In another article article, I gave a brief introduction to chicken tractors and discussed how you can use them for rotational grazing in your yard or pasture.
Now let’s look at a several ways use can use them to benefit your garden.
Build New Garden Beds
One of the easiest ways to build new garden beds, especially if you’re either extending your garden into a new area that currently has grass growing on it or if you’re putting in a new garden is to use the “deep mulch” method with a chicken tractor. It works as follows.
Put your chicken tractor on the area where you want the new garden bed to be. Let your chickens eat down all the grass. (This is one case where you don’t want to move the coop each day, since you’re trying to destroy the grass, not improve it.)
Once they’ve eaten down the grass, add a thin layer of straw. Wheat straw works very well for this. It is absorbent, so it soaks up moisture and manure.
After your chickens have soiled this initial layer with manure, sprinkle more straw on top. Continue to add more straw every day or every few days, as needed.
Note: since your chickens don’t have direct contact with the soil when you use the deep mulch approach, you may want to add a little container of poultry grit. This is basically tiny ground up rocks that they can eat. The grit will go into their gizzard where they’ll use it to grind up the food that they eat. Normally, this would be unnecessary in a chicken tractor, since they would have direct access to the soil, but in this case, it’s beneficial.
After your chickens have been on this area for a few weeks, you will have built up a thick layer of straw mixed with manure with very little effort on your part, and beneath the straw will be bare soil.
If there were any weed seeds in with the straw, your chickens will likely have eaten most of them, so you won’t be taking a chance on introducing weeds into your garden like you would if you were simply adding straw without the chickens’ help.
Move your chicken tractor to a new area (perhaps adjacent to the first, to lengthen the bed) and repeat the process over again. Over a few months time, you’ll have several beds prepared and mulched thickly with straw and manure.
The high carbon content of the straw combines with the high nitrogen content of the chicken manure to make sort of a compost heap directly on your new garden bed. This is known as “strip composting.” The straw-manure mixture will gradually break down, and as it does it will build a fertile, humus-rich, earthworm-rich layer of soil beneath the mulch.
If you have excessively dry weather, water the mulch periodically with non-chlorinated water. This will help to keep the microbial composting activity going. (Since chlorine in municipal water kills microbes, it can impede the microbial activity. If you don’t have a source for non-chlorinated water, such as rain water, then you can let the water sit out in a barrel or 5-gallon bucket overnight to let off chlorine.)
When you’re ready to plant the beds, transplants are one of the easiest things to use.
Pull back the mulch to expose the soil in a spot where you want to put your transplants, dig out the soil (a bulb transplanting tool works great for this), add some water to the hole, plop in your transplant in and snug the soil gently back around it. Add a little more water to settle the dirt well, and you’re done. You’ve prepared the soil, fertilized it, planted it and mulched it, all with no digging or heavy work on your part.
Garden Clean Up After a Crop
A second way to use a chickens in your garden is to clean up after a crop is done. Regardless of whether you plant your garden in beds, hills or rows, a chicken tractor works well for this.
Suppose your squash plants are done producing. You can pull out the vines and throw them onto your compost heap, then move your chickens and chicken tractor into the area. Your chickens will eat weeds and bugs. They’ll scratch and find grubs and weed seeds to eat, and they’ll drop manure that will benefit your next crop.
Move them every few days until they’ve cleaned up the whole area. If you want, plant a cover crop in the area after you move them.