Learnin’ in the Mornin’…

…learnin’ in the evening, learnin’ at supper time.

Julie is only so strong. Incredibly hot, hard-working, brilliant but not a weight lifter. Remember that line in Rocky, “Sports make you grunt and smell. Be a thinker, not a stinker.” She took that to heart.

The chicken tractors are fairly heavy and you have to use slow, controlled movements to keep from hurting a bird. I move the chicken tractors every morning before I go to work then she feeds and waters the birds and keeps them fed throughout the day. She used to try to move the tractors herself but she just isn’t strong enough. We had to learn that lesson.

BroilersThe lead tractor pasture pen is slightly downhill from the others. Any rainwater that runs downhill and into/under a chicken tractor will be clean water, not carrying a river of chicken poop. That’s a big deal if you are a chicken, sitting on the ground. We work hard to make sure our chicken tractors run on contour with the hill…that means as we pull them along they move neither up or down hill. This paints a stripe of fertility across the top of the slope all in a line – a keyline, depositing fertility to benefit the entire slope and easing our burden pulling the tractors around. We had to learn this lesson.

In years past we have been up on the flat in places that don’t drain well. April showers bring April big puddles of water. There is nothing worse than checking the birds in the morning only to find them all standing and shivering in a shallow pond…a poopy water pond. It’s bad for the birds and the mud pie they create smothers all of the forage. The chickens are here to boost the forage, not to kill it and our job is to keep both livestock and forage healthy. As of this morning we had in excess of 4″ of rain in 48 hours. It has all soaked into the pasture or run off gently. It is not standing here. That’s why we chose this spot for this time. But we had to learn this lesson.

These are things I learned by doing. Because you have read this, you won’t have to stub your toe like I did. All the doing in the world is important but so is reading. And it all has to be in balance. I wrote a post some time ago making fun of myself for thinking I had the world on a string after reading a couple of farming books. There is more to farming than you can learn in a book. At some point you will be kneeling in a manure pile in the middle of a thunderstorm trying desperately to protect your livestock from something unknown, unplanned and unexpected that nobody has ever written about. That’s when school really starts. I have some acquaintances who consider themselves to be “intellectuals”. They read “important” books. Some of them wear fake glasses so they look smarter. But when it comes down to it many of them haven’t done anything…and aren’t doing anything. But work alone doesn’t fill the void either. I have read many of the “classics” too. There has to be a balance. You can lean on the experiences of others as you grow, but you will never be a farmer until you become a farmer. I hope that makes sense.

There are good ways of doing things and there are better ways of doing things. George Henderson wrote about better ways of doing things 80 years ago in England. Even though I live 4,000 miles away in a different climate in a different century I can still glean information from his lessons. So I write to share what I have learned. I read your blogs to see what you have learned. I hope I am doing a good job. I hope my sharing enables you to do a better job. If things go as planned, my kids will take our accumulated knowledge and launch further that we even aimed. But there has to be time in your day to learn. To read. To grow. And to experience.

Not all of my reading time bears fruit. Not all of my work bears fruit. But, by keeping it in balance, I feel I am giving myself the best advantage. By sharing it with you I feel I am repaying a small portion of the debt I owe to the many who stopped to give me a little information.

What have you done today? What have you read today? Have you written about it?

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9 thoughts on “Learnin’ in the Mornin’…

  1. So been there on the learning curve of doing something only read about. I did not for the life of me understand why Salatin had his pens in that beautiful diagonal pattern you always see when you google images of pasture poultry pens. You totally get it once you’ve got two or more in the field together when it’s been raining. Likewise with the across the field vs up/down – only took me two years on that one, but I got it last year when I actually lost weight from the work out I was getting (that was a good outcome, but more work than it was worth), and my pens are all set for going across the field this year.

    • You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize we are still in the i386 days of pastured chicken. Maybe i286.

      There is so much room for improvement from top to bottom. I can make a good chicken. Maybe even a great chicken. But the experience leaves something to offer. The more people who apply themselves to the problems, the more problems will be solved.

    • For those of you playing along at home, the goal is to add fertility to the pasture while keeping the birds clean and healthy with a fresh salad bar daily. The diagonal pattern paves the pasture evenly with manure and it allows access to all four sides of the tractor. If all of the tractors were side by side it would be hard to fill the feeders and to move them.

      We use a diagonal instead of a zig-zag so we can easily move each tractor without having one rub against the next as we go. The diagonal simplifies daily management.

  2. Interesting how you do it on contour. Always before I had run our chickens on petty much flat land, but this yea I am doing them across the road which is on a hill. I had planned to run them down the hill, but I can see where if we ever did get a rain it would wash down onto the area they would be the next day. I think I will change the plan for their pens when they go out on pasture next week.

    • Paul,
      Thank you for commenting. It really means a lot to me.

      Right. Going downhill works out well from a workload perspective but not from a sanitation perspective in a rainstorm. But we used to do it. Just thought that was the way. We are expecting another couple of inches tonight. They may have a little runoff from the top of the slope but for the most part the birds are staying dry. (I say that with my fingers crossed).

      Staying on countour seems to solve a lot of problems. Just make sure the downhill tractors are in the lead.

  3. Great description, and thank you for the pictures. Have you ever run your chickens in a treed, brushy area? I’m guessing it would have to have electric netting instead of a chicken tractor.

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