Monday, November 8, 2010

Cleaning Out the Chicken Coop

Some people I used to know quite well came by the other day, saw me outside working and somehow the conversation turned to cleaning a chicken coop. These are not rural people, but they have become interested in getting a few chickens for their corner-lot suburban backyard. They've gotten to the point of checking the laws in their area and got the go-ahead to raise chickens.

They were aghast to hear about the Deep Litter System of chicken coop management. Like a lot of people who are new to raising chickens, they were shocked. They thought a chicken house would need to be completely cleaned out frequently, much like a hamster's cage inside the home. Having a pet hamster really was their only frame of reference to caring for animals. The primary reason they were prepared to jump into the chicken raising hobby was that they'd heard it was "green" and "sustainable".

The Deep Litter Method of managing chicken manure means you're actually allowing the combination of bedding and chicken poop to compost right in the chicken coop. You clean the coop out just once or twice a year. A complete cleaning includes the use of a bucket of water and bleach solution, inspection and treatment for any parasite issues, and completion of any needed repairs to the building.

After the facility is clean, it's time to spread four to six inches of bedding (shavings, straw, or hay). After you put your chickens back in the coop, their manure, which is high in nitrogen will mix with the bedding and you end up with usable compost (providing the floor of your coop is the ground, otherwise more composting will be needed before using the mixture as plant fertilizer). When you throw out scratch in the coop the chickens will scratch around and keep the mixture aerated. Maintain it for them, too, by adding extra bedding and 'turning' the mixture periodically.

This is a great method for your birds and is convenient for you, too. The compost heats up and keeps your chickens warm throughout the cold winter. Since its had time to break down, it's okay to spread it onto your garden plot. It also provides your chickens with microbes that are beneficial to their health. Nothing 'dirty' about this method, though beginners are often apprehensive about it.

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