One of the fundamental ideas of permaculture is a holistic approach to land management and food supply. Keeping animals that produce food in a compassionate, healthy and useful manner is part of the puzzle. I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian and want dairy products that are produced using humane methods. Therefore, a chicken tractor! A chicken tractor is a movable coop with an unlined bottom. The chickens root around eating bugs, digging up weeds and pooing within the safety of their lovely tractor. You throw in some straw and they mix it into the soil and poo on that, too. In a few days or a week, that square of soil has been dug up, mulched and fertilized and it’s time to move on! So you move your tractor, chickens and all, to wherever you would like them to work next. Meanwhile you collect enriched eggs that have been laid by unstressed chickens who supplement their mash with bugs and greens out in the fresh air.
If you have ever eaten eggs from backyard chickens, it may take a little getting used to. That is because the flavor is so interesting and fresh. Going back to supermarket eggs is like switching from chocolate to carob: as a satisfying substitute it just doesn’t fit the bill.
Chicken tractors come in all shapes and sizes. Check out these images: http://home.centurytel.net/thecitychicken/tractors.html. I must admit that my chicken tractor turned out heavier than I’d like, but it’s beautifully made and I’m very happy with it. We’ve joked about entering it in the Christmas parade. If you’re interested in chicken tractors (or chicken arks as they are also called), read Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil by Andy W. Lee. The San Diego County Library system has copies. (Did you know that you can order books from any County library online and it will be shipped to your local library? Visit https://dbpcosdcsgt.co.san-diego.ca.us/search).
This tractor is large enough for maybe four or five chickens at most, which would provide more than enough eggs for me. There are hundreds of web pages that focus just on chickens, and a handy chart that lists egg-laying characteristics can be found here http://www.mypetchicken.com/chicken-breeds/breed-list.aspx, as well as other places. Many birds lay brown eggs or bluish eggs; they don’t have any difference in any respect than white eggs other than shell color, so to pay more for brown eggs at the supermarket is criminal.
Oh, and of course, if there is a chicken tractor, there must be chicks:
These three ladies are two weeks old, and are from left to right a Silver Wyandotte, a Buff Orpington, and a Rhode Island Red. I want an Ameraucana (which is a hybrid of Aurucana, which lays the greenish and bluish eggs), and a Barred Rock, which is the traditional black and white chicken, but there were none to be had today as they are very popular. When some become available I’ll raise them seperately until they are mature and introduce them to these three so there is no bullying. Chickens lay eggs without a rooster, and do quite well without being harrassed and pecked at, too. My neighbors wouldn’t forgive a rooster, either. Right now my little chicks are too young for the Tractor, so they live in a Rubbermaid 50-gallon storage container with a 60-watt lamp on one side, water and mash in separate containers, newspapers and shredded bark underneath, and wire across the top because they are Chickens make wonderful pets and have a welcome spot in any permaculture system. Besides, they’re very cute.
(Photo credit: Miranda Kennedy)