Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thinking outside the Coop

When I was in my final year of high school, I spent a few weeks at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) of Australia, both as a wwoof-er (wwoof = willing workers on organic farms) and as a student to complete my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC).  There, my eyes were opened to a whole new world to which I had previously been oblivious. One of the things that caught my attention in particular was the eggmobile. It was so cute!

The eggmobile is a Joel Salatin invention and therefore is part of the idea of holistic farming. It allows laying hens to free-range during the day and can be moved as the owner sees fit. Hens and roosters can come and go as they please but it’s possible to lock them up to protect them at night or to transport them to a new location. You can read more about this particular eggmobile here

Another type of moveable chicken coop is the chicken tractor, which is what we use at the community garden. I don't know why this photo comes out blurry :-(

Chicken tractors don’t have a floor which means there’s no mess to clean up: the dropping fall exactly where you want them to, i.e. on the grass or garden bed. The only thing that you have to do is give the chooks food and water and they should reward you with beautiful eggs. 

Allowing the chickens to free-range while in their shelter means that you’re able to provide them with fresh grass, weeds and microbes each time you move the tractor. At the same time, the chickens do some work for you, such as digging, weeding and fertilising – all the things that prepare and enhance the ground for food crops. For this reason, the coop’s name was a tongue-in-cheek expression coined by Bill Mollison, the [co-]father of permaculture.  The idea comes from putting the chickens where they do the most good and where they are easiest to take care of in the garden.

The stand-out reasons to go mobile include:
  • Reciprocal benefits – the chicken, the grower and the garden all benefit
  • It’s appropriately scaled and practical (for as few or as many chickens as you think you can handle and as big or as small as you like)
  • It prepares the soil for optimum yields of vegies and fruits with high nutritional value
  • Humane way to raise poultry
  • Chicken tractors have a positive global impact on how people reclaim land and produce their food, and can encourage local self-sufficiency
  • Using chickens to biorecycle kitchen and yard ‘waste’

There are also other uses for chicken tractors that don’t necessarily involve chickens… they can be used as cold frames, firewood and small equipment storage, small pet pen, run in shelter for small livestock, etc. The possibilities are endless! It’s also a convenient way to look after the city chicks which have been plonked in the middle of suburbia. They can be constructed to compliment the home garden and small acreage while still offering the benefits of egg production, biomass recycling and garden helpers.

The core of permaculture is design. Design is a connection between things. It’s not the human, or the chicken, or the garden. It is how the human, the chicken and the garden are connected.” – Bill Mollison

May the flock be with you.

- Matilda

Salatin, J 1996, Pastured Poultry Profits, Polyface Incorporated, US. 

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