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

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

Fiat Farm – Proclaiming Our New Homestead

And God said: Be light made. And light was made. (Genesis 1:3)
Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux.

The story of how Fiat Farm came to be really demands the beverage of your choice, a few comfortable chairs, and time to share all its details and nuances. I will unwrap bits and pieces as time goes on, but for now let me tell you how our new homestead got its name.

How to start…

First you must know this jump from suburban life to rural homestead was sudden. Very sudden, but not completely surprising. It has been a dream in one way or another for my husband and myself, but we never had the courage to take such a bold leap. We felt we needed the security of his government job.  A steady paycheck. Our world that was comfortable and familiar to us. But then his job, the paycheck and our world, became less secure, less steady, less familiar.

So we leapt. We took a chance. Trusting God, we sold our home in California and purchased a homestead in Tennessee. The adventure began.

More about me…

For the past 13 years I have homeschooled my three boys. This final year of homeschooling with my youngest son, now 17 and towering over me, I am teaching a worldview class with a small group of his buddies. In this course we study the six dominant worldviews with the goal of better understanding what is True. In a world where truth is subjective, seeking objective Truth becomes necessary. This is especially so for young men preparing to launch into adulthood. This class is as much a benefit to me as it is to the young men. It has given me clarity in these clouded times.

Where does Fiat Farm come in?

The origin of our homestead’s name came about while we were still in California. We were in escrow on the property in Tennessee, thinking of our future, but still fully present for my students. I was reading the worldview curriculum in preparation for our next class. The chapter we were studying defined the Christian worldview and the Biblical justification for our beliefs. In the book of Genesis, we learn

our world was created by a loving God.

The world view curriculum goes on to explain

God created through fiat, a Latin word meaning “let it be.” What God wants, happens. What God says, goes. Even nothing became something when God told it to…Each step along the way God said, ‘Let there be…’ – and it was as he said. In verse 26, with human creation, the language changes abruptly. Instead of “Let there be,” the text says, “Let us make.” After creating humans and imbuing them with purpose, God says it is “very good.” In the Hebrew, the phrase is “meod tob.” It is almost impossible to exaggerate the resonant awesomeness this phrase is meant to convey. It literally means exceedingly, heartbreakingly, abundantly, richly, loudly, immeasurably good in a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way. (UTT, Ch 2, p.31)

Think about that.

Meod Tob:

Exceedingly, heartbreakingly, abundantly, richly, loudly, immeasurably

GOOD

In a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way

That resonated deeply. I decided then that our new home would be Fiat Farm. A place where we seek to work with God’s creation. A small corner of the world that we steward in the hopes of creating something that is very good. Meod tob.

So I proclaim:

Fiat Farm

a faithful, regenerative homestead. And I pray that it is very good. Meod tob.

Resources Cited:

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible Online, Search Study Verses. (drbo.org)

Understanding the Times : A Survey of Competing Worldviews, High School Bible Curriculum for Home Schools – Summit Ministries