the chicken poop plan

I’m sure there are as many ways to handle coop and run litter as there are chicken keepers. But this is what I’m trying.

For a while I used pine shavings everywhere; in the coop, in the run and on the poop board under the roost. The method didn’t seem to fill my needs, and it ran through a lot of savings. Shavings also take a while to decompose in a compost pile.

A different solution that’s worked pretty well so far is a 3-pronged poop attack.

First, I’ve been using a product called Sweet PDZ on my poop board. It’s an all-natural, non-toxic product created for horse stalls, but it also does a great job of neutralizing ammonia smells and absorbing moisture in chicken coops. I just use a 1-2″ layer on the poop board and filter out the droppings with a cat litter scoop daily when I get the eggs.

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The droppings go into a 5-gallon bucket that I keep just outside the coop. Almost pure poop, and it’s easy to gauge amounts when adding to garden beds and mixing with browns in the compost piles. One bag of Sweet PDZ seems to last forever when used like this.

The second poop prong is the coop floor. Pine shavings seem to work best for me there as long as I keep them 5-6″ deep. Once the shavings are too pooped to pop any more, I shovel them out and move them to the outside run. This keeps the run from getting muddy and compacting (when combined with the third part of my poop party). It also continues to break down the shavings for the compost piles.

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In the run, mixed with the used coop shavings, I’ve dumped a thick layer of fall leaves. The chickens love to scratch through them looking for goodies. They do a better job of shredding and mixing than my mower, with less work and no gas (-oline). The leaves and shavings should help keep chicken toes warmer through the coming winter too.

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By spring, there’ll be a nice big pile of leaf/shavings/poop to goose up my compost piles.

garden helpers

I could well be that in 50 years the World Thought Police will have determined that it’s disgustingly barbaric to put chickens anywhere near a vegetable garden. The girls and I will either be dead or too old to care.  Right here and now, I get way too much pleasure from it.

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wazzaaahp doc?

The carrots that started out their lives sprouting under a piece of plywood came of age. Of course there were a few that looked like fat six-legged orange snowmen, but I’m very pleased with the harvest. About 35 lbs. worth; more than we have room to store. The orange snowmen didn’t make the cut, but they’ll go to a friend’s horses.

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After pulling the carrot crop, I fired up the chicken tiller in that spot. Awesome.

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Making evening rounds, tucking tomato vines into place inside their cages, I felt something soft.

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I gave it a fighting chance in the chicken pen. It lost.

the rewards

I’m pretty happy. Somehow the sad, downy mildew-ed pickling cucumber vines stayed alive long enough to produce another batch of cucumbers.

So yesterday morning I grabbed the cukes, dill, garlic, grapevine leaves and jalapeños form the garden and knocked out a few jars of hot dill spears. I cherish these pickles in the dead of winter. Hot and crunchy and full of vavoom on a cold, snowy night.

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Next, on to a good way to make use of the glut of fresh eggs coming our way from the happy hens. I’ve never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs. But they sound interesting. The recipe calls for adding canned beets to the boiled eggs, vinegar and spices. I don’t think I like beets, so this is a leap of faith. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be beets in the garden next year.

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I think the very best way to put off processing tomatoes is to core them and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. That way there’s no pressure to act before they rot. After they thaw they’re easy to peel, and still plenty fresh. And you don’t have to cook every time a new flush of ripe tomatoes comes in.

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The first buckwheat cover crop that I planted is blossoming, so that means it’s time to turn it into green manure. Thought I’d try it the easy way this time. Out came the chicken tiller.

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They did a fair job, but they need to work on technique. You don’t just eat the good parts, girls. It probably defeats the purpose of green manure to swap it for real manure. Maybe not. I’ll need to think about that one.

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chickindecision

All six of our hens are now laying. And it suddenly sunk in how many eggs we’d have to use or give away. In a fit of impulse I posted an add on Craigslist for three Isa Brown laying hens.

And just that quickly I took it down. Yeah, six chickens are a little overkill, egg-wise. But fresh eggs are only a part of what the girls provide. I’d be giving up half my manure supply, half of my work-free tilling, half of the chickens’ own winter warmth, and half of the entertainment.

After the decision was made (or re-made), it was time for some fun. Out to the garden.

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My supply of wax beans is taking over the remaining freezer space, so the next stop was the bean bed. A treat for the girls, a treat for me.

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who could not love a face like that?

