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Building the Chicken Tractor on Steroids

"Who can weld?" Geoff asks. Keen to impress, my hand goes up. “I will see you at the shed after dinner tonight then”, a twinkle of excitement in his eye. This is the story of the chicken tractor on steroids from concept to birth.

The story goes that after Geoff’s visit to go see Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost, he couldn’t stop thinking about the outstanding quality of the compost, the good health of the chickens, and the great egg production, all without having any grain or food inputs. After very long talks with Karl, Geoff’s thoughts where that the compost he was producing had an unusual inoculate and that could be the ‘hinge pin’ element, especially within a crop garden production system, to supply a regular amount of nutrient close at hand. The idea was rapidly forming in his head as they exchanged compost theories.

Building the chicken tractor was an amazing experience for me. It had a real community aspect as other interns volunteered their time and skills towards the project. Friendships were formed and many a nick, cut and laughs where shared. The anticipation grew in our group of interns to see this monster out and performing.

As the after-dinner sessions continued into the weekends, more help was on offer. In fact, there were deals taking place. “I will help you, if you teach me to weld”. Done — sold to my American friend. Many skills where learnt by all — a bit of carpentry, welding and metalwork. Then after the final weld, I stood back and watched the tractor as it rolled out of the shed. Proud not of what I had achieved but more so humbled by the people here practicing the people care ethic.

I’m sure Geoff could have built a better ‘chook’ tractor in the same time, but I think he had a greater plan. Each element on the farm here has to fulfil a minimum of three functions. This chicken unit has many functions — not just as a mobile compost making system, or a weed suppression tool, but also a community engagement tool. This is a research institute, we are all still learning here, even Geoff.

No such thing as mistakes here, only lessons.


  1. Hey Charl, great story, good to see people ethics alive and healthy! Thanks for the post and cant wait to hear more from you :)

  2. This REALLY is a super important thing for all of us to work at perfecting! I do have a few questions, just to clearly understand you are building the holding box for the veggies scraps so the chickens can not totally pull apart the compost pile? Is that so the compost keeps working which then allows small insects to multiply?

    1. We built the chicken tractor and the cage that holds the veggie scraps. Yes you are correct jackie that is a function of the cage. Many beneficial micro and macro organisms find there way into the pile which the chickens continuously scratch at to find.

  3. I’m working with a group of keen community members to establish a community garden in our small, very remote town. I was so excited to see this video and have shared it with the group as I believe it would be a wonderful addition to a community garden :)

  4. For those who have somewhat less acreage to work with, i.e.: a suburban backyard, and perhaps 4 or 5 chickens, but would like to apply the same principles, I recommend Linda Woodrow’s book The Permaculture Home Garden. First published in 1957, this book provides instruction and advice on using “Chook Domes” in a similar manner.

  5. Fascinating idea! Anyone ever turn (or heard of people turning) compost with horses or mules, or any kind of large animal? Of course you need a trained animal, but if you had one it seems like you could make short work of a pile with a properly designed giant rake or scoop. You could first rake the outside layer off yourself, and then have your horse drag it over, starting at the top of the pile, and with you repositioning the implement. Or you could skip the peeling beforehand and just turn it a few extra times. The rake could be made of metal, but wood would be ideal.

  6. Just thinking out loud, but could you keep the initial compost in the cage, put a lid on it and roll the cage, I am not sure of the effect of tumbling compost compared to tossing it.
    You could even fabricate a type of lever to make it a one man job, it would take 5 minutes

    1. You could even have a door top and bottom, roll it over open the bottom let the chooks at it and repeat

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