Chicken Tractors

| 1/31/2014 3:03:00 PM

Barred Rock Hen resting in a chairHaving raised chickens for several years I must admit that the ubiquitously written about chicken tractor puzzles me. I cannot say that I would never have one, but I will say that, after observing chicken behavior, I would not deem a chicken tractor a suitable environment for chickens. Not for long anyway. Chickens, given the space, like to take off on a low, long (15 to 20 feet perhaps) flight across the land. They like to climb up on trees, vines, ladders, chairs. They appear to appreciate a diversity of landscape, from shaded, shrubby areas, to standing under the sprinkler on a hot day. They dust bathe in one area for a few weeks, then switch to a new dust bathing area. They even rest on the chairs on my patio. Diversity of environment seems to give the chickens a wide range of experiences, and keeps them from resorting to anti-social behavior. And chickens are very social creatures.

Since my flock has range of my entire backyard, I’ve had a chance to watch them do things that they would not be able to do if kept in a confined space. I’m not talking battery cages here, I’m talking about those much-touted wire cages that fit over a garden bed. They promise to have the chickens cultivate, manure and weed the soil.  Just move it every day and collect the eggs.

These tractors create an environment to which a chicken can adapt. Chickens can also adapt to being kept in battery cages. Perhaps my half-acre is just a large cage with trees, shrubs, vines, bugs and water. Given 20 acres they could very possibly exhibit behavior even more enlightening. My chickens have the option leave my back yard, with just a quick jump over the fence.

The choice I have made is to fence the chickens out of areas where I wish to grow my vegetables and tomatoes, rather than fence them into a small area where they cannot exercise the full expression of their behaviors.

My garden produces much in the way of food, including eggs, fruit, and vegetables. I have few weeds and insect pests, thanks to the chickens. I have a great appreciation for the behavior that my flock expresses, and would be unhappy to put them in a cage that fits just—so over—a garden row.

Chickens are useful in the garden, and I appreciate that benefit, but I will not provide an environment in which a chicken cannot launch itself into the air, squawking along the way, in order to join the flock for a treat, or just because.

2/1/2014 10:41:53 PM

I think chicken tractors have a place in a permaculture system. For some gardeners or farmers keeping chickens just for eggs is not quite enough to justify the cost of feeding them, but if they can us tractors to harness some of a chicken's other useful attributes, such as digging, eating bugs, turning compost, eating weeds, then the chickens become viable. This can be on a permanent or seasonal basis, and not all chickens have to live in the tractors at all times. We use chicken tractors in our paddocks, but we also let the chickens free range from the tractors most of the time. This means we never have to clean out a chicken coop, and the manure is spread right where we need it. Liz from Eight Acres the blog.

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