soil improvement/pasturing/egg mobile - planting advice


9 Years
Nov 22, 2010
Middle Tennessee
So, I am new to chickens. I've now raised my 20 chickens from three days old to today with no losses since mid November - YAY
But spring's coming and I am wanting to build an eggmobile and 'pasture' my chickens that way. The bad thing is my soil is ridiculously hurrendously horrible red clay. It grows little low growing weeds and sage grass, but that's about it without ammendment (my wife's grandpa 'gardened' it to death). So now I want to plant soil ammendments/chicken food and let the chickens do the hardwork of improving the soil along with strategic plants.

Any advice? I've considered: sweet clover, buckwheat, cow peas, grass, millet and naked oats with a few annual sprinklings like carrots and cabbage.

If any of what i've considered is a bad idea please let me know. If you have some additional good ideas please let me know.

I'd like to buy seed ASAP, so any help is GREATLY appreciated. THANK YOU!!

Middle Tennessee
Fellow TN person here who knows all too well about living with clay soil.

It sounds like you're on the right track. If your soil is too far gone to support anything but scrub weeds, though, you should amend it with a good layer of whatever organic material you can get your hands on BEFORE planting your "green manure" selections. That will jumpstart the process and get the worms moving in. Clay tends to be rather alkaline so things like shredded pine needles or shredded oak leaves will help to correct the Ph while also adding organic matter (both will take two years to break down so don't use too much).

There are also small, round carrots that will grow in rather horrid clay soil so you might look for those.
I second the thought that you're on the right track. Are there any fields near you with horses or cattle? If so, you might ask the owners if they'd mind you scooping some poop. Do you have a compost pile? If not, start one, and the compost will help to improve your soil. Sand mixed into clay will also help to make it more tillable. In the Fall, gather whatever leaves you can find. You could even post an ad on Craigslist and Freecycle to see if you can get more, if you don't have many in your own yard. Shred the leaves and they'll break down faster (leave them whole and they'll sometimes turn into a slimy mess).
You have to be careful mixing sand into clay because red clay + sand = something like cement. You really, really need the organics to loosen that soil. If you want sand in it to help with drainage, I'd balance the addition with something like peat moss to keep from making a giant brick.
Thanks for the encouragement. I am looking into getting a cheap truck so that I can do exactly as you all are suggesting. I had planned on testing a few sections of the soil for PH to see if it was acid or alkaline. I've been told by several locals that sage grass suggests it's too acid. A test will tell and I'll amend it accordingly. As for organic material, I have a cousin with two horses that has no problem sharing their 'soil amendments'. Also there are a few places that will for a very small fee fill up the bed of a truck quite happily with said ammendment of various ages. I do know that composted is better, but at this point I think anything is better than nothing since this part of the field won't be used for human consumption. The only problem is that I've got 2+ acres to ammend.

Again thank you. I figure trying to get a little of something growing to keep it loose and provide green manure/chicken food will be helpful. Any advice in that arena?
Great advice! If you are using the deep litter method in your coop, and sand in your run, put these used materials in your garden. If you can afford vermiculite, it will help. Also, ask your local cafes to save coffee grounds for you, they do wonders for soil and work like slow release fertilizer. Starbucks will happily give you theirs if you have one nearby. You also might want to try using a raised bed, not only does it give you more control over soil, it also helps ease back pain. Start small, and just like chicken math, it will compound quickly.
Myself, I've gotten greedy with composing to the point, that I help all the neighbors with fall leaf removal and always have my eye out for rotten alfalfa bales.
Aha - you certainly have your work cut out for you then! If I were you, I'd look on Craigslist for a manure spreader (do a search in the search field to make it easier). Since you have access to manure, this will make life a lot easier for you.

I stand corrected. I've been lucky in that I've never had to amend clay soil but this is what I was always told. I agree though, that organic material has to be better so.....skip the sand....I eat my words
becarefull using oak leaves. they have a slight herbicide in them, that kills grass(when there is enough leaves in one area). ever noticed to rarely see much grass under a well established oak tree? that could be why. just make sure the leaves you use are well stredded, or they won't be much help
Thank you all for your info. I have heard of Polyface, in fact I have Joel Salatin's book You Can Farm. It's really good!

I am pretty sure I'm on track for the soil improvement.

Are there any suggestions y'all might have for items that would both feed my chickens (yummy greens, grains, etc) on pasture and improve the soil?

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