It is a quite marvelous name: chicken tractor, isn't it? When you are unfamiliar with the concept, you will probably think: what could possibly be the similarity between a chicken and a tractor?
In short, it is a movable chicken coop, which is used to put the chickens to work. No they aren't going to do you paperwork, but frankly, chickens do happen to be very skillful in finding bugs, eating weeds and scratching soil. Within a confined area your chickens can be very effective employees, think of debugging your orchard or clearing a patch in the vegetable garden right after harvesting, and manuring it at the same time.
A chicken tractor is intended for being moved every 1-7 day(s). Supplying the chickens with a fresh salad bar. The frequency depends on the size of the chicken tractor relative to the number of chickens that you keep in it.
Low grain/low cost
For many chicken tractor owners the idea is to supply natural food to the chickens. The intention is to feed them as less grain as possible while maintaining a healthy flock and a good production of eggs and possibly meat. Mainly because the cost of chickenfeed is very close to the total revenue gained from egg sales, so the less grain you need to buy the more profit you gain. The same principle applies when you raise them for personal use, you will get higher quality eggs and they become cheaper when you have a chicken tractor.
You can probably fill a book with all the ideas and perspectives that people have expressed related to Permaculture, but I will give you my view on the matter. For me Permaculture is a set of design principles, which allow you to understand and very efficiently design systems that mimic natural eco systems. This works from a small urban backyard up to large-scale farms and even websites. (Check out our free e-book on Permaculture web-design).
Permaculture allows us to think and design like nature does and generate high yields with very low maintenance. Remember that nature thrived long before humans came along.
You could wonder how it is possible to generate high outputs with low inputs, it sounds a bit like growing a money tree, but is it? In nature you can find a useful function, and usually more than one, for every animal, plant or rock. It is the combination and cross linkage between the functions that results in sustainability and eventually the high yields, relative to the energy that you put into it.
Functions of chickens
Yes, as you can see in the image above, a chicken has a plethora of useful functions. It is also clear that a chicken has a given set of needs that can be supplied by simply putting them in the right spot. Most people think grain when you ask them what a chicken eats, but chickens are more than happy to eat our left overs. My chickens fight over a piece of an apple core, for instance.
In a garden, compost is valued like dark brown gold and chickens can play a vital role in producing it it. You can take pretty much any green material, peels and leftovers to your chickens. They will pick, scratch and eat what they like and everything else goes to the compost heap. Essentially, you feed your chickens and they produce eggs and a very high quality compost with leftovers! Again, when you extend this design with a cleaver bin or an easy to rotate heap you are on your way to a low input, high output Permaculture system inspired by nature.
Uses of the chicken tractor
Within the Permaculture mindset you can see that if you combine a set of elements, observe their functions and create interesting interactions it results in a very effective system. The way we use our chicken tractor has the following effects:
- Generating organic, high quality eggs
- Foraging within a confined area
- Recycling kitchen scraps
- Producing high quality compost
- Scratching soil
- Debugging orchard
- Cleaning up vegetable garden
- Catching rain for drinking water
If you want to learn more about the chicken tractor concept and build one yourself, have a look at our DIY Chickenbarrow course. The Chickenbarrow is a chicken tractor that fits within the wheelbarrow form factor. It is easy to move and perfect for small farms, homesteads or urban use. In this course I will guide you through the entire building process, read more about it here: DIY Chickenbarrow course.