Just had a bit of a brainstorm. I’ve been thinking about a chicken forage forest for Dad’s place, and how to manage the flock to stay out of the growing annuals like peas, amaranth, or sorghum.
What about reverse tractoring? Instead of constructing movable tractors to keep birds confined, what about movable tractors to exclude birds from certain areas? With proper management, each plot could be available for forage, compost scratching, and soil preparation. The birds having both eaten the forage crop, prepared and processed compost, scratched and aerated the soil and fertilized would leave each plot ready to plant after 2-3 weeks of access.
Imagine a system of 10 plots with 7 cages. Figure an average of 8 weeks growth (might need more, but this is just a thought experiment). Assume that you’ve started each plot with a seed mix of peas, lentils, and other fodder plants with a roughly 8 week maturity a week apart for 8 weeks. You now have 8 plots covered with cages at various stages of growth. We’ll call plot 1 the oldest plot.
On the first week after plant maturity, uncover plot 1. Chickens are free to poke around and basically destroy it. The reverse tractor would be moved to cover plot 9, where you plant your seed mix.
On the second week, uncover plot 2, allowing the chickens in to destroy it. You cover plot 1 with composting materials that the chickens can continue to scratch through. Move the reverse tractor from plot 2 to plot 10, where you start another plot.
On the third week, uncover plot 3, cover plot 2 with compostables, and assess the ground on plot 1. You might be able to plant in plot 1, and the tractor from plot 3 could cover it.
The question would be, is this system any better than just some temporary fencing? Well, perhaps if you’ve got flyers – that way the tractors with tops would still exclude the chickens. Perhaps put a few roost poles on the tops of the tractors, and resting birds could still fertilize.
The tractors could be designed so that there are wheels that would allow movement after the tractor has been tipped on it’s side (I’m guessing it would be difficult to try to roll through a thick plot of plants). Or maybe just design some sort of dolly, tip the tractor onto the dolly, and then move it as needed. a 4×4 or 4×6 tractor shouldn’t be too hard to move like this. Something like the featured image could be easy and cheap to construct (though perhaps not quite as big as the featured image).
At some point, you would have the soil on these plots so fertile and refreshed that you could maybe devote them to other market crops. Fence them off, and move your reverse tractors to other parts of the forest to begin regenerating the soil there. Or you could just leave the tractors and build some new ones for your second plot. Set up a biennial rotation between the two areas with the chickens on a year, off a year.
The featured image for this page was taken from homesteadmama’s blog. Her blog can be read here.