Soil Benefits of Raising Chickens in Mobile Cages

Bruno Borsari, visiting Fulbright scholar from Winona University offered a series of in the field lectures at the USMA farm in Las Minas, Panama.  Azuero Earth Project has been fortunate to have an extended connection with the bright and vibrant Dr. Borsari. As part of continued education, our staff attended several of the lectures.  Below, we’ll share a little of what we learned.

Raising Chickens in Mobile Cages

By Sr. Jairo Batista

Design of a simple chicken tractor (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Design of a simple chicken tractor (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

Most chickens on the market today are produced in an industrial manner. In this workshop, Dr. Borsari shared his knowledge about managing chickens in mobile cages, for a healthier animal, and also a healthier soil.

What are the advantages but also the disadvantages of vertical integration of modern poultry industry?

This industrial system has helped the chicken to become a staple of low cost to consumers. But some farmers and consumers are questioning whether the process of achieving such efficiency is worth the sacrifice of values ??they consider important-the autonomy and independence of farmers, the welfare of the birds, and the taste and quality of their meat and eggs.

Note the difference after the cage has been moved. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Note the difference after the cage has been moved. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

That’s why the laws in developed countries and medium-term projections ultimately seek alternatives to provide comfort and improve the “quality of life” of animals. Among the alternatives that arise are moving structures (cages) that allow access to a pasture, establish production systems outdoors or for animals to be in open spaces, where they can develop as if they were in their natural environment, use natural power supplies 100%, and have lower incidence of diseases.

In the workshop, we learned about how to construct a simple chicken tractor, or mobile cage using available materials such as bamboo, palm reeds, and chicken wire.

Soil sample from under a chicken cage.  (Bruno Borsari, 2015)
Soil sample from under a chicken cage. (Bruno Borsari, 2015)

Hens stir and mix the soil and manure and dig for insects and worms, increasing organic matter and improving fertility.

Chicken manure is rich in calcium and can eventually increase the soil pH, making excellent soil quality for growing tasty fodder such as clover, peas and orchard grass.

The birds cannot be kept long in the same place or in high concentrations, especially when the ground is wet, as this eliminates fodder and compacts the soil, hence the necessity of making the cages mobile.

Cage 1 was moved once every 14 days Cage 2 moved once every 7 days Cage 3 was moved once
Cage 1 was moved once every 14 days
Cage 2 moved once every 7 days
Cage 3 was moved once

 

Dr. Bruno also shared some details of their investigation of mobile cages.

Overall, the best features found floor when moving the cage every 14 days, but depends on a few factors such as number of chickens in the cage and the cage size.

 

 

Stay tuned for the next post in our series, “Caring for the Soil”!  If you missed it, check out our post on Simple Methods for Evaluating Soil Quality.

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