Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chicken Tractor

Currently we are tractoring our chickens in the front yard.  Tractoring is where chickens are confined in a small run and moved to different parts of the lawn as needed.  This helps the lawn grow as well as feed the chickens.  The lawn is fertilized and aerated by the chickens.  The chickens also keep down bug problems. One thing I have just learned, is mashing down of grass with animals is important.  This builds up a mulch layer which encourages soil life and retains water.

The end goal with our chickens is to paddock shift them with electro-netting.  Electro-netting is a bit expensive for 6 laying hens, so currently we are just moving a tractor.  Next year we might bring in some turkeys and broilers which would make electro-netting justifiable.

This is not a typical chicken tractor because the coop was purchased on craigslist and is not meant to be a tractor.  I didn't have time to build a chicken tractor with all the other projects going on, which is why we purchased a coop that would work.  I ended up reinforcing the bottom with 2x4s and adding wheels for easier movement.  

Because it was just a coop, there needed to be a run in which chickens could graze.  The run is 8 foot long x 4 foot wide, built with 2x4s.  Field fencing was used along the sides.  I used a very light, nylon bird mesh on the top to keep the chickens from flying out and the hawks and eagles honest.  The reason it was built so sturdy is our Australian Shepard is just a puppy; therefore, I wanted a sturdy run he could not bust into.  He is starting to learn his role so it is less of an issue right now; therefore, if I had to do it again, I would use less wood.  Using less would make it easier to move.  The run wasn't bad to move in the garage but after the rains came it got very heavy. 

The coop and run is moved at least once a day, sometimes two.  The chickens graze on the lawn for most of the day.  Our lawn has a variety of plants in it like dandelions, rye grass, clover, etc... As we pile up table scraps we throw them into the run.  A couple of hours before dusk we will feed the chickens about 1 to 2 cups of layer feed just to make sure they are full.  A 50 lb bag tends to lasts our 6 birds about 10 to 12 weeks.  Unfortunately, we are new to raising chickens; therefore, I don't have a comparison of how much we saving in feed by tractoring them.

From the images, the chickens do a good job at scratching and tearing down the lawn.  This is a section they have recently eaten down.  Sometimes they will dig themselves a little hole, especially if a mole or something has made a dirt hill.  Any part they tear up I fill in the hole and put down a chicken seed mix on the bare soil.  

Here is a patch of grass that they were on 4 weeks prior (left).  This part is a little different than the part in tractor image because it was originally sod, which the chickens favored a bit less than native wild grasses.  The chickens still tore through it though.  After 4 weeks it is very healthy.  There is also a decent amount of weeds (chicken feed) in it such as clover and dandelion.  The second piece (right) is the same area that the chicken tractor image is in, 7 to 10 days later.

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