Chicken Tractor on Steroids

It works!

Chicken tractor on what? Steroids. Yep. That’s right.

Steroids.

This system takes all the composting power of chickens and multiplies it.

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Let’s back up a bit.

A chicken tractor is basically a mobile chicken coop that can be moved around your yard keeping the chickens safe and contained while giving them fresh grass and fertilizing the soil.

Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company developed a system to feed over 600 chickens with food waste collected from local businesses. The chickens live off this waste, fertilize it, and break it down into a rich compost that gets sold to local gardeners. (This video shows how he does it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWChH9MHkHg)

Permaculture expert Geoff Lawton combined these two concepts to create the chicken tractor on steroids. For us it is a system that supplements our chicken’s food while providing us with compost.

Let’s take a look:

THE TRACTOR

This mobile coop can hold up to 35 chickens. It provides a safe spot to sleep at night, shade and protection underneath during the day, and has 4 nesting boxes for laying hens. The large wheels and handlebar make it movable over uneven terrain. We got plans for this tractor (aka Chickshaw) from Justin Rhodes at Abundant Permaculture.

THE COMPOST

Like any compost pile you need to add carbon and nitrogen. We used chicken bedding, straw from the pig pen, leaves, cow manure, and grass clippings. These elements are contained in a ring made of hardware cloth. We put the chicken’s food on top of the compost pile. The chickens eat their food, scratch at the compost and add their own manure.

THE MAGIC

When the ring of compost is full you start a new ring and turn the original compost. The original compost has begun to break down and is filled with microbial life that supplements the feed we give the chickens. The piles are turned weekly (or bi-weekly like we did) and in about a month become compost that can be added to the garden.

THE RESULTS

My original pile has given me four wheelbarrows of compost with several more to rake up. Working with the chickens this way will give us a continuous supply of compost from the waste generated on our property. This system really works!

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Please note this is a basic overview and there are many more details involved in the process. If you would like to learn more Billy Bond at Perma Pastures has a series of videos. He was our inspiration. You can find his playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJjhO3CmjLk&list=PLaAkONMPbRRdpu49GNp-vHfOP7qb2DNDa

Homestead Happenings – January 2022

Our life in pictures.

The Return of Helen Reddy and Panda

After two weeks hanging out with our neighbor Travis’ herd of Angus we finally have our heifers back on the homestead. The recent rain and snow made the ground too muddy for us to retrieve them until two days ago when we had enough of a gap between wet weather to give it a go. Our neighbors across the road lent us their livestock trailer and Travis was a life saver in separating our girls from his. He even used his tractor to pull our truck out of the mud.

Fencing, Fencing, Fencing

Cows

Helen and Panda’s escapades made it clear that our fencing was sorely lacking. While they were safely contained in the neighbor’s pasture, we put all our energy and time into fencing one of our pastures. Thankfully, we had some extra help from visiting friends, extended family, and our two grown sons visiting for the holiday.

Mr. J quickly educated himself on how to install durable perimeter fencing – H-braces, 5 strands of tensioned barb wire, woven wire, and gates. Our brother-in-law suggested we rent an auger instead of digging the post holes manually. Genius! As of this post we are more than halfway done. Lessons learned here will be applied to fencing the rest of the property.

Pigs

The pigs have been much easier to work with than the cows, but fencing is still a focus. We currently use hog panels and t-posts to set up temporary paddocks in my garden. The pigs happily root up the soil each day and I rotate them to a new space weekly. I will need to invest in some electric fencing for the pigs so that when they finish with my garden, we can easily move them to other areas of the farm to be worked. They are already trained to the electric wire, but I would feel better if they were surrounded by electric hog netting.

Our weather has been cold and wet. To keep the pigs warm and dry we bring them into the barn each night. I am training them to follow me from the barn to the garden in the morning and from the garden to the barn at night with voice commands and food rewards. Every time I go down to feed the pigs I call “Piiiiiig, pig, pig, pig, pig” and they squeal in anticipation. When we open their fencing to relocate them, I continue my call while shaking a container with some food. They either follow right behind or run ahead because they know where to go.  My hope is that this association with my voice and food will make it possible for me to herd them farther distances. So far so good. Plus, it makes me laugh.

