This weather here is crazy, y’all. Two days ago there was snow and ice (well for us, crappy rain. For people a mile up the road and points north, snow. For all of us, ice overnight). We were shivering in our beds from the cold.
Today it’s been practically t-shirt weather. And since a lot of the eggs Emily has been bringing in from the coop have been dirty, I decided I’d use the warm weather to see how coop winterization was faring.
People take care of their chicken coops a lot of different ways. Some people use hay or straw, some people use pine or hardwood mulch. I’ve even heard of people using grass clippings. Personally, I like to use pine shavings. They’re nice and fluffy and comfortable for the chickens’ feet, and they do a great job at drying out all the many droppings that chickens leave behind them and absorbing extra moisture and odor. I’ve used hay and straw but find that the poop doesn’t get dried out at all and the hay doesn’t break down as easily. If you’re going to use hay or straw, you’ll need to clean it all out more frequently. As for grass clippings….I imagine it would be like the hay but even less absorbent. The last thing you want is a moist coop to harbor bacteria and parasites. You’re going to have those anyway, but you don’t need to put out a welcome mat (and you don’t want to chance introducing any droppings from wild birds that might be on that grass).
Anyway, pine or hardwood shavings. You don’t want to use cedar because the aromatic oils are bad for the birds. I really wish that wasn’t the case, because my coops would smell SO much better.
I do a thorough cleaning out of the coop twice a year, in the spring and the fall. At those times I’ll completely remove all bedding materials and the leave the doors all open for a few hours to air it out well. If you’ve had a bad time with parasites or illness this is the time when you also want to scrub the surfaces a bit with some hot water and dish soap. You can bleach it if you’re so inclined, but be careful to dry it out completely and remove any residue before the chickens go back in.
Personally, I like the method that Zac over at Juniper Moon Farm used this past spring after a bout with mites. He used a propane – fueled weed burning tool (read: flame thrower!) and lightly charred the entire inside of the coop.
Anyway, once the coop is aired and dried out I dust it down with Poultry Dust. This is an insecticide powder to ward off lice and mites. Then I add the pine bedding and let the chickens back in to mess it all up.
Like I said, unless we are having an infestation of some sort or there is some major illness afoot, I only do this twice a year. The bedding and the poop break down together and whenever it’s looking more “muddy” than “piney” in there I’ll throw a layer of more pine on top. The composting of the under layer of poop and pine creates some heat and insulation during the winter that helps keep them warm. In the summer, it breaks down a lot faster with the heat and I replace bedding a lot more often.
But back to today. Today I intended to check the bedding and add some fresh stuff on top. That’s not what happened.
The winter this year has been very mild and very, very, very wet. The chickens are spending more time inside trying to stay dry and therefore pooping a whole lot more inside. It hasn’t been cold enough to keep the waste in any kind of deep freeze, and it’s been just cold and wet enough to keep everything gross and damp. No drying. Not breaking down as fast. Gross.
Today I cleaned out the coop.
The good news is that all the “muddy” compost I shoveled out can be used as……. compost. I chucked it all over the area that will be the garden this spring.
And while I was at it I spent time listening to the chickens, observing their behavior and taking stock of their general health and well – being.
Speckles – our Egyptian Fayoumi – just started laying for us. We’re getting the cutest little cream – colored eggs from her. And it took her long enough – she’ll be a year old in about a month and a half.
Miss Harriett, a pretty black Cochin.
Roobert, the resident jack-ass. He likes to attack boots.
ETA: Emily and I have been calling him “Mad – Eye” because he lost an eye a few years back, and that’s when the bad behavior started. Nothing worse than a grumpy one eyed rooster.
This handsome boy was one of the batch we hatched out in August. He’s called “Tevye” and he’s a bit off a mutt.
One of Speckle’s adorable little eggs next to a normal – sized egg.
And speaking of eggs: last summer our hens were on strike. Nobody was laying. For months we were in an egg drought. I couldn’t figure it out. I treated them for every possible ailment, checked thoroughly for any and all problems.
We’re pretty sure they were all in a slow molt. Nobody looked bald or shabby, but there were a whole lot more airborn feathers than usual. So this fall we installed a light into the back coop so that once the molt was over they wouldn’t go immediately into winter mode. ( chickens stop laying in the winter due to loss of daylight, not the cold temperatures. Increase their light, and they won’t stop laying)
Now it’s January and we are overloaded with eggs.
There are no fewer than 6 dozen eggs in my fridge at this very moment, and we haven’t collected yet today.
Anybody want an omelet?