CHICKEN TRACTOR! My book-of-the-moment, a happy find at the municipal library (thanks to Kendall, I rediscovered LIBRARIES a couple of months ago—haven’t held a library card since school days, long, long ago).
The chicken tractor concept is simple, and it’s been chatted about around here quite often over the last few years…but not yet tried. The idea is to provide a mobile enclosure for your chickens, and move them to new sections of land every day or so, rather than keeping them in the usual chickenhouse and yard set-up. The chickens work up a small area of ground and fertilize it with their manure, and then it’s on to the next patch—the birds are always happy with fresh places to scratch and bits to eat, and a large area can be improved in no time. The rig can be any design you come up with that keeps the chickens in, predators out, offers shelter from the weather, and is easily moved. Easy!
Like most good things in smaller-scale farming, the chicken tractor is a startlingly simple and inexpensive approach that offers deep returns on many levels, from food quality to all-round satisfaction. It’s also kind of the EXACT OPPOSITE of high-tech industrial farming gear and methods that make so little sense to me. And the system works for various other farm animals as well, as in well-known (celebrity!) indie farmer Joel Salatin’s chicken-and-beef rotation at Polyface Farm.
So simple, why do you need a book? Well, it’s WINTER around here, all is snow, and reading about growing is the next best thing! In this case, Chicken Tractor, like its to-the-point title, is a perfect example of an energizing just-do-it how-to book, written in enthusiastic, full-on farmer-scientist mode. It’s jam packed with practical instructions and advice, the text assisted by numerous charts and illustrations, with a non-oppressive serving of sustainability philosophy and general food politics worked in, plus chicken trivia (the term “chicken tractor” was apparently coined by permaculture founder Bill Mollison, so now I know).
It’s cool to see this copy so considerately well-worn, although this being the original edition from the mid-1990′s, maybe it hasn’t seen that much use. It was published in 1994, quickly followed in 1998 by an “All New Straw Bale Edition,” with the subtitle upgraded from “The Gardener’s Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil,” to the better-keyworded, “The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil.” In any case, this edition is fun tiny farm reading from the library.
Anyhow, so much for the book review, let’s see how well this year’s chicken tractor plans actually fly! :)