Chickens

I have a confession. Our Great Pyrenees is a chicken chaser. He will walk towards the birds and if they start to move away, he will give chase. The faster they move, the more excited he gets. For him it is a game, but it may not turn out well for the chickens. So, I decided to enlarge the chicken run to give the birds more space. This meant in addition to everything else, we quickly put up a run with welded wire fencing and t-posts. It was completed yesterday, and the girls were let out of their smaller enclosure. What happy chickens!

As I write this, snow is falling, and our fires are burning as we anticipate 6-10 inches of snow.

Beautiful.

Peaceful.

Magical.

Fiat Farm

On Leaves, Chicken Poop, and a Compost Pile

What it means to be regenerative

When at the first God created his works and, as he made them, assigned their tasks,

He ordered for all time what they were to do and their domains from generation to generation. They were not to hunger, nor grow weary, nor ever cease from their tasks.

Not one should ever crowd its neighbor, nor should they ever disobey his word.

Then the LORD looked upon the earth, and filled it with his blessings.

Its surface he covered with all manner of life which must return into it again.

Sirach 16: 24-28

Leaves:

We arrived at the farm November 1st – at the stunning time of year when the leaves are changing, the weather is perfect, and God’s glory is tangible. The change in leaf color is not just a show God puts on for us. The leaves change when they are at the end of their life cycle. They become a beautiful orange, gold, or red when it is time to die. Through their death comes new life.

God has a plan. At the end of each year leaves fall to the ground. They break down, decompose, and become food for the abundant life in the soil. In time, the fallen leaves become nutrients for the surrounding plant life. And new growth begins in the spring. It is amazing how it works.

“Its surface he covered with all manner of life which must return into it again.” (Sirach 16:28)

God filled the earth with his blessings, but we must return life to the soil.

Back to the leaves. First, I admire God’s handiwork. Then I plot ways to use this resource in my spring garden. This involves lots of raking and hauling leaves in a wheelbarrow from one place to another.

Chicken poop?

Not only do I have an abundance of leaves on the farm, but also a butt-load of chicken manure in the coop. Ha! See what I did there?

While not as idyllic as falling leaves, this manure is also a resource to be utilized on a regenerative homestead. Leaves provide a source of carbon and manure is a source of nitrogen. Layer the two together and you have the beginnings of a compost pile.

A Compost Pile:

There is a science to building a compost pile, but it is not rocket science. With a little research anyone can do it. After reviewing the basics in a wikiHow article, I set my 17 year old son to the task. All resources came from the farm – leaves, manure, even T-posts and chicken wire were recycled to make the frame. Alternately adding layers of leaves and manure he created a pile that was approximately 3x3x3. We will let that sit for a few months before seeing if the compost is ready for the garden. I am lazy when it comes to compost and tend to not turn my piles even though that would make them break down faster. I prefer to let the worms and insects do the work for me. Given time I will be rewarded with a rich compost, black gold to the avid gardener. This compost will be applied to my garden beds and provide the nutrients needed to grow veggies for my family.

Cheep Labor:

The chickens provide more than just their manure to help on the farm. On a homestead all the animals have a role to play. Their busy feet can help generate compost in a different way. Raking piles of leaves into the coop and run keeps them entertained as they scratch and peck looking for food. The chickens are happy, their manure (nitrogen) gets added directly to the leaves (carbon), and their labor speeds along the composting process. I call that a win for everyone. This mixture will also be added to the spring garden.

How is this regenerative?

We are returning to the soil the abundance that came from it. That nourished soil will generate new life. And the cycle will continue.

As a regenerative farm, our goal is to return nutrients to the soil, steward the resources on our land, and use animals holistically in the process. We seek to follow God’s plan for his creation and pray that our faithfulness will be Blessed.


New American Bible, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PMI.HTM

https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Compost-Bed