Chicken Tractor

Photograph of a chicken

“11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities”, "12 - Responsible Consumption and Production", "3 - Good Health and Well-Being", "15 - Life on Land"

The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices is crucial to respond to environmental challenges caused by the excessive and inappropriate use of natural resources. One of these practices is the introduction of mobile chicken coops (commonly known as chicken tractors in English) in urban agriculture. Chicken tractors consist of mobile chicken houses that take advantage of the natural ecological functions of chickens to promote soil fertility and prepare the land for cultivation. In the urban agricultural context, where space and resources are limited, the installation of Sustainable Closed Agricultural Systems (SACS), such as these structures, represents a challenge. However, they are strategies that offer numerous benefits by reducing environmental impacts, contributing to the closing of biological cycles and, therefore, to the sustainability and preservation of habitats. The Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon supported the installation of a chicken tractor at PermaLab as an integral part of its sustainability initiatives (CHILL - CHIcken tractors as an efficient and sustainable Link in closed Loop agriculture). Chickens, by turning over and pecking at the soil in search of food, help, on the one hand, to control the growth of spontaneous herbs, insects and fungi, and, on the other, they fertilize the soil through their feces.

Figure I: Schematic of the chicken tractor

The chicken tractors are, in this way, inserted in a rotational scheme with different cultivation areas, following the sowing and harvesting times throughout the year. In other words, as soon as a harvest is collected in a cultivation unit, the land will be covered with the tractor and prepared with the help of chickens, as described above, to receive a new sowing or planting, that is, chicken tractors intersperse and prepare annual crop cycles. Consequently, the integration of this tool in urban agriculture not only promotes efficient land use but also encourages food production in a local context, reducing the ecological footprint associated with the transport of products. Furthermore, these systems constitute an opportunity for scientific research, whose contribution is essential to validating the sustainability assumptions of this type of practices. By taking advantage of the natural potential of chickens, FCUL seeks to demonstrate the viability and benefits of chicken tractors as an ecological and sustainable strategy for food production in an urban context, while opening the door to creating communities more resilient and self-sufficient in cities.

In addition to productive services (e.g.: soil preparation, egg production) and regulation (e.g.: weed and pest control), it is important not to forget the social and cultural services that these beings bring to the context of FCUL. In fact, the presence of chickens on campus contributes to a special experience within the community, often celebrated with the crow of the rooster and the hatching of chicks that transport us to the rural world and remind us of the importance of reconnecting with nature. Furthermore, the focus on native Portuguese breeds values and celebrates our country's rich genetic heritage in terms of domestic animals, raising public awareness of the relevance of their preservation and maintenance in the national agricultural context.

Figure II: Schematic of the connection of the chicken tractor with Sustainable Closed Agricultural Systems


CoordinatorFlorian Ulm 

Membres of the project: Afonso Ferreira, Francisco Azevedo e Silva, Inês Afonso, Tomás Simões, António Vaz Pato, David Avelar


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