Chicken Tractors, or How We Put Our Chickens to Work
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We topped the garden beds with composted manure today. The chickens were there in an instant, scratching and slurping bugs and grubs. We’d heard the term chicken tractors; indeed, these girls are tilling the soil for us.
Our hens play an important part in the vegetable garden. Sure, we could do without them, but they actually do some of the work for us! I will be forced to fence them out eventually, in order to harvest vegetables myself rather than surrender the whole business to the chickens. For now, though, they have the run of the garden. They gleefully scratch up any fresh soil, manure, compost, whatever has just been exposed, to grab the bugs. Scratch scratch scratch, hop back and inspect. Snap up the grub or worm that appears. Scratch scratch, repeat.
More importantly, they help to incorporate the new layer into the soil below. All the scratching mixes the layers and makes the forking easier later. Hand digging is necessary here; my garden beds have wood sides and are too small for a rototiller. Besides, call me crazy but I enjoy the manual process. We’re talking family vegetable garden, not a commercial plot, so it’s reasonable.
After we’ve harvested in the fall, I’ll let the chickens back in the garden to graze. They’re also helpful in cleaning up any leftover vegetables; rather than composting the old kale or lettuce, I’ll let the hens have it. The manure will come back to us in the end!