How a ‘chicken tractor’ can clear and improve soil, as well as getting rid of pests


My vegetable field has some problems. It’s not that vegetables don’t grow there; over two seasons I’ve had some notable successes, it’s just that there’s verdant weed growth throughout, more slugs than you can shake a stick at, and the soil needs improving if I am going to grow the range of crops I want to, on what can be a challenging site.

Of course, chicken tractoring is one of the staples of Permaculture gardening, and the first time I saw chickens used to help in the garden was at Ragman’s Lane Farm years and years ago. Since then I’ve had chickens in most of my gardens, but it’s always a good idea to refine and reconsider how we design our food growing systems.

Chickens enclosed in a pen will till, scratching and clearing away weeds. They won’t necessarily knock-out perennial weeds, but they will keep all kinds of plant growth under control. In so doing of course, they will also provide quite a lot of their own food.When I cleared ground in my mountain garden in France, I went in first with the brush-cutter, and then penned the chickens on the opened ground; they couldn’t clear brambles unaided, but once I’d started the work, they quickly made ground good enough to be turned into beds. Here in Wales, my birds will face less of a challenge, more greenery and less thorns.

In their scratching and searching, chickens effectively control slugs, eating both the adults and uncovering their eggs. Slugs are considered by many people to be the single biggest limiting factor on veg production in this climate, controlling them can make the difference between a viable garden and no garden at all. I know quite a few people here in the wet West who use Indian Runner ducks or Khaki Campbells to eat slugs, they are breeds which much prefer to eat slug flesh than your vegetables, but whilst you’d never let chickens roam amongst your veg, carefully penned on ground being prepared for gardening, they can at least clear the way a little, and keep a lid on the slug population prior to planting or sowing.

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