By Ben Jensen, Livestock Manager
Matt and I took a ride up to Augusta this winter to check out the Maine Agricultural Trades Show. There were a couple presentations and discussions we wanted to attend, but mainly we wanted to ogle the new tractors, firewood processors, hay mowers, balers, and all the new stuff we don’t even know about yet. We were visiting with Kramer’s, looking over a 90 HP New Holland lease return, thinking about how well it could run our roto-tiller, silage baler, and our big Kuhn Side Slinger. That is our manure spreader that can fling poultry litter from here to Falmouth Foreside.
I’m sure anyone familiar with the farm is very familiar with our poultry litter fertilizer (“poultry litter” is a fancy way of saying chicken poop). It is approved for organic production, it contains no synthetic chemicals, it’s a wicked good source of Nitrogen, and it smells to high heaven. Actually it smells beyond that. It is quite awful. Actually, right now I should take this opportunity to thank our patrons and ESPECIALLY our neighbors for understanding and tolerating one of our smelly methods of building soil fertility. Thank you. Really. Thank you.
Another method of building soil fertility which isn’t quite as stinky (though still stinky to some extent) is getting the poultry litter directly from the source (we like to cut out the middle men around here). This comes with our use of the “chicken tractor”. A chicken tractor is any manner of enclosed, open-bottomed, movable broiler pens made of any manner of materials. If you are so inclined, Google “chicken tractor designs”. You’ll need quite a bit of time to look at everything. Famous grass farmer Joel Salatin first came up with the idea to raise his broilers on pasture in these tractors to create wholesome meat protein while also delivering Nitrogen fertilizer to pasture. And they aren’t really a tractor at all; one can spread poultry litter all season long using virtually no fossil fuels on the farm and zero horsepower (although moving the tractors does require one or two man power).
So the lowly chicken becomes an extremely valuable species of livestock on a grass farm. Not only are they a low-cost, low-input, easily handled, reasonably profitable animal, they also provide pasture fertilizer by just “doin their thang”. Eat (make meat protein) and poop (fertilize pasture). Pretty simple!
This spring, we received plans for a low-cost, 75 bird capacity chicken tractor, courtesy of our good extension UMaine extension agent Richard Brzozowski. Our little 20 bird wooden tractors worked very well last year, I just think those pastures need lots more fertility. Oh yeah, and our pasture raised chicken is delicious. Come down to the farm and get one this summer and see for yourself!