A chicken tractor is essentially a mobile chicken coop. The name is derived from the concept of using the scratching action and manure of chickens to provide the same impact on the soil that would be achieved with a tractor. Although the chicken tractor is not a new concept, it has become a subject of increasing interest to farmers interested in regenerative agriculture. Our Maree Farms chicken tractor is influenced by the original concept and design which we believe works harmoniously with olive production.
The history of the chicken tractor
Most farmers give credit to Joel Salatin for the promotion of this model in his publications ‘You can farm’ and ‘Pastured poultry profits’ where he describes an integrated farming template encorporating the use of chicken tractors as a viable source of income. The chicken tractor concept has actually been in use since the 1940’s. Poultryman Edward Raines was featured in Modern Farming: Agriculture in Britain in 1943 with his selection of timber chicken ‘sheds’. He explained that the process of moving these units on a daily basis helped to spread the chicken manure across the field.
Edward Raines, poultryman on a Hampshire farm, moves a poultry fold into line with the others in the field. Each of these chicken ‘sheds’ contains 25 birds. They are moved their length every day, providing fresh ground for the hens to feed on and also making sure that the chicken manure is spread across the whole field. The folds are portable and, with the aid of simple, wheeled moving-gear, are easily moved”
Modern Farming- Agriculture in Britain, 1943
The science behind it is quite simple: composted chicken manure is a good source of macro and micro nutrients that in comparison to other manures have a higher phosporus content. Any such addition of organic matter to soils will in time increase soil biomass and activity because these nutrients are readily available to the plants that require them. Ultimately, a chicken tractor aims to eliminate the need to purchase, transport and apply additional fertiliser to your pasture/crop.
Both chicken and alternative animal manures have been a taboo subject to environmentalists due to the transference of antibiotics into the environment. When administering antibiotics to promote livestock growth or health, these substances will inevetably be excreted and accumulate in the environment. As the manure cumulates, the soil bacteria are then able to acquire antibiotic resistance genes (ARG’s) making it harder to treat infections. By raising and feeding the chickens on an organic diet without antibiotics, the risk of transferring these ARG’s to the environment is non-existent.
Maree Farms chicken tractors
Our chicken tractor design is basic and lightweight to be managed easily by one person. With the use of plastic PVC pipes and welded mesh, the combination of materials leads to a sturdy construction that so far has not been damaged by the weather or been breached by predators. The chicken tractor is moved on a regular basis across the olive terraces not just for parasite resistance but to prevent scratching too deep into the soil surface which is extremely dry and hard in this region. Changing the placement of the food and water also helps to prevent the chickens from creating holes in one particular area. We have opted for the Rhode Island Red breed as a start: a hardy dual purpose breed that has shown good performance and egg laying even in poorer conditions.
We are nearing the stage of increasing our chicken tractor operation. Having recieved our first egg last week (15.09.22) we look forward to a regular batch of organic eggs each week. Any surplus will soon be available for purchase for anyone wishing to try organic produce straight from the source. In addition to this, we are looking into the possibility of purchasing our own incubator to supply fertilised eggs as an education tool for schools or those who seek a reliable source for healthy and resilient chickens.