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Podcast 275 - Chicken Tractors Debate

 
Adrien Lapointe
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Summary



Credit: CJ Verde

Sam, Petey, Emily, Jocelyn, & Paul have a discussion and rebuttal of the Paul Wheaton versus Darby Simpson Chicken Tractoring Duel (TSP Episode 1297).

Items discussed:
Tractor v (Salatin style) Pen v Paddock Shift
Scalable systems.
Tractors: the philosophy v the contraption
The scorched earth philosophy.

Will Paul raise chickens at the Laboratory? Lots of reasons not to are listed.

Poop factor for chickens and people.

Is grain supplementing necessary? What about winter?
How to deal with hawks?
Livestock Guard Dogs & well placed bushes.

Will people pay for pastured chickens?
Not more labor if paddocks are permanent.

Elements that can be in a paddock which can not be in a pen or tractor include:
Trees; shrubs; Hugelkulturs; textured landscape; running water;

Stress v no stress.
Is it a soul draining experience or a soul enriching experience?

Are chickens as sustainable as beef or pork?
The ad nauseum fallacy.
Electric fence donuts - article.
Typical day - article.
Permanent fencing v electric.
When is paddock shift not the best scenario?
Chickens eating ice cream or toxins.
Best use of a chicken tractor is as a brooder.

Related Links

Paul's Article

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Cj Sloane
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I have so much to say I barely know where to begin!

First off, I think I've tried all methods except factory farming! I'm not thrilled with any method, yet. Second, I had listened to the TSP podcast and Darby made some good points. And I kinda cringed thinking about Paul listening to it.

Darby said it takes more than 2 minutes a week to move the chickens because electric fence it tough to move around. Paul's counter, "you could use fixed fencing, then it would take 2 minutes a week." True but the pic in the Raising Chickens 2.0 shows electronetting, not permanent paddocks.

Darby promotes the chicken tractor/movable pens and Paul counters how these are hard to move on land with texture. I know this because I had incredible trouble moving my coop on wheels around - way too much texture/mud/logs/snow.... but.... The picture in the Raising Chickens 2.0 article shows a coop on wheels. If I can't move a chicken tractor, I probably can't move a coop on wheels. There really isn't much talk in the article about coops. At all. Where are the chickens roosting? Laying eggs?

Something I think I remember Darby talking about is chickens flying over 4' fencing. No mention in the article about this. My chickens have no problem flying over 4' fencing even with clipped wing(s)! I'm trying a heavier breed this year which I got last August. We shall see!

I have 3 dogs (2 specific LGDs) so I've had very few losses due to predators. I've lots of bushes, of course. Point score for Paul. An ermine may have taken out a few over the years. My problem lately has been ravens stealing eggs. They will even fly into the coop to steal 'em.

So mainly I think the article needs a re-write to address some of these issues. And I do think Paul needs to do this do prove it can be done. Maybe not right this second. There are good reasons listed to wait (and some not listed like establishing trees & systems first).

There is a good thread on raising broilers or meat birds in a food forest but it's more of a discussion than proof.
 
Becky Mundt
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First, I don't think we don't GET IT. We DO.
Second. Predation is NOT higher! We have used a mobile electric pen for the last 16 months - it's super easy. We only have 10 chickens, but they have a movable rotating around a central house for our convenience - but they get fresh area all the time because the ben is 300 feet of electric fence and we move it every 30 days - we actually rotate it in a series of moves over a full year and then start all over! They have fresh beautiful forage all the time. In our case, until we put in a movable HOUSE which will be our next move - then the whole operation will rotate across an even larger area. We raise them for eggs. But if you want to see a real operation that is out there and a real trend setter, check out this farm that is in our neighborhood. We love them too. http://www.thelivingearthfarm.com/prod/

