Increase soil fertility by adding chickens in field rotations

About 100 Black Australorp chickens at Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI.

Black Australorp chickens at Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI.

Building soil fertility and organic matter is a standard practice in organic agriculture. Organic farmers count on healthy soils to increase crop yields and crop quality as well as their farm’s long-term sustainability. Farmers build soil fertility by feeding soil organisms, often by spreading composted animal manures. Efficient farmers encourage their livestock to spread and incorporate their own manure for speedy incorporation. Chickens can produce 1/4 pound of manure every day.

Crop planning accommodates appropriate “days to harvest” or waiting periods to allow fresh manure to break down. Farmers must wait 120 days for root crops or ready-to-eat crops like fennel and greens. A 90-day period is sufficient for crops without soil contact like broccoli or tomatoes.

Moving livestock regularly prevents destruction of soil structure and protects against overloading soils with potassium or nitrogen from too much manure in one place. Allowing chickens to scratch and peck at crop residues and weeds helps incorporate the manure, minimize Nitrogen loss through volatilization and prepare fields for future planting.

John Kenny of Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI uses his 100 Black Australorp as part of a four-step field management process. [Learn more here.]

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About Sanne Kure-Jensen

Sanne Kure-Jensen is a frequent contributor to Country Folks, Country Folks Grower and Wine & Craft Brew News bringing regional and national attention to agriculture across southern New England.
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