Using a Chicken Tractor to Fertilize Your Garden

So something new that we implemented in our
garden this year is called a chicken tractor. Now if you’ve never heard the term before,
a chicken tractor is basically a mobile chicken pen. So it’s usually small enough so you can move
it around from one spot to the next and rotate it around a certain area. This particular garden here gets farmed pretty
hard. We grow food in it pretty much year round,
so there’s always something planted in this garden. As a result, the soil gets depleted pretty
quickly. In addition to the heat and humidity just
burning up all the organic matter, the constant rotation of crops and constant planting and
harvesting and turning over crops — we have to constantly think about adding more nutrients
to the soil so our plants have something to feed off of. So we thought what better way to kind of enhance
that nutrient input — to add a chicken tractor. We’ve had chickens our whole life, but they’ve
always been in a fixed location in a pen or a coop. But the idea of a mobile chicken pen was intriguing
to us so we could move it around the garden and let the chickens eat the leftover crops
and let them fertilize the soil for us before we plant. So if you search online, you’ll find that
there’s many different chicken tractor designs out there. You can find many different floor plans, you
can find some kits that you just need to assemble the unit, or you can go to some stores and
find ones that are already assembled. This one here we built ourself and kind of
designed it ourself. It’s about 4′ wide by 12′ to 13′ long. We’ve got an enclosure over here, kind of
a shade area that’s about 4′ x 4′. This allows them somewhere to get and cool
off during these hot days. It’s also where their nesting boxes are, their
food, water, all that good stuff. So we started out with just four chickens
in here. We had some buff orpington chicks that were
hatched from dad’s chicken coop over on his homestead — that was around January or February. Once those got a little bigger, we put them
in this coop here. So we’ve got a white buff rooster and then
three of the kind of light orange buff hens. And then recently we added two more hens to
the group — our neighbor had a couple that he was trying to get rid of, so we added those
as well. These are all pretty young birds and they’re
just starting to lay eggs now. So currently and for about the last month
or so, we’ve been letting these chickens eat on these zipper cream peas that we had planted
in the spring. We did get a pretty good crop of peas despite
the heavy pest pressure. And then we thought, instead of pulling these
peas up — pulling the plants up and putting them in the compost pile, we’ll just let our
chickens graze on these and they can eat the pea leaves and eat the leftover peas and then
also add a lot of nutrients back to the soil in addition to what the peas are doing as
nitrogen fixers. So we put them on this plot here where we
had four rows or two double rows of peas. And then we basically move them down one row
and back up the other double row. So we leave them on a certain spot about five
to seven days and then we pull the chicken tractor down the row a little bit where some
fresh vegetation is. These have already made one cycle around this
plot of peas and the peas that were initially — the first spot those chickens were on — those
peas have come back pretty well and even started making more pea pods here which the chickens
really love. So I would imagine it will probably take about
two more rotations on this plot before they completely mow down these peas. In addition to using the chickens to remove
old crop debris, we’ll also be using them with our cover cropping scheme once it gets
later in the fall. So we’ll plant some red clover and stuff out
here, and we can rotate the chicken tractor around that clover plot and let the chickens
keep the clover mowed down. They stay happy because they eat the clover
and the ground stays happy because it has that cover crop on it. So in addition to the chickens eating whatever
crops residue we have them sitting on top of, we also supplement them with layer pellets
and then every now and then I’ll give them a treat like some of our Trucker’s Favorite
field corn that we grew. They’ll just eat it right off the cob. But for the most part, they really enjoy eating
this pea crop here and the leaves and peas that are left over or ones that have regenerated. In the very near future, we’ve got plans to
expand the possibilities with our chickens and our chicken tractor in our garden. We’ve got a poultry fence kit from our friends
at Premier 1 Supplies — 100 foot of electric poultry fencing. So we can fence off a 25′ x 25′ area at one
time. And the fencing is really easy to move around
the garden. So what we’ll do is cut us a little cubby
hole in the side of this chicken tractor here so the chickens can come in and out. And we’ll basically surround the chicken tractor
with the fencing, and then that way they can cover a lot more area in a day. We get even more fertilization than just the
area of the chicken tractor. They can mow down some of these cover crops
and these residual crops a lot faster because they have more area to cover. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, if you have chickens or you’re
thinking about getting chickens and you also grow a vegetable garden, I would definitely
consider implementing a chicken tractor as part of your garden plan. The chicken tractor can do all your fertilizing
for you and prepare that soil really nicely to minimize the inputs you have to add when
you actually start growing the crops.

5 thoughts on “Using a Chicken Tractor to Fertilize Your Garden

  1. My retirement dream is to buy 1 or preferably 2 acres in No. FL. Right now, I'm in a subdivision in Central FL. I have a 40' x 25' vegetable garden, and four large hens who have the run of my back yard. During late July, it's just too hot here to do much but maintain a few peppers in the garden, so the chickens are allowed in there, too. I start planting the fall garden in September, but made an 8' x 3 1/2' pvc portable coop that I use like a chicken tractor. Any area not planted with something to eat gets a cover crop. Then my son and I put the portable over one of those areas and let the chickens enjoy foraging! They clear and fertilize while they forage; we get happy chickens and great eggs! I can hardly wait to be able to this on a larger scale.

  2. Diego Footer came up with a idea of row size chicken pens He calls the Chicken train each car of the chicken train is row size size and like 6 or 8 feet long connected as needed to fit the rows made from PVC and chicken wire

    The idea is moving the chickens to are that needs working

    My thinking is building the coop next to garden with a chicken train sized gate setting up the chicken train cars in the area needed to be worked and some 90° cages to get them to right area for that days work sorta like laying PVC pipe in strait runs and useing 90°elbows

  3. How soon do you plant after the chickens have done their work, I have 4 hens and 6 raised bed gardens about4 foot X 24 foot. I’ve left them in the beds for about a month. I’m reading wide variety of opinions of how long to wait before planting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *