If you are not in the homesteading or permaculture space, then neither Joel Salatin nor permaculture will mean anything to you. However, if you are, then you know that they are people providing pieces of a puzzle towards creating a life that allows us to provide for our families, in ways that nothing else can. It’s nourishment for our bodies and souls, peace and freedom in developing a place that provides for our basic needs, and hope as we raise future generations in truth, goodness, wisdom, and beauty.
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamt of having some kind of a farm with chickens to feed, a cow to milk, and a horse to ride. It was part of who I was – part of my everyday play. As a child, I played “Little House on the Prairie” all dressed up and acting like I was someone from the past. When my imagination wasn’t running wild outside or my body snuggled somewhere reading a book, I would be inside sewing curtains, crocheting, making butter, or cooking up some new old-fashioned recipe. My mom jokes that I was born in the wrong century – an old soul attached to the earth and the people on it.
After nearly thirty years of having this dream, it would seem that I don’t have much to show for it, and one might wonder, “what’s the point?”
Some might say that it would be easier, wiser, or best to give up the dream, lead a normal life, and focus on things that are more within my reach. Others may look at my choices and say that I have squandered the childhood of my children in pursuit of this dream. Yet, they would not be looking at the full picture.
Keeping this dream alive in my heart has allowed me to grow deeper as a person than I ever would have without it. It has helped me nurture my children better as I have developed the virtue of patience and gratitude. Above all, it’s taught me that striving for these dreams isn’t the point, the point is embracing the lessons that we learn along the journey. It’s about trusting God and letting Him use those dreams that He gives us for His glory. In this journey, there have been painful lessons that ended up bringing healing to relationships. There have been joyful lessons that fill the heart with peace. Then there are the practical life lessons that come through seeking to live out a life that is more connected to the natural order of life as God created it.
As a person, I’ve been called to nurture those around me in holistic and more natural ways. It would appear that we have embodied that as a family – in farming, we seek to practice a more holistic way of life that nurtures the earth and the people in it.
That’s where Joel Salatin comes in.
Joel, Justin Rhodes, The Macs, Shaye Elliott, Jill Winger, and many others like them have helped us paint the vision of what it means to farm and have a homestead, that incorporates methods like permaculture, to live out this way of life. While we don’t have a farm of our own, we are very blessed to be able to incorporate and learn some of these practices on my parents’ farm.
Over the winter, we made a decision to get started learning some of these bigger skills and eventually create a new source of income by raising pastured chickens.
Yes, buying chicken from the store would be easier and cheaper than going through all of the trouble of raising chicks, building the chicken tractors, moving the chickens every day, etc., but that’s not the point. The point is knowing where our food is coming from. When our food is healthier, then we are healthier and can more fully live out our lives in the way that God has called us to. I think, as a culture, we are so used to feeling “sick,” that we can’t fully imagine what it’s like to live in optimal health.
So instead of trying to put bandaids on the problems surrounding food, let’s start by first healing our food and the ground that we grow it on.
That’s right, even the ground plays an important role, and each component of the process works together to better the other. The birds eat the bugs and scratch up and spread the poo, which nourishes the ground with vital nutrients, which then produces a better pasture for the chickens and other livestock (like my parent’s cows) to graze on, and the cycle continues. Then we benefit by eating the meat of the pastured animals and receive all of those vital nutrients ourselves. Other benefits include an excuse to get outside, the exercise that comes from this kind of work, the opportunity to teach our children good work ethics with practical consequences, and more.
Our chicks are due in about a week or so, and we are frantically getting our chicken tractors in order.
They have taken us longer to build than we anticipated. (Note to self: two 8 ft x 12 ft chicken tractors will take longer than one Saturday afternoon to build.) While there are many ways we could have built them, we chose to follow Joel Salatin’s plans for his chicken tractors with some modifications. I can’t even tell you what those modifications are, because we are not quite there yet ourselves.
What I can tell you are a few reasons why we chose to use Joel Salatin’s meat chicken tractor model over any other for both our meat birds and young layers.
My parent’s property gets a lot of wind – like the trampoline has to be secured really well to the ground because they have been known to blow away. Because of this, we weren’t sure that the peaked roof chicken tractors would work for us. Joel’s model is low to the ground and is less likely to be carried away by the wind. We also live 26 miles away from my parent’s farm, so we are just not able to be there throughout the day every day to help make sure our chickens are safe from predators. We are hoping that the enclosed design of the tractor helps to keep the predators at bay. It will also be easier for my husband to move them once a day on his way home from work. This model is also supposed to be light which is important since my husband will be moving them by himself. Honestly, I’d love to try out Joel’s and Justin’s methods for keeping chickens using the electric fencing, but we are not quite there yet.
If you are struggling to figure out what type of chicken tractor to build, then I would suggest making a list of all of your needs and possible difficulties that might get in your way. This will help you narrow down what type of chicken tractor best suits you and your farm. Gather the information about the different types of chicken tractors and ways of keeping chickens, make a decision, then move forward. I guarantee you that things will come up that you didn’t foresee. That’s okay – it’s part of what homesteading is all about. At that point, you will just make the necessary changes to your plan.