantages. For sure, the biggest disadvantage will be removing it from the tractor before processing day. But the solution lies within the problem itself, so....between now and then, I'm going to start working through solutions to move it out without getting poop all over my hands!

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