A chicken tractor is a chicken coop on wheels, which farmers can move from place to place. It lacks a floor, allowing chickens to scratch and till the topsoil and eat grass, weeds, and bugs. Because there isn’t a floor, the manure drops directly onto the ground and helps fertilize the soil. According to researchers at Kansas State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, free-range chickens with the necessary space to forage are healthier and taste better than chickens raised indoors.
According to permaculture expert Andy Lee, “animal tractors bring into harmony the relationships between farmers, the agro-ecosystem, and animals.” Chicken tractors can allow farmers to help maintain the health of their land through rotational grazing. In this system, chickens can be systematically moved from location to location and minimize the impact on any one area for too long. In other words, periods of disturbance are followed with periods of rest in order to allow re-growth. At the same time, the temporary disturbance is good because it allows for the chickens to mix and fertilize topsoil. This is better for the soil than mechanical tilling, because it leaves the soil structure intact and preserves the soil life. A farmer or gardener can also reduce his environmental impact by limiting her/his use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers.
The chickens essentially become biomass recyclers by consuming weeds and insects and converting them to fertilizer, according to Lee. In terms of converting feed, chickens are highly efficient. Under optimal weather conditions, they can convert one kilogram of feed into half a kilogram of live-weight and in bad weather, they need less than two kilograms of feed to convert into approximately half a kilogram of live weight (approximately a dozen eggs). Chickens are not efficient at extracting nutrients from food sources. They excrete approximately 75 percent of nitrogen, 80 percent of phosphorus, 85 percent of potassium, and 40 percent of organic matter contained in their feed. In a sustainable farming system, this manure can become a valuable fertilizer. However, because chicken manure is so rich in nitrogen, a farmer must add carbon-rich straw or wood shavings for a more balanced fertilizer that avoids overloading the soil with nitrogen.
Using chickens or other livestock in this system can be useful for orchard maintenance; a farmer can rotate the animals throughout the orchard, allowing them to clear the areas between and under trees of grasses, weeds, weed seeds, fallen fruits, insects and their larvae. This mixed diet is good for the health of the chickens and reduces disease rates. At the same time, the chickens leave manure which enriches crop growth.
Because they mimic natural cycles, chicken tractors are considered to be a more humane method of managing chickens. As opposed to the limitations of commercial conditions, chicken tractors allow the birds to have access to fresh air, sunlight, fresh plant matter, and more free range to exercise. The chicken tractor also protects them from weather and predators.
By embracing the natural order of things, farmers who utilize a chicken tractor can improve and maintain their soil while humanely managing their chickens.
Sign up for Food Tank’s FREE Weekly Newsletter. More than 110,000 Subscribers And Counting. Click HERE to join.