Friday, May 30, 2014

Broilers out in chicken tractors

A short video of our new chicken tractors out on pasture. Of course the birds are all piled up at the front of the structures because we just fed them. It looks crowded but in reality they have lots of space even for full grown birds. We opted for box-shaped tractors a la Joel Salatin instead of hoop houses because the flat sees some pretty aggressive winds and being low to the ground is certainly a plus.

Being the crap-hounds that we are, we were able to recycle/repurpose all of the materials for the pens except for the nipple drinkers and the hardware cloth mesh (stronger than chicken wire which many predators can tear holes in). The tractors have two mesh sides for ventilation and two solid sides for protection from the elements. The roof is solid except for a window and peaked for ventilation. The tractors measure 8.5x12 feet, narrow enough to fit on a trailer and drive through the gates but big enough to give the birds adequate space to stretch out. The feeders and waterers are built in to the tractor along the walls meaning we don't have to remove them prior to moving the pens.

For the first week or so, moving the birds is a two man operation. We hook the ATV to metal rings on the front via chain (the rings are also on all sides so we can tow in any direction) and one person slowly drives the ATV while the other shoos the birds along with a long piece of PVC. After a few days the birds queue up at the front of the tractors to eat, drink and check out the new forage.

The location we selected is a pretty good spot - easy access to water, relatively flat, decent stand of grass and not utilized for much else right now. The concentrated manure application should help the fertility of this strip of grass immensely. The plants will benefit from the added nitrogen and put on more growth. We could hay that added biomass for winter feed or just continue to run chickens on it for a few more years to build the soil.

With this new system we are able cut the amount of daily labor caring for the broilers in half, maybe more especially since we can run double the birds per batch and run fewer batches per year. We can feed, water and move two pens of birds in about 15 minutes twice a day. Not too shabby since we are already at the irrigation twice a day moving the wheel line across the alfalfa.


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