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The Chicken Tractor System is Working May 8, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm, Uncategorized.

A few weeks back, we posted pictures of the chicken tractors we’ve been using to pasture our meat and laying chickens. I thought I’d show you one of the many reasons why we have chosen to raise the chickens this way.

Here is what it typically looks like right after the tractors have advanced. You can see on the right edge that the grass had been pretty tall and medium green. Where the tractors have been it is pretty thin and tired-looking now. When we began this system, the worn-out looking grass made us shake our heads and cluck our tongues in concern.

Here is a close-up of how the ground may look right after the chickens have been on it. Lots of bare spots, but not to worry!

Most of what is missing in the previous picture is this easily scratched up weed. As far as we know, it not a valuable pasture grass for ruminants, so we don’t care if most of it is removed. We are trying to improve our pastures for all species. The chickens consider it to be red lollipops (see previous post 🙂 ) and don’t leave a single leaf behind. We take the opportunity to toss good grass seed down on the bare spots and let the rain water it in. (If there is a reader who can identify this weed, we’d love to know what it is. We are always trying to learn more about plant identification and use).

This is a view back across the previous tractor paths. The higher ridges are the weeds shown above that were between the tractors, but the good grass is already rebounding nicely and the new seed is beginning to sprout. It’s hard to tell on this picture, but the lower leveled grass is also coming back a dark rich green color.

Here is a picture of a spot where a chicken tractor was in an area we mow. Notice the dark green color and faster rate of grass growth. Our meat birds were here about 3 weeks ago. On the right, you can see the area where the edge of the tractor was, then the beginning of the next spot where it sat. Because of a hill, we moved it laterally here.

We get a quicker recovery after moving the meat birds because they aren’t as efficient at scratching for bugs and seeds as the well-practiced laying hens are.

Here is a different view across the previous paths. There is a paler stripe where the unused nesting boxes sat and no manure was put down. Then in the top right corner you can see edge of the previous row by the darker green grass color.

In the areas where we ran the tractors last year, the grass is so thick that we can hardly walk through it. It should yield wonderful hay. I remember Joe’s grandfather saying that the benefits of applying chicken manure are best seen a year or two later. I’m a believer!



1. Laura - May 9, 2008

Aha! After more searching online, I have identified our weed. It is Lesser Trefoil, an opportunistic annual. It is considered to be the commercial version of the Irish shamrock. It has it’s good points, too. It is a nitrogen-fixer. That means it adds airborne nitrogen to the root layer which can be used by other plants as fertilizer. It’s cousin, Birdsfoot Trefoil, is often planted in pasture mixes for that reason and because it does not cause bloat (an often fatal condition in ruminants) like clover and some other legumes are known to do. The chickens are obviously enjoying and benefiting from it, so it’s probably good that small amounts of it will remain for next year. It should help in our effort to rehabilitate the soil once used for tobacco production.

2. julie - May 9, 2008

We too have that same “weed” here on our farm in East Tenn. We are also trying to do some recovery work on our pastures. Our farm was once used to raise tobacco, and the previous owner was a friend of fertilizers!!! We haven’t used any chemicals since we bought our farm over 4 years ago. We are using a rotational grazing plan to maximize our pastures. We even put our sheep in our backyard so that they could have fresh grass and allow one of our pastures to rest. It is working well. Thanks for the information. By the way, do your chicken tractors get blown by the wind? Do you all have any trouble with wind?
graace and peace,

3. Laura - May 9, 2008

It has been too long since I’ve gotten to catch up on your blog, but we always enjoy it. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

We too are trying to go organic (though the 60 acre tobacco field slightly uphill of us is depositing most of it’s chemically-laden topsoil on our side of the fence in the rain this year 😦 ). The area where this weed has proliferated was a section that was never reseeded after tobacco maybe 8 years ago.

We are working on our old fences so we can truly rotationally graze, but at the moment we are having to mow the grass and feed that to the animals.

Our tractors do well with the wind. Maybe its the weight of the frame. Maybe it’s because the wind can pass through them so easily. (I remember yours were overturned and beat up in a storm some time back). The only issue we have is that whatever we use to attach our tarps eventually breaks and needs replacing, but that’s a minor issue. The plastic cable ties we usually use would eventually weaken in the sun and are cheap anyway.

I’m looking forward to catching up on what is going on over in East Tn soon. Take care.

4. Marci - May 9, 2008

You can tell where we run our chicken tractors each year. The grass grows lush and tall and is a deep green. This is even before a chicken tractor is put over the area this year.

5. -Kev - May 16, 2008

This is really interesting. I wonder how much topsoil you’re adding by following this method.

Salatin’s ideas about grass farming indicate that you’ll actually be building a lot of soil this way. I’m curious to see if it’s a measurable amount per year.

6. Kirk - May 31, 2008

hello i stoped by from a google search and was wondering if any of you here have any layer chickens that you have in the tractors like that or have any ideas on how to build a tractor with layer boxes i already have dinner birds in the tractor pens just searching for design ideas if you can help it would be greatly appreciated

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