Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to muck out a chicken coop

Hey there.  Yeah, I'm still around.  I've been taking a breather lately and deciding what - if anything - I wanted to do with this blog.  After a highly flattering kick in the butt from Karen over at The Art of Doing Stuff, I'm getting back on the horse again.

To be honest, I haven't felt like doing much of anything lately.  I've barely cooked, haven't knitted in weeks, and haven't worked in the garden beyond last month's work spree.  With the rain we've been having, that last one is kind of a given.  This is a busy season at work, with multiple evening events each week.  I've had nights where I've dashed home, let the dog out long enough to do her busines, then gone back to work.

(more after the jump)
As for Gene, he's started working at the TTXGP (electric motorcycle) races again.  As I type this, he's at the Infineon Raceway outside of San Francisco.  This summer he's going to staff races in So California, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

The NH race is just 56 miles from my grandparents' home.  In the 7.5 years that we've been together, Gene's never met a single person from my dad's side of the family.  My dad generously bought me a plane ticket to accompany Gene and we're going to make a vacation of it.  I haven't seen my grandparents since 2003, and it's been longer than that since I last visited New England.  I'm really excited to visit everyone, and for my husband and family to finally meet each other.

With Gene gone so much, many of the household chores fall to me.  I've taken care of the chicken coop pretty much since we first got the little buggers.  It's not a hard job but the time of year definitely changes the working conditions.  It seems like we've had nothing but rain rain rain lately.  The poor hens are stuck in a run that's goopy with mud.  We're no longer allowing them into the rest of the yard and it's slowly recovering from the damage they'd wrought over the winter.

OK, that last sentence made me a liar.  I let the hens out into the yard while I cleaned the coop because things like garden tools, buckets, and bags of shavings scare the girls.  "Scary," they screech as they freak out and popcorn all over the run.  It's safer for them to be out of the way, even if it means that they can dig up things they shouldn't for a little while.

Rosemary is starting to enjoy having more grass.  In the mornings she gets all worked up and runs around in circles until I offer her breakfast.  She's too adorable.
The newly seeded area is starting to fill in nicely.  Rosemary's butt is barely visible at right.

The coop was starting to get a tad smelly and was clearly in need of a cleaning.  I probably clean out the coop every 4-6 weeks.  Here's what it looked like.  The shavings were wet, dirty, and matted down.
Animal watches me warily as I prepare to clean out the coop.
 Like I said, it's not a hard job, especially with the right tools.  Critical to the job are a flat shovel for scraping up the litter that has adhered to the floor, boots, and gloves.  I also use a small rake to move the shavings into a big pile.  Other than a means to dispose of the crap-filled litter, you don't need much more than that.

I've gotten rid of litter in various places over the years.  I've learned through trial and error not to put it into the run: it just cakes up and gets really disgusting.  Sometimes I put it into the yard waste bin for the city to take.  During the winter I often put it into the garden beds to rot over the rainy months and provide fertilizer in the spring.  It must rot, however, and can't be put straight into beds in the summer months because the high levels of nitrogen in the litter will burn or kill plants.  I recently created a spot for a small compost bin, which is where this litter will go later.  Today, I put it into the yard waste bin because it was raining and I didn't feel like setting up the new compost bin in the downpour.

Scooter really wanted to lay her egg but wasn't happy with all my activity.  She eventually got frustrated with me and left the nesting box.

After scraping up the old litter I laid down a fresh batch of pine (never cedar - it's bad for birds' respiratory systems) shavings.  I concentrate it under the roost and in front of the door.  The girls will kick it around quite a bit so it's not really necessary to be neat or precise.  Some people, like my boss, use straw but I've found that it's not only slippery, it makes a huge mess in my car whereas shavings come bagged.  The advantages of straw are that you can just dump a pile on the floor and let the hens spread it for you; it's very cheap; and its lower acidity level than pine shavings means it's quicker to compost and put into the garden.

Chickens are surprisingly clean in their nesting boxes, rarely soiling their nest.  I only change that litter a few times a year.  We use cheap concrete mixing boxes as the liners for the nesting boxes, making clean-up very simple.

Once all was said & done, I put some stepping stones through the run.  The run has gotten very goopy so the stepping stones will give us humans a clean(ish) pathway to the coop.  Our neighborhood is called "Spring Hill" and you can imagine that with such a high water table, drainage is a bit of an issue even though we're at the peak of the hill.

My final act in the coop was to sling a bag of layer pellets over my shoulder and carry it to the coop.
We love that this feed is manufactured just a few miles from our home!
 Nothing makes you feel like a bad ass quite like carrying a 50# bag over your shoulder.

My final final act was to bathe the muddy dog, who'd gotten filthy in the yard while I'd cleaned the coop.  A woman's work is never done.


  1. Thank you! Was that so hard? (yes, I know it is and blog posts take forever) Buck AUCK!

  2. One of these days I'll have to get down to Tacoma and meet the ladies. I want to meet the gal who laid that gigantic egg from a few posts ago. That was impressive.