Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chicken Challenges: Keeping the Coop Fresh, The Ground Covered, and The Workload Light

What I love about keeping animals and gardening is experimentation.  I find it fun to read about what other people have done, mull it over, and decide what approach I might take, and then do it all over again depending on if things go well.

Keeping chickens has afforded plenty of room for experimentation in the past 2 years.  Areas that are easy to experiment with:

1) How to give chickens access to clean, plentiful, unfrozen, poop-free water with minimal work.

2) How to keep chickens eating lots of greens and bugs all year round.

3) How to keep the coop smelling fresh and lovely.

 4) How to keep the run and free range areas covered with vegetation, compost, or bedding (except the areas where they like to dust bathe, which should be bare soil, or a box with dusty materials in it) to keep their environment healthy and erosion free, with no leaching of manure.

  #1 and #2 deserve their own posts, but I'll talk about #3 and #4 here.  I have tried several things in terms of "bedding in the coop"...item #3 on the list.  Bedding serves several purposes:  absorb moisture and cover poops that the chickens let drop while roosting at night, padding for when they jump down from the roosts, insulating the floor in the winter, and providing heat via composting if you are using deep bedding.  This deep bedding idea is what really seemed interesting to me.

The Garden Dreams Coop.  Pop Door and roof vent stays open all winter for ventilation   Heated waterer turns on if temp hits 35 degrees and keeps water just above freezing.

The coop at Garden Dreams has a wooden floor, and the bedding method I use for that coop is a bit of shavings on the floor, throwing some fresh shavings over the poop on the floor every few days, then shoveling the whole thing out once a month and adding those poopy shavings to the compost pile.  This works pretty well.  The coop stays relatively good-smelling with minimum ammonia odor (which can damage birds sensitive respiratory systems and eyes) and a not-to-terrible maintenance schedule.  However, I think there is room for improvement.

Once a month clean out of Garden Dreams coop
I wear a dust mask when sweeping out the shavings and manure
At home, our coop has a soil floor and my intention was to try out deep bedding.  I used leaf mulch we had on hand over the summer, and about 2 weeks ago, I added 5 leaf bags full of fallen leaves to the mix.  This was a lot of organic matter.  I mixed it up with the old poop/leaf mulch mixture that was there previously, and within a week, the mixture was warm to the touch.  I need to put a thermometer in the coop to see if it is changing the ambient air temperature.  This coop has more ventilation that the coop at Garden Dreams...the whole roof is open hardware cloth with fiberglass panels suspended above.  Since May, it has had a sweet smell and not a whiff of ammonia, although I have not removed any droppings.  I plan a once a year cleanout for this coop, likely in spring.

Home Coop

Home coop leaf bedding added
In terms of  "keeping the ground covered",  I mean the run, paths, and free range areas intact and covered with vegetation or organic matter - this is a big issue in our home setup, since we are on a hill.  The chickens scratched their run bare of grass, leaving it open to erosion.  In past posts, I wrote about renovating our defaced chicken run.  That process is working well.  We are going with the phrase..."Leave No Naked Soil!"  The wood plank terraces we built are getting filled in with free wood chips and leaves over cardboard, grass clippings, pine needles...whatever is around.  The winter rye is starting to fill in and the soil raked all to hell by chicken claws is covered and protected by leaves and other organic matter.

Home Coop with bare soil covered
Before soil renovation
Starting renovation
Organic matter starting to fill in terraces.  Look at that automatic pop door...fancy!

Organic matter filling in the paths

All in all, I can't wait to see how this setup holds up when we move the chickens back over to the renovated area next year.  The idea is to leave them in there til they are just starting to beat up the land, and then move them to their second run area so the first can recover and regrow.  More experiments to come, I'm sure!

No comments:

Post a Comment