Gardening most Fowl for your Soil
As people seek a more sustainable lifestyle, it has become popular to keep gardening fowl, our chickens, at home, not only for their daily supply of fresh eggs but also to keep as pets. Chickens make great companions and quickly become part of the family.
Another reason to keep chickens is their vital contribution to the success of your veggie garden. They will keep it fertilised, aerate the soil with their constant scratching, and eat bugs that may damage your crops as they move around the garden. For the budding entrepreneur, a small free-range business may be attractive when you consider that you can collect an average of 300 eggs per chicken per year. If you decide you don’t want chickens running rampant around your garden (or being hunted by your dogs), a chicken tractor or portable pen with about six chickens may be the ideal way to start, keeping them contained and still reaping the rewards.
Breeds of Gardening Fowl
If you’re starting from scratch it’s easy to be overwhelmed when trying to decide which breed is best suited for your purposes. Breeds of gardening fowl vary in lots of different ways: some are best for eggs, others for their meat, and some are dual-purpose.
Bantam chickens produce fewer, smaller eggs, while Orpingtons lay more eggs per year than most other chickens. You don’t need a rooster in the pen for your broody hen to lay eggs, but if you want a chicken to sit on your eggs, then Silkies are a good choice. Other breeds such as Rhode Island Reds or Australorps have their broody instincts bred out of them, so you will have maximum egg-laying capacity. They are also don’t mind being handled and make great pets.
The Benefits of using a Chicken Tractor
Protection: Chickens are protected from predators and lay more eggs. Mobility: Good for the chickens and the garden.
Garden beds: The chickens improve the conditions of your soil. Chickens scratch the earth, opening it up for better aeration and water percolation, and eat pesky insects. In winter their scratchings root out bugs that are overwintering in the soil, which protects the seedlings you plant in spring.
Fertiliser: Chicken manure provides essential nitrogen to the garden. Less maintenance: The mobility of the tractor saves cleaning up time, while the chickens weed, till and fertilise the soil.
Protect plants: Chickens that are contained will not damage your good crops and can be used to root out unwanted plants while they forage.
Sheet mulching: For sheet mulching, chickens are left in one spot for a few days, and each day a layer of mulch is added. The chickens work it over and add manure. The mulch binds the nitrogen and other nutrients in place while the whole mixture composts. Move the tractor to a new spot when you are ready to use the composted area to plant seedlings in soil pockets or seeds in a top layer of potting soil.
Make sure your chickens have good ventilation and cool water.
Chicken Tractors in your Veggie Garden
As the name implies, chicken tractors perform the functions of a farm tractor, like digging and weeding the soil in preparation for planting or fertilising to encourage the growth of crops. The chicken tractor cycle of foraging, depositing manure and moving on to a new area is a sustainable way of farming and the bonus is twofold: you don’t have to clean out a chicken coop, and the chickens lay more eggs.
Tractor chickens are healthier than coop chickens as they have access to fresh air, sunlight, forage and exercise.The first thing in creating or buying a chicken tractor is t realise the importance of good ventilation in hot and cold weather. Chickens generate a lot of moisture, both from the water vapour from their breath as well as from their manure.
Chicken manure is 75% moisture and can lead to viruses that can then lead to respiratory diseases in your chickens. In cold weather chickens cope quite well as they produce a winter coat, but if you feel insulation is necessary make sure there is plenty of fresh air flowing through the mesh. The mobility of the chicken tractor is helpful in combatting ammonia fumes, as it can be moved so that there isn’t time for manure to build up.
During hot summer months make sure the chickens have shade, cool water and adequate ventilation. The best way to keep chickens safe from predators is to wire a large mesh floor to the base of your tractor. Make sure the mesh floor has squares that are large enough for the chickens to scratch the ground beneath, but small enough so that a predator can’t get in. (The ideal size is 10cm x 15cm.)
Another option is to create a mesh skirt around the edge of your tractor, as this allows more room for the chickens to scratch, but it can be harder to move along. It’s important to make sure that the mesh wire is about 2.5mm thick so that it is strong enough to withstand wear and tear. The tractor should be moved every few days to a new place in the garden. Bear in mind that bumpy ground is not ideal for a chicken tractor, as chickens can escape. Many chicken farmers move their chickens from the tractor into a coop for the night, as some chickens prefer to have a stable nesting place.