They do what we will move to next, rotating houses (bottomless) and rotating electric fences. We do as I said, electric fence on not-moving house for now. But we have enough fencing to give them a big area so the main house area is bare but it's small compared to the rest of our space. The electric fences we run on all solar battery powered systems and they are great. We also do plant a LOT of stuff for them to eat in the areas they rotate through - esp herbs and special healing plants. We do a lot of clover, peas, herbs and all kinds of things that we also plant around and move in cycles. Our next plan is trees for shade and more space - and I LOVE what Paul says about the rotating without movin the fencing and for us taht is just moving the electricity. I still DO open and close the coop every day - I know that is the old school - OH and I also use CHARCOAL! you should check adding charcoal to the diet of the chickens' diet and using it in the coop - yeah, I have to clean out the coop - in winter esp. but that is why the house will go sooner than later - I guess what we have is a paddock system. But we are also still developing our property - only been here a year. We do feed them a local non gmo peas/seeds etc esp in winter. We also do black soldier flies - they appear without any work on our part for them - they grow in our compost from June to about October and we just feed them excess fruit waste and get huge benefit of them reproducing. We try to avoid grain. We dry our sunflowers and next year we want to plant these added their forage range.

Just like bluejays - when a hawk or eagle appears - they disappear. Our ducks do the same thing. - they just whoosh - disappear. If I see the eagles or hawks when I am out, I watch them and they won't go - esp if they don't have at least 30 yards of clear space to go in and out - our bushes and trees and don't come in to land - they fly overhead and watch but they don't strike. We had one eagle strike (he was a juvenile) at our house in TOWN and he hit the tunnel which was netted and then just completely lost it. We were standing under the apple tree at the moment - and it was a total 'oh shit abort' moment. Oh, and just for the record, we have not lost any chickens to predators. Year three.
 
Becky Mundt
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Oh by the way the farm I listed as our neighbor - they DO pastured chickens this way totally. So it DOES work and they also have a teaching facility where members of their CSA can come in and work part of their fee by learning to do the system and help in the butchering! So it TOTALLY WORKS FINANCIALLY. WE want REAL FOOD and we don't pay MORE for the work - there is LESS WORK! Paul is totally right.
 
Becky Mundt
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Oh and as I listen to this - yes - our chickens have their own chicken forest - apple trees - to eat the apple worms - etc they go all around and eat through all the underneath and we are putting in an orchard for the area too. Paddock is what we must be doing according to your language. and yes, we are like you too - we are building up the land as well - but we had the chickens when we got here. I wonder if you use the electric fencing? if not, why not? It is so easy and so good. the predators all hit it ONCE and then they never come back - and it doesn't injure anyone. it just says OUCH. and it's DONE.

And Paul you Do NOT suck at writing articles. I read it way back when we still lived in town with a chicken run and a house. We went from that to getting the netting to make a tunnel and then letting the chickens run all over the back yard in a rotation. We LOVE your article and we are so happy went your way from the start - as soon as we read the article. We haven't butchered any of them because they are all giving us eggs which is a little different - but - with the charcoal and foraging they are producing really well - and we buy our chicken meat from our neighbors who do this same method with meat chickens. We decided not to do the meat production because we are SUPER luxuriously lucky to have neighbors who do that part so we don't have to and we choose not to. We look for our best path - just like you. We want to find the best low tech and easy solutions - yes we use the electric fences - and you prpbably can't do that part - but for us this hybrid is so working. But really, the article is great, because it changed OUR view completely as soon as we got our girls - and we had already gone the other way - so you managed to get us to re-think.
 
David Livingston
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I have listerned to both sides of this debate And I think the answer is .......... it depends.
It depends on what you have , what you want etc etc
As for us all I want is eggs for the two of us . So we will have a small tractor for three hens that I move around the garden . Why three? Well I think hens are social so they need a group And i suspect they count 1 , 2 , lots so three sounds about correct.

David
 
Landon Sunrich
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I'm about an hour in and already needing sleep. Not that's it's not super engaging - and with plenty of info thus far!

Two comments.

1) re: Hawks and chickens. At least where I'm at the crows keep the hawks pretty much in line and and I try to stay on good terms with them for it.

2) Permanent/ Portable fencing

It strikes me a good fencing would be post and netting. Should be pretty straight forward and scale able.

Drive your post - as permanent as you want to make them from bamboo to telephone poles.

Use a netting of anything from lightweight natural fibers to 2x steel cables and attach that to a top and bottom post (to use for home scale example: 2 broom handles and that black safety netting they make for big trampolines.)

Tie, hook, joint - whatever - to the permie post at the top and weigh them down or run a line at the bottom. These 'sections' can be hoisted or dropped on demand while the vertical posts remain constant vigil. I would imagine pulleys and a tractor could rig one up that could keep a T-Rex.

