The end products we hope from our flock are eggs but the raising of chickens provides other things as well. No, I am not referring to anything like meat or even pest control as they walk around the yard eating anything they can find that resembles a bug. I am referring to “it” and they make a lot of..errr…well, it. It is manure.
It is not an issue in the coop during the summer months as they spend the lion share of their days outside in the chicken yard or wandering around the property. During the winter months, though they are encouraged to go outside, they usually prefer to spend most of their time huddled in the coops.I don’t blame them as the only source of warmth besides the infra-red light on the exceptionally cold days is that of their sisters and brothers in the coop with them. This usually allows for a great build-up of it. If not properly managed, the buildup inside the coop can be significant.
Think of this as a short photo tour of the cleaning process we go through throughout the year. People seem to be curious about what goes on through our Facebook Fan Page called Chad’s Eggs so consider this an extension of that.
Every hobby has an unpleasant side to it. Mucking out the coop is one of the most unpleasant experiences aside from culling the flock or extracting passed or passing birds. Though a little manure on the floor can actually be a good insulator to the wood floor, it still needs to be removed regularly. What happens is that the top layer of the manure will dry and will be a serviceable walking surface for the birds but underneath that top layer is a decomposing layer of gas producing filth. As soon as you break through that layer you are in for a fowl experience. Depending on how wet the packed manure is will determine how bad the smell will be. Also, I have been advised by a couple doctors that it is inadvisable to clean out the coop without wearing a filtering face mask to breathe though as the airborne contaminants can cause illness in the lunch. Rather than challenge their knowledge base by looking it up, I got ahead and comply. Even though it is probably a foregone conclusion,never go in there wearing anything you don’t immediately intend to wash after you are done. Caked on manure will dry over time but is wholly unsanitary to bring into your home. Yes, that is a Minnesota Jaycees hat on my head…if my head was going to be in manure I would definitely not be wearing it.
This next picture is intended to show the color difference between the top crust and the rest of the build-up. It is almost like sandstone in this respect with each layer piling on top of previous layer. The bottom layer is almost always hay/straw or wood shavings which is clean bedding placed on the floor.
This stuff will make some fantastic fertilizer by spring and I encourage everyone to get some, especially if you are in an area with very sandy soil or excellent drainage. Only use lightly in a more clay based ground otherwise you may burn your plants off. Too much of a good thing is still too much. Where we live it’s pretty sandy soil and we have never burned our garden out even with putting copious amounts of manure yearly in the garden. Given the sandy nature of the ground it becomes necessary to make sure you are adding enough nutrients to the soul to ensure your plants will have enough to grow big and strong.
It’d a good thing our operation isn’t any bigger than it is (51 hens) because I have to hand carry an five gallon garbage can of manure out over and over again. There’s probably a better way to it but this is how I’ve been doing it since I started with my first twelve partridge cochins back in 2002. It seemed a lot easier back then. Of course I cleaned out the coop weekly during the first couple years.
As stated previously, depending on the flock I usually use hay/straw on the floor as a start. Not only does it give the chickens something to pick through that is vegetable based but it also harbors bugs and seeds that they can eat to supplement their diet. For bedding in the nest boxes I’ve found that pine or cedar shavings work best for our flock of gold stars but the newer flock of black sex linked(BSL) hens tend to prefer they hay/straw for bedding over the shavings. It will be interesting when we consolidate the two flocks into the same larger coop because they will occupy the same nesting boxes. That is a project for later this winter.
In the end, we have a clean floor and clean nest boxes. The project is ongoing so the roost platform over the nesting boxes still needs work and that horrible splattering effect under the nest boxes will need to be addresses. Nothing is every really clean in the chicken coop for more than a couple minutes before a bird will come along and decide it’s a good place to leave some droppings, then another one will step in it and spread it around the coop.
Just to show everyone how much manure can be generated by twenty-four birds, I have included as a finale the pile created by the experience. Yep, that whole pile is what was extracted from that one coop. After it ages and compresses that pile will be enough for our garden for a whole year. It is the only fertilizer we use in our organically farmed garden. Want some? Bring a bucket in the spring or find a chicken farmer near you.