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Farmyard helpers

October 16, 2010

I mucked out the chicken house today, and Rya came through the pen door and poked her head inside. I guess it looked like a happening joint, because she soon jumped up into the “dining room” and curiously sniffed the walls. I didn’t think she’d want any part of squeezing into the shorter roosting and laying room, but she clambered up there right away. She’s exhibited this fondness for getting crammed into small spaces before. The three-year-old, two shovels, a garden rake, a ten-hole nesting box, maple-branch roosting poles, a Toggenburg goat and I all inhabited the six by twelve room. Work was no longer possible, but that didn’t stop the little guy from earnestly shoveling.

Rya’s a peach, and if all goats were like her, I’d probably have too many. Her stable-mate, Luna, is a bucky, dominant doe who goes completely bonkers when she’s in heat and sometimes when she’s not. After a few hours strolling the grounds with a walking stick – my version of a shepherd’s crook – I tire of fending her off and send her back into her paddock. I always keep Rya out with us. She’s very much like a dog in terms of constant, affectionate companionship. All that without bringing deer ticks into the house.

We managed to get the whole house mucked out and replenished with poor quality hay and did the duck house too, although a very broody hen duck hissed at me and stuck out her tongue in hopes of protecting her eggs. I let her keep them. It seems like a really bad idea to hatch ducklings now, but I have heat lamps. If she’s serious about this, we can make it work. I’d love to see what kind of ducklings we’d get from five as-yet-unidentified ducks.

It feels good to freshen up the farmyard and tuck them in with fresh, dry bedding as temperatures begin to drop. I once used the deep litter method, but I’ve since changed tactics. Deep litter involves building a thick layer of bedding in the chicken house. You start with a few inches and then add an inch or two more every time you need fresh bedding. It’s important to keep the bedding dry, so you must add more shavings and make sure the layers are stirred up. Some people throw corn into the henhouse to make the birds stir the litter for them, but you can also rake it thoroughly. Areas with higher poo density, such as under the roosting poles, should have a special droppings board that is regularly cleaned, or be paid special care by the stirrer.

You only clean the house out once a year. Supposedly, the litter will break down and begin to compost, giving off heat during the winter. I didn’t realize a compost pile could truly “cook” without moisture, but I could be wrong. All I know is that after a year, there is so much crap in a chicken house, be it stirred or scratched, cleaning it out is a nightmare. Bring in the biohazard suits, STAT. Even with a really good respirator, there will be parts of you filled with chicken guano dust that you never knew existed. There will be foul dust in your ears and up your sleeves, down your boots and up your pant legs. The particulate crap will be so embedded in your scalp, you’ll smell that henhouse aroma for at least half a dozen showers, and your eyebrows will suffer the same fate.

Dust in the deep litter method is a good thing. It means you added and stirred at the right rate. If you happen to neglect little corners or get lazy with the areas under the roosting poles, you’ll greet a foot-thick layer of natural, all-organic chicken crapcrete. There are probably henhouses being jackhammered and chiseled at this moment due to the deep litter method gone awry. After five or ten years of maintaining this system, things can get ugly.

Luckily, we’ve come to a more reasonable management system. Our nifty new henhouse is cleaned as often as is needed, and we use all the poor hay the goats won’t eat to carpet the place for cheap. The same goes for the ducks’ and goats’ dwellings. We scrape it down more frequently in hot weather, and let it build up a little more in the winter to provide insulation from the cold. Viola, a hybrid that works. The best part about the system is having friends, some little, some hairy, to make the work more fun.



a moment's pause before he uses the roosting poles as monkey bars


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