This last week has been so warm, it was classed as a heat-wave. Which feels very odd indeed, as we are just about to leave Autumn behind us for Winter! Yesterday was beautifully sunny and warm, but not hot: perfect for some chicken coop maintenance.
Every now and then (and I don’t really keep track of this, but it’s maybe once a month or so) I rake out the floor of the chicken coop and take the bits and pieces over to our compost bin. This part of the coop is where we throw our scraps down, and the chickens give it a good raking over. It breaks down amazingly fast, so even things like orange peels are barely recognisable after a few days.
Usually when I do this, the earth underneath is moist and almost black, and full of worms: about the best soil you can probably imagine for growing stuff in. Today the soil was pretty dusty, as it has been dry here for about a month:
Still, the chickens always have fun with the fresh floor and go nuts digging and searching for little chicken treasures.
I pile the rakings into a tub, and then I take the straw out of the nest boxes. Usually there is not really much straw in there: it’s more of a hint to the chickens that this is a “nest”, but in reality their big fluffy butts tend to dislodge what I put in there, and after a week it looks pretty bare. This time I needed to get the trowel out and scoop up the dried night poops that one of the chickens has been leaving.
In case you are wondering: the coop doesn’t smell bad: it smells kind of like a farm, but not stinky. It does smell like chickens and a bit of poop, but not overwhelmingly. This is because we let our chickens out of the coop and into a reasonably large run every day. They put their poop out into the garden and (assuming we have rain) it washes into the ground pretty fast. Even the overnight dew will tend to dissolve the smells. It is nothing at all like the strong smell of pelletised chicken manure (or Dynamic Lifter, if that brand is familiar to you)!
I put more straw in than usual, yesterday, because I wanted whoever was sleeping in there to be fluffy and warm. They don’t actually need straw, though. Some people have nest boxes with a sloping floor so that the eggs roll gently away and down into a collector box, even.
I designed these boxes to have a door that flops open and down, so it would be easy for the kids to open and check for eggs. I’ve been really happy with this design, as the kids can see inside without having to hold a heavy wood flap above their heads, and it is at tippy-toe height for peering in.
The flap fastens at the top using a simple bit of swivel wood on each end (I used some off-cuts that we put 45 degree points onto for decoration). These are screwed very gently into the top of the nest box frame, using screws with a longish shank (so that the wood pivots, but the screw bites into the frame and doesn’t unscrew itself). I forget what these screws are called, so if anyone is interested, I’ll look it up. But I digress!
The tub of rakings goes into the compost heap, and counts as ‘brown’ material, mostly. It’s a bit of a question whether to count it as ‘green’, as it has a lot of nutrient and nitrogen in it from the chicken poop (typically ‘green’) but also a lot of dried grasses and husks of dried out fruit peels and corn cobs (typically ‘brown’). So far, putting it in with other fresh green scraps has worked well for balancing our compost heap.
I also put fresh water into the new waterer, which I do semi-regularly. I put a whole bucket in at a time (so there is enough pressure in the barrel to stop the drippers from constantly dripping) but I check regularly to see that the water is still fresh. The barrel is black and in the shade, so it doesn’t grow green slime. The top is also sealed, so nothing gets in there, like dead insects or fallen leaves. I’m cautious about this, because I know chickens need fresh water.
If I left water in one of these feeders, in contrast, it grows green slime within a day or two. We use these feeders now just for mash (on the left) and eggshells (on the right) or occasionally for water, if I’m concerned one chicken is being kept from the other waterers.
We dry out our eggshells on a tray in the green house: it can get really very hot in there on top of the metal work bench! The eggshells are already washed before they out there, so there’s no left over sticky egg on them. We crush the shells up into reasonably small pieces using a mortar and pestle. Really any thing works for this, including a fist in a garden glove, or a rolling pin in a cookie tray, or whatever. It is said that some chickens will eat their own eggs if they get the idea they are food. So we try not to feed them anything that resembles a whole egg or eggshell.
There’s not much more to the chicken coop maintenance: sometimes (maybe twice a year) I take the door of the coop off and scrape out the perches. And I need to top up the sand underneath the perches as it has been scratched away and undermined by tunnelling rats. Since I don’t have any bags of river sand on hand right now, I will do that another sunny day.
Here’s a bunch of other stuff happening in the garden at the moment. You wouldn’t believe it is actually Autumn from these photos. There are very few flowers out, but what is there is still cheerful! Enjoy.