Our weekend was wonderful. We had a great visit with family on Saturday, including time for our son and his cousins to play together in the charming way that little boys do, which is always entertaining. Yesterday, we took care of a dreaded chore: cleaning out the chicken coop bedding and replacing it with fresh. It was heavy, hard, sweaty work, but we are really glad that we got it done. Clean bedding makes for a healthier coop.
We were trying to use what is known as the “deep litter” method in our coop – meaning, you basically have stratification layers of pine bedding, and the lower layers start to compost over time. Many folks say that they use this method and only change their coop bedding once a year, in the spring, and they put the used bedding to work as compost. I have a feeling that it probably works better for smaller flocks – say, a dozen or so birds. But, we have quite a bit more birds than that, and frankly, we were starting to smell faint whiffs of ammonia, which can kill your flock quickly. I spoke with one of the sons over at the family-run feed operation we frequent, where they have their own coop that is about the size of ours (perhaps even a bit larger) and asked how they handle their bedding. They clean their coop about every 2-3 months, he explained, and assured me that waiting longer than that only makes for harder work when trying to scoop out all of those poop-and-feather-laden shavings. So, I brought home eight bags of pine shavings and five of those are now spread out on the freshly-cleaned floor of the coop. The chickens seem delighted. Well, as much as they can express delight. I know we are pleased! I also was generous with the food-grade diatomaceous earth, sprinkling it throughout all of the bedding. This provides insect control – DE is an abrasive that cracks open the exoskeleton of insects (ants, ticks, fleas, mites, beetles, etc.) and causes them to dehydrate and die. So it’s great to sprinkle in your chicken’s bedding. Also, I read that it’s great for chickens to take their dust baths in, since it will stick to their feathers and help keep pests off of them, too. So, we have a cat litter box containing some in the coop now, and it looks like a couple of the birds have taken advantage of it already.
This morning, I opened the coop and discovered that our Picard rooster (Silver Duckwing Bantam) had flown over the wall, and was in the nursery pen, visiting with the Black Australorp chicks, who are five and a half weeks old now. Because Picard is a Bantam (miniature chicken), he and the Australorps are about the same size. He has been curious about those little peeps for the past couple of weeks, and was not acting aggressively – just trying to introduce himself. They were all very wary of the new guy, but tolerant of his presence just the same. After a couple of moments, he flew up and out of the nursery pen and headed outdoors to forage. He just started crowing in front of us a few nights ago. We really enjoy that little bird’s antics.
Despite the scorching hot weather, I am starting to feel summer winding down, and I always have mixed feelings about it. Sure, the humidity and heat can feel unbearable, but we have a pool to jump into whenever we’d like to cool off. I also enjoy all of the vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers growing, and being able to spend time outside with the animals. The summer evenings can be splendid, especially if there is a breeze, plenty of stars, and all of the fireflies dotting the property with their little luminescent bums. I love autumn, too, but here in Michigan, we generally seem to get ripped off – we get about a week of beautiful colors and crisp air, and then BAM! We have winter in full force, complete with the harsh cold temperatures and plenty of snow, and it seems to last until April. Even then, we sometimes have one final whammy of a snowstorm for the season. I’m not really looking forward to closing up our pool for the year, and having to think about all of our chickens and goats being cooped up for all of those months. I’m enjoying these last few weeks of summer, taking them in, so that I can hold them in my memory and keep the confidence that we will have them again, even when I’m watching those first snowflakes fall, on a day that will come much too soon.