Chicken tractors are often mentioned in permaculture books and I was very eager to get one.
Since neither me, nor himself are any good at carpentry we had to wait for our carpenter friend, Frank Barrett to deliver the goods.
A chicken tractor is simply another name for a moveable chicken coop.
They are sometimes called an ark. As you can see below Frank thoughtfully provided wheels for ours.
HEN-KILLING DOGS AND OTHER PREDATORS
Our chickens do have a permanent coup with a little house surrounded by a wired fence to keep them safe from the dreaded fox, mink, pine marten and of course hen-killer dogs.
We also let them out to free range around the garden – just not when I am planting,
If I let them out when I’m planting they follow me.
The little cluckers watch for any opportunity to eat and dig up my young plants.
HOW TO GET RID OF OVERGROWN WEEDS
The chicken tractor helps me clear overgrown ground of grasses and weeds and prepare some new beds for planting.
The chicken tractor is so called because the chickens perform the work of a tractor, clearing the ground for planting.
There are many types of chicken tractors but the main requirement is that they are light enough to be moved from place to place, provide shelter, somewhere to feed and somewhere for the chickens to roost.
Most importantly, it must not have a floor so that the chickens are placed on fresh new ground with new vegetation each time the tractor is moved.
This picture shows the little opening to put food in but we don’t use it as it’s easier to just scatter it.
In the west of Ireland there has to be a balancing act between what we want and what nature wants.
We are on a very exposed site and have a compulsory purchase order on part of it so we can’t plant the shelter we want until the road widening scheme is complete.
If our chicken tractor was any lighter the strong wind and storms here would simply blow it into the Atlantic along with anything else that’s not nailed down.
NO DIGGING PLEASE
I use the chicken tractor to create no-dig beds.
I had serious leg injuries and although I can do a lot of gardening I can’t dig very well and to be straight I don’t want to. Neither does my other half.
Gardening is my thing, not his, although he is always willing to help and he loves looking after the hens.
We have hired additional labour from time to time but it’s expensive for us and we don’t it too often.
Mostly it’s down to me – hence the need for a chicken tractor.
It makes sense after all. Unlike us, chickens love to dig and will dig non-stop all over our entire garden.
They also like to wander and are inclined to sneak through gaps in the fence to pay a visit to our very tolerant neighbour’s garden – any chance they get.
The picture below shows the little roosting area – we lift the little lid and collect the fresh eggs.
The great thing about chicken tractors is that we can place it, and the enclosed chickens strategically on any piece of ground we want dug.
The chickens then scratch the soil, clear it of growth and of course add their own special nutrients to the soil by depositing manure and digging it in.
This also gives them a fresh environment for them to range around when their original enclosure is cleared of vegetation and provides the benefits of free-ranging within the safety of an enclosed and predator-proof area.
Another advantage is that the chicken tractor can be placed over your vegetable beds after harvest and they will clear out the beds ready for your next planting.
Chickens make great little digging machines.
As you can see in the picture below, after barely a month the ground in their original enclosure was completely cleared of weeds.
The only surviving plant life was some large thistles and nettles – which I assume didn’t appeal to them, either because they don’t taste nice or because of the stings and thorns.
They made short work of my kale a few months ago when I forgot to protect it and they munched it literally to stalks.
Feeding chickens is easy but hens can be very discriminating when it comes to veggies.
A while back they managed to get into my vegetable garden and completely decimated the kale but ignored my purple sprouting broccoli .
In my opinion the broccoli is much sweeter to eat raw, but then I’m not a chicken.
If like me you let your chickens out to free range you have to keep them away from your veggies and young plants or you can kiss goodbye to them.
I got my raised vegetable beds fenced in with chicken wire now and so far it has remained hen-proof.
Bye for now
P.S. There’s more about the fun of keeping chickens here.