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Soil conditioning with chicken tractors

 
pollinator
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Hi,
I remember having come across, a few years ago, a method to condition the soil where trees (or actually a food forest) will be planted, by growing grass and rotating a chicken dome for a few months.
Does anyone know where can I find a description of this methodology? Or has anyone in this forum tried it? With what result, in what climate/soil type/etc.
I think Geoff Lawton popularized this....but can't find any specific article (am probably not using the right search keyword?).
Cheers
 
gardener
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The use of chicken tractors for soil improvement is only one part of the cycling of livestock through areas as part of the natural cycle of trample, manure, graze and move on.
The full method is to start with the largest animals in a paddock setup, once the largest animals have been on a plot for a day they are moved on and the next largest animals are moved in, the last group to be moved through is the chickens, then the plot is rested until it comes back into the rotation a month or two later.
There is an experiment going on now in Africa where they are using cattle then sheep to improve the soils of all the ranch, the results so far are showing that prairies are indeed revitalized when the natural movement of large herds is reinstated.
The gentleman doing this experiment is in the third year and the area of his ranch as improved 1000 percent so far with grasses reestablishing and more water being retained. He moves 1000 head of cattle every day onto new 10 acre spaces, he has the ranch set up into 75 of these 10 acre grazing plots.

Redhawk
 
Antonio Scotti
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Thanks Bryant.
Unfortunately I may not possibly run larger than chickens animals on this site. Also the site is quite small, less than 2000 m2.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Antonio, that really wouldn't be as big a problem as it sounds since the only thing you would be missing is the trampling portion of the equation.

Chickens can be used to great effect (Joel S. has done it with great success, as have others). With less than 2000m2 you could divide the space into 4 equal plots and rotate the chooks through each of the plots.
The only trick might be to determine quickly just how long you can leave them on one plot and still have enough recovery time for the grasses to regrow enough that the scratching and so on would not destroy the root system of the grasses.
If you were to see brown spots appearing, you can flush the nitrogen down with watering, either with a hose or buckets or watering can.
Having too much nitrogen would be the only thing to watch out for.

Redhawk
 
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I'm planning on using chickens in a similar way on my wild homestead. My plan is to use the chickens to knock down the existing pasture grasses that I don't want anymore. I think I will cut it with my scythe first and then put the chickens on it. After the chickens knock down the existing grasses I was going to move them to a new area and spread a thick layer of mulch (fall leaves, hay, wood chips, etc.) over the area the chickens were in. Later I would bring the chickens back to that first spot to help deal with any grasses that try to come up through the mulch. This should also help the mulch breakdown faster. Once this cycle has repeated a couple times and the mulch has broken down a bit I was going to broadcast seed plants that should be beneficial to my future perennial food systems. Red clover would be one of the plants and I'm still figuring out the rest--I might include a vetch since it's already growing in the pasture and doing well.

My hope is that this can replace my use of sheet-mulching so I can stop using cardboard or other similar materials.

But I haven't tried this system out yet so I'm sure there will be some adjustments that will need to be made. The timing of everything is my biggest question...

My goal is to replace the existing pasture grasses with other herbaceous plants that I can easily plant trees and shrubs into.
 
pollinator
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Lisa Woodrow explains this in her book The Permaculture Home Garden.

She uses it for her farm in northern New South Wales, Australia. It uses a guild system. One guild will work for a yard, and if you have more land and time as she does you can add more guilds on the same principle.

Basically for a guild:

- You plant fruit trees in a circle (maybe 12? I don’t remember).
- Within that circle is where you’ll grow your plants.
- Right after you harvest a vegetable bed, you put your chook tractor (“chook” is Australian for chicken) over it. The chooks will eat the weeds and seeds, enrich the soil with manure, and loosen the upper soil. Leave it there for only a few weeks, then transfer the chook tractor to the next harvested vegetable bed.
- When you’ve moved the chook tractor to a new bed, plant large seedlings in the enriched bed. Plant seedlings rather than seeds so they outcompete need weeds and better survive pests like snails.
- Keep this rotating system going indefinitely.

I’ve never done it because I have a paved courtyard. I’d love to try it if I could. Her book has more detail about how it’s all done.
 
pollinator
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Pen the hens in as small a space as you are comfortable with. As they scratch and feed, dump mulch. They will do the spreading for you. There should never be bare ground. When you are happy with the result, move the hens and plant through the mulch. Of the grad is very high it is a good idea to scythe first. You might get perennial weeds pushing through that you need to trowel out in the first season.
 
Antonio Scotti
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Hi all those who are following this thread,
I'd like to go a bit into the specifics of how to actually implement (or program) the introduction of the flock in a vegetated area, using say an electric fence.

Imagine I am starting from scratch, end of winter/beginning of springtime:
So step 1 would be, sowing cover crop  seeds all over the place (we're talking about a 1/4 of an acre approx. perhaps slightly more).

Now the plants start to grow until maturity, that is these plants start going to seed say at the beginning of summer.
I guess this would be the right timing to introduce the chickens right (because I am interested in these plants to generate as many roots as possible so that I maximize the soil organic matter content)?
But the problem I see here, is that depending on how large the piece of land is, fully rotating the chickens there once could take longer (weeks), actually beyond the time frame that I have to sow the next crop in the succession, say a summer cover crop.....unless I have chickens simultaneously in all the different areas (several corrals at once with their own portable electric fence), and I am not going to have enough chickens to stay in each area simultaneously, so that they can have a positive impact in this short time window.

Should I rather start introducing the chickens a few weeks before the crop actually goes to seed?
Also, I reckon that while I rotate the chickens in the other areas, more grass will start growing in those areas where the chickens have been already, meaning that by  when I am ready to sow the the next cover crop I will probably have to cut the grass mechanically again (and all over).

Cheers!
 
Tim Kivi
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If you don’t have enough chickens to cover the area in time, why not try other methods in conjunction, like wood chips? Wood chips would also improve the soil and suppress weeds.
 
Antonio Scotti
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Tim Kivi wrote:If you don’t have enough chickens to cover the area in time, why not try other methods in conjunction, like wood chips? Wood chips would also improve the soil and suppress weeds.


As far as I know just downloading woodchips on top of a piece of soil may start depleting the soil of N, unless I use BRF.
On the other hand, I'd like the chickens to do their thing, by finding their food there at the same time that they leave their manure.
Also if I cover those areas where the chickens could not go with woodchips (or whatever), I won't be able to sow the next cover crop (there)....and I really need to put a lot of root mass, as deep as possible as soon as possible...and don't have any other animals available.
Maybe I'll just have to cut the existing grass somehow....
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