The goal of a permaculture system is to create a symbiotic environment where there are fewer inputs, less waste and more productivity. This chicken tractor—dubbed the “chicken tractor on steroids”—is permaculture expert Geoff Lawton’s answer to integrating the pecking behaviors and manure-producing abilities of chickens to make a compost that is light, fluffy and nothing like what a machine could produce, reducing the man hours needed to produce a top-quality compost to amend the garden soil.
In this system, the chickens spend up to four days turning any given compost pile. The piles are loaded up with organic matter and manure, and the chickens are left to do what they do best: peck and scratch around, essentially turning the compost without the use of human labor. Along the way, the birds hunt for bugs large and small, supplying them with diverse sources of protein.
The birds aren’t given any grain feed, only grit to help them digest any seeds they take in. Instead, they’re left to forage on bugs, plant matter from the field and chicken scraps present in the compost, thus reducing the cost of keeping the chickens. While this might sound like it would put extra stress on the birds, causing them to produce fewer eggs, in fact, the opposite is true. Lawton keeps a baseline chicken tractor in which the flock is fed grain, and the chicken tractor that doesn’t receive grain produces the same number—if not more—eggs.
Lawson said anyone can make a chicken tractor like this, and in the video above, gives some advice for how his was created. It cost his team as little as $100. While the upfront work of creating a chicken tractor and integrating it into your current farming system could be time-consuming, in the long run, it looks like it would benefit your farm both financially and in terms of your health and garden, not to mention save you time in turning your compost heaps.
What permaculture techniques have you incorporated into your daily farming life?