In addition to growing crops, many farming families also have small flocks of chickens. SHI provides some of the materials to build chicken coops, or gallineros, as well as the technical support and information the families need to turn their flocks into an integrated, sustainable part of their farms. Not only do the chickens provide eggs, but they also produce manure that families use to organically fertilize their crops. Free-range chickens that have a coop to roost in at night are less susceptible to diseases and predators, provide more eggs and produce a great source of fertilizer.
At the moment SHI programs are still working to develop and install chicken tractors, a smaller and mobile chicken coop with an open bottom that allows chickens to manage pests in a selected area, while turning soil and depositing valuable manure. Tractors are a low cost tool that typically can be built from the pruned branches of Gliricidia sepium.
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My Summer Vacation Piloting Chicken Tractors in Panama
by Ron Poitras, former member of SHI's volunteer Board of Directors
OK, so it was in January of 2006 but it was really warm and it felt like summer; and really no, it wasn’t a vacation, but it did turn out to be a very memorable experience. What I am referring to is my recent ten day excursion to Panama with Sustainable Harvest International(SHI). I along with 17 other SHI supporters visited with families who work with SHI and spent several days helping them with a variety of projects from planting fruit trees and cutting and processing sugar cane, to teaching organic growing techniques and building chicken tractors. Being an organic farmer from the great but frozen state of Maine, it was wonderful to be able to once again sink my hands, this time into the warm mother earth of Panama. I was so impressed with the dignity, kindness, and resourcefulness of the Panamanian people. The SHI program clearly makes a big difference, not only in their lives, but by saving acres of land from deforestation.
Touring the countryside, it does seem like everyone in Panama keeps chickens. They are everywhere. On my farm, chickens are among my best allies for building soil fertility and boosting crop yields, but they must be managed. A device I use extensively is a chicken tractor, which is basically a bottomless cage or pen that can easily be moved around. I love these tractors! They are easy to build, run on bio-fuels and help maximize the many benefits from having chickens. For example, with a chicken tractor:
1. Birds are put to work scratching over the ground in a relatively small space, mixing organic matter, eating weeds and seeds and insects, and of course manuring the ground and increasing fertility.
2. Moved from growing area to growing area every week or two, chickens are concentrated in one area just long enough to complete all these tasks but not so long that they cause compaction or acid soil conditions.
3. Chickens in a chicken tractor are protected from dogs and other predators.
4. Managed in this way chickens obtain a substantial portion of their feed – as much as half – from the fresh grass, weeds and bugs that they eat.
5. Research indicated that eggs and meat obtained from poultry raised in this way are high in nutritional value.
As part of our work tour in Panama this January I helped organize a workshop where we worked together with some of the farmers from the village of Bella Florida to build a chicken tractor. Three groups of Panamanians and gringos assembled various pieces of the tractor that fortunately at the end of the day all fit together. It was fun and the chickens liked it! Now we have a working model at the farm of Digna Rodrigues that others can build from and adapt for their own use. Chances are good I’d say that we will see a whole lot more chicken tractors in Panama next time we visit!
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