Make choke points and shift rotation around them.


Alright back to podcast but the volume is being turned down.

Y'all stay up too late talking.


 
David Livingston
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Its late morning here in France

David
 
Landon Sunrich
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All right I lied. 1:15

An outdoor brooder from an old fridge would be an interesting easy retrofit if you've a little electricity. Much like the fridge and light bulb plant starter.

A larger light, a hole saw, and a couple cpu fans, and dimmers do wonders.

Make sure its not lined with whimpy plastic that looks like it would melt and warp and be a fire hazard. I've put together set ups like this for mushrooms and they maintained constant temperature very well. My oyster clones from the wild were over taken by all manor of unknown molds and such. I would think this would work as an incubator.

Thoughts?
 
David Livingston
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A recent artical in 'le 4 seasons " here in france has plans for building incubators out of fridges and freezers

So no problem I would suggest

David
 
Cj Sloane
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Becky Mundt wrote: We only have 10 chickens, but they have a movable rotating around a central house for our convenience - but they get fresh area all the time because the ben is 300 feet of electric fence and we move it every 30 days - we actually rotate it in a series of moves over a full year and then start all over! They have fresh beautiful forage all the time.


This sound like the "wagon wheel" approach. So back to the debate - how long does it take you to move your electric fencing and how big is the enclosure that lasts 30 days for 10 chickens?
 
Jeff Rash
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Hello Paul,

Just listened to your Great Chicken Debate Podcast and thought I might tender a few humble thoughts...

I think the debate might be best resolved by separating the ends of the spectrum and addressing them separately.

MOST of us are interested in a half dozen chickens for the single purpose of having a source of fresh and awesome eggs. That perspective is by far, in my opinion, where most people are heading.

Once you address that, the other end of the spectrum, raising meat birds for fun and profit, can be addressed.

Now I have read your post on chickens and I think its a great idea- especially if all you have is a half dozen chickens for eggs.

However, everyone in your podcast and your opponents podcast, are VERY fluid in switching between the number of chickens involved. You jump from an urban solution to a 10 acre solution without any real separation- and so does your opponent. You are all so fluid that it really throws us noobs. It prevents a full and understanding conclusion to either side by those seeking solutions.

(It just occurred to me that what you need is an arbitrator to conclude the Great Chicken Debate. Someone who can declare a winner in both categories, those being 6 versus 6,000 chickens.)

I can see that in your chicken article, you address both ends of the spectrum. More chickens in your mind means more pasture, simple as that.

But to the noobs like me, we get easily confused. So maybe the Great Chicken Debate needs to be split in two. Best design for 6 chickens as category one. Best design for 1,000 chickens as category two.

On a separate note, maybe thinking smaller is the way for your people to get started with chickens this year? I see that you like doing grand projects and I share your enthusiasm. But as a practical project lead, I always suggest starting small. Our mistakes are small, but our small success is scaled up into a large success. Perhaps your farm needs to keep a half dozen laying hens using the pasture methods you describe, then you can simply explain that this is scaled up for 1,000 birds.

You don't have to do this big, just four birds would be enough to prove your "pampered poultry methods." Small amount of fencing, small amount of work, small mistakes, but small successes that can be scaled up.

Something to think about?

YLE (Jeff)

By the way, I thought your article on chickens just fine and I get the concept just by reading it. Your point to me seems obvious. Large or small, the best way to raise chickens is with your chicken pasture method- be that four chickens or 1,000. I don't think you "sucked" at writing this article. I think chickens are just one of those areas people get passionate about. Maybe there are three things to never talk about with family over a holiday meal... Politics, Religion & Poultry Keeping.

 
Andy Reed
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I have 4 chickens and a rooster, they live where they will, mostly in the hayshed. When we have food scraps they get them. Otherwise they are on their own, free to roam. We find 2-3 eggs per day, sometimes we need to look harder. No shifting, no feeding, nothing, free eggs. Too easy.
 
angelo rivera
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This was an excellent podcast. I am an urban dweller just starting out on my journey. I was on the fence about raising chickens and basically this podcast really helped me decide to wait. I tend to have a "throw it together" mentality, but in this case I don't want to do that in fear of losing chickens to predators. Back to the drawing board!
 
