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Wednesday
Mar022011

Poop Makes the Grass Grow (2 March 11)

Much to the horror of our neighbors, who have respectable farms with beautiful barns and miles of stately black fencing, last spring we built some chicken tractors out of cattle panels, hardware cloth, and (gasp!) tarps. The neighbors did their best to put a quick end to them, calling animal control out to investigate, but it was to no avail because the officer found our chickens far better cared for than most in this country--they had plenty of shade, wind protection, rain protection, food and water, not to mention the tasty bugs for eating and fresh ground for scratching. Ordering an Amish-built chicken coop with a gabled roof, cute windows, and a weathervane on top would have made the cockle-doos at dawn easier for the neighbors to stomach. But we are farmers with a budget to stick to and our spending priorities put organic, soy-free chicken feed ahead of a chicken McMansion for them to live in. 

While they might not be pretty to look at, the chicken tractors do have some positive features. They were cheap. They were quick and easy for even a 7-months-pregnant farmer to build. They are lightweight and easy to move by hand even for a farmer who has an infant on her back. They don't blow over unless the wind tops 50mph, in which case they can tumble end over end or smash into fenceposts, breaking them in two like matchsticks (note: it is good for a farmer to have a generous husband who is well-muscled and can fix fence posts on the weekend). Surprisingly, even when the tractors do blow over, they just bounce a bit and can be turned upright with no harm to either tractors or birds. 

But this blog is not about the chicken tractors. It is about the chicken poop. All last summer the chickens lived in their chicken tractors, which we moved to fresh pasture once or twice a day. The chickens ate the bugs and the grass and left behind--you guessed it--lots of poop. 

Now that spring has finally returned, the grass is starting to turn green. In all the spots where a chicken tractor was parked last summer, the grass is especially bright, fast-growing, vigorous, lush, and healthy. The rest of the pasture is turning green but more slowly, with the plants more sparse. When we bought the place a year ago, it was a hayfield that had not been well cared for. It had been mowed every year and the hay removed from it, but nothing was returned to it. Essentially, it has been robbed of micro and macronutrients and minerals for years. I am thrilled to see the chicken poop restoring fertility to our land. My only regret is that instead of moving the tractors haphazardly around, I should have moved them in a pattern to write an interesting message. 

  

 

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