technology and the chicken tractor

This week, my job at the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre lead me to a sun-dappled afternoon in the unlikely company of farmers.

This week, my job at the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre lead me to a sun-dappled afternoon in the unlikely company of farmers.

I say “unlikely” not because I have anything at all against farmers, but because, like a majority of technology nerds, I have for most of my life been an agriculturally ignorant urbanite.

As a boy in the Yukon in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, I grew up in an environment where few people, if anybody, grew anything other than wild rhubarb in their weed lots.

I can still remember when our neighbour, Laurent Cyr, for some reason started gardening, and came to our house with a bag full of home-grown pea pods.

I was struck by the pea pods because, until then, I had only ever seen peas coming out of a can, and I had always assumed that, because they were round like berries, they grew on bushes like berries, too.

Since those more innocent and ignorant days, I have developed a little more knowledge about what plants and farmers do, but only marginally so.

This week, for instance, I learned for the first time that potato skins do not adhere to the meal of the plant while the potato is still growing; only after the plant dies does the skin connect to the potato itself, and dry and thicken in a way that seals in the moisture and wards off decay.

I also learned for the first time about a very cool poultry-raising device called a chicken tractor – a sample of farmer-boy practical technology at its simplest and finest.

A chicken tractor is a floorless, mobile chicken coup that farmers can move along their fields, allowing the chickens to range-feed in safe and orderly conditions, and leave their droppings to fertilize the soil without any need to wheelbarrow-transport the poop.

Most farmers build these chicken tractors to a fairly small size, out of light-weight materials and chicken wire; the farmer I was with, though, was a self-described “metal kind of guy,” so he had welded together a bigger, heavier version that he could move once a day with a truck.

In the first days, he was a little concerned that some of the chickens might get trapped under the back end of the coup as it was being dragged forward – and, in fact, some of them did get themselves stuck there initially, though none were killed or injured.

After the first few times, though, the chickens (who are not a dumb, apparently, as urbanites like me commonly assume they are) learned the rules of the game, and quickly adapted to clustering together in the middle of the coup when the truck appeared, and then walking together in the middle of the coup as it got dragged forward.

The innovative advantages of the heavy-duty, all-metal chicken tractor are two-fold: First, the heavier framework makes it pretty much impossible for a predator like a wolf or a fox to dig under and flip over the chicken tractor to get at the chickens; secondly, the larger size means you can treat and fertilize more cropland at a single go.

As I admired the classic simplicity of this “uber-chicken tractor,” and looked around at the various other machines and systems scattered around the farmyard – tractors, bulldozers, wind turbines, a sun-tracking solar panel array – I was struck by the array of technological literacies you need to be a successful farmer.

I remembered reading in a military history magazine many years ago about how a frequently remarked-upon characteristic of American and Canadian soldiers in the Second World War was their propensity for patching up and jury-rigging captured or abandoned enemy equipment and getting it into service.

It occurred to me this week that the explanation for that propensity probably lies in the fact that the USA and Canada were still largely agrarian countries back in those days, which meant the at about half the young men in any military unit were probably farm boys with farm-hand skills in machining, carpentry, heavy equipment operation, electrical wiring, and a host of others.

They were technological generalists in a way that has now, with increasing social urbanization and technological complication, become a much more rare accomplishment.

One of the most frequent and consistent pleasures of my day job at the Technology Innovation Centre is the way it introduces me to places, people and skill sets that lie outside the normal parameters of my interests and competences.

On the other hand, even at my more or less advanced age, with my more or less widely ranging history of professions from land surveyor to computer nerd, I still stand in envy of the range of competences and the build-it-with-a rock inventiveness of the Canadian farmer.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read