Pat Heyman
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Paul,

As someone who has listened to all your podcasts and most of Jack's but has never raised a chicken, I offer the following perspective.

1) I think Jack should have also given you the opportunity to respond to the listener's question.

2) I don't think your podcast adequately addressed her original issue, which is she was ready to do it, read your article, and now thinks, "well, if I can't do it perfectly, then maybe I shouldn't do it at all." Much of Darby's answer (I think) stemmed from trying to allay her fears and encouraging her to try it. Similar to Salatin's, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing wrong," because you can't get good at something if you never try.

3) In that same vein, your article was the culmination of several years of trying different approaches. Jack is only in his first year of having chickens. His property (at least from what I gather about his descriptions) is mostly open pasture with little to know forest (yet). So perhaps his perspective will change as his property changes and his experience grows.

3a) As you say in the podcast, anything is better than factory farming, so it might be nice to include in the article something like "This was my evolution. I hope you'll start at what I consider the best, but start somewhere and observe for opportunities to improve."

4) I still think that much of the confusion stems from tractor the contraption vs tractor the philosophy. That said, with regard to scorched earth, I think Jack's point was, not that it should be done forever, but that if the chickens are used temporarily to SE in establishment of a better system, then to him it's an acceptable sacrifice. In other podcasts he has also qualified it saying he expected those chickens' offspring would reap the reward of a better environment. He's never advocated scorched earth in continuity.

On the bright side, this podcast finally got me to sign up for the dailyish e-mail and post on permies!

Paul, I love your work, and love your take on profits, the ethics, and woowoo.
 
Erik Little
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Paul,

I saw your response on TSP and I don't think it conveyed everything in the podcast. So I posted the link to the podcast for people to listen to it. I also said "Jack for it to be a duel both parties must be present and you know this so I am wondering if you did this on purpose."

Jack does have a good point about showing an operation that is doing what you are suggesting and their profits.

I don't think Jack or Darby have listened to your podcast about the dog pair that were setting up an ambush.

Jack states
As for a LGD taking out a hawk, that I also doubt, very very seriously. But may be I am wrong, can you show where this has happened, ever. Not to some tiny crestle either a big old Redtail or Ferruginous Hawk? I see even a large dog seriously ripped to shit if it manages to engage with such a bird.

I also do not think your tree argument is strong. Are there trees inside a tractor, no. But I run tractors right in between and under trees. All the windfall is still available to the birds.


Jack is forgetting about shrubs that would be a part of a food forest system for the birds to hiding in. Also as the forest becomes more established there becomes less space for him to drive his tractor thru. Its pretty easy for him to drive a tractor thru his stuff now because most of his stuff are merely sticks.

At the 5 minute mark in this video you can see that it provides quite a bit of cover for the birds and that is only 1-2 years into the food forest. By the 5:45 mark Geoff is showing the full canopy food forest. I believe that the way Paul was talking he is targeting this stage before me does chickens, I could be wrong it might be the previous stage in the video (1-2 year old system) that Paul wants. Either point in time the food forest provides cover which I think would provide enough cover to protect the chickens from hawks/eagles.

 
Cj Sloane
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In my experience, LGDs are defensive animals so I disagree with Paul & Jack. I've never seen them eat any predator and the only predator I've seen them kill is an ermine. Their job is not to kill, or eat a predator. It's to convince predators that there are easier meals elsewhere and that's what mine do. Hence, all the barking, all the time.
 
Erik Little
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I am thinking about the Northwest Terrier breeds that Paul covered in the podcast. Which I believe he mentioned in this podcast were the dogs were setting up an ambush, whether they kill the hawk or not is of low importance as long as the hawk doesn't come back after being attacked. I don't think anyone said anything about eating the predator.

The LGD is not meant to be a silver bullet, it is just another layer of protection. Just like using the food forest as a layer of protection.
 
Cj Sloane
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Northwest Terriers are not really LGDs, this could be why they set up an ambush when an LGD would not. A true LGD doesn't have "the eye" and is more for living with the livestock and as I said, is a defensive creature. There are other threads that go into this topic and debate if you need a true LGD or not. I personally trust the 2000 years of breeding that went into developing these breeds.

To learn more, about LGDs, follow this link.
 
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