I don’t regret the decision to keep them all. I DO have to quickly come up with egg cartons.

spotty

Last year my cucumbers, cantaloupe and watermelons were humming along, with big lush vines and lots of fruits. Then suddenly the leaves turned spotty and within a week they were all brown and shriveled and useless.

The cukes managed a bumper crop before that happened, but after tending the melons for a couple of months I had nothing to show for it. I’ve generally had putrid success with my vining crops for the past few years. Most likely some soil-borne fungus that hangs on from year to year.

This year the cucumbers were iffy from the get-go, but they’re still hanging on with spotty lower leaves.

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I read about an organic product called Serenade, ‘a broad spectrum, preventative biofungicide recommended for the suppression of many plant diseases.’ It’s OMRI listed so I feel comfortable using it. It’s supposed to control some of the potential culprits of my cucurbits, anthracnose, downy mildew and leaf spot.

I treated the vines about a week ago, and so far so good. The leaves are still spotty, but they haven’t yet started to turn brown. I sprayed some on my pepper plants too, because they’ve had some nasty problem since the big rains in June.

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Cantaloupe vines…still there

I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

The watermelons got a late start like the cukes and cantaloupe, but so far they don’t show any signs of disease.

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It was also time to pull the first planting of corn stalks and turn the chicken tiller lose. What fun for all of us.

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And one funny, but no so funny side story; for the second day in a row, user error led to another chicken break. As I was lifting the chicken tractor to move it, I inadvertently lifted too high, and two quick-thinking prisoners made their getaway.

I caught one easily, but the last holdout ended up in a chicken rodeo that lasted a good twenty minutes. They really want to be in that woods. But we finally got her close enough to her caged sisters to leave freedom voluntarily. No harm, no foul.

pass the word: we’re bustin’ out


I’ve been really pleased with the PVC chicken tractor that I recently knocked together. I thought the same was true of the girls. Until they rudely decided to blow this pop stand…

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Actually, it was user error. I parked one wheel on a tallish dirt mound, and that created enough extra space underneath the tractor for four criminals to make their break. Two respectable girls stayed inside where they belonged.

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It was a great learning experience for all of us. The chickens didn’t disappear or run out to the road. They just sort of followed me around looking really self-satisfied and investigating the wide world as I wheeled the tractor and the two good girls back toward the pen. I let them enjoy their freedom for a while, until they started heading down the woods path with dusk moving in.

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I called the Missus and she helped me gently steer them toward their open pen, and in they went.

I did like seeing them wandering free in the yard, but that won’t happen permanently. There are just too many bad things in the woods. It was fun while it lasted.

pickles and kraut

I lost a couple of cabbage plants early on to the wetness. Probably a blessing in disguise. While I love sauerkraut, we only eat so much of it during the course of a year, and this head should be just about right for a few pints.

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I bought a large airlock jar a few years back, and it works great for sauerkraut. It’s really simple; just shred the cabbage, mix in salt, cover it with brine after mashing it down, and wait for about three weeks. When it’s done, you can put it into canning jars and process it in a hot water bath for the recommended time.

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I think I’m zeroing in on my understanding of what I like in a pickle. I like canned dills. They’re preserved with vinegar, and that’s great. But what I love is the unprocessed, fresher-tasting kosher dills. No vinegar, just brine.

I tried a batch that went right into the fridge without sitting on the counter, and couldn’t stop eating them. With the newest batch, I’m going to let them sit on the counter for just two days, to see what that does to the flavor.

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the pickles get weighted down with that little plate at the bottom of the picture to keep them under the brine

I really can’t wait. Eight cloves of my Chesnok red garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, hot pepper flakes, coriander seed, mustard seed and fresh dill. I have to stop typing because I’m drooling on my iPad.

And finally, the chickens got to finish off the harvested cabbage plant and take a bath in the garden.

around the place

What a difference a wheel makes. With a trip to the hardware store for a metal rod to serve as an axle and some bits of hardware for keeping the wheels in place, the chicken tiller was transformed from a clumsy, sort of dangerous PVC rectangle into a smoothly-rolling chicken-moving machine.

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It really made a difference to add wheels. No more bouncing and dragging (possibly over chicken legs). Now it just rolls along and the hens barely notice. I highly recommend that if you have chicken tractor plans in mind, add a set of wheels to them from the start.

The girls got their first shot at the garden. They loved it. Especially dirt bathing.

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Elsewhere, the sunflowers love the sun (me too when it’s reasonable).

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And the tomato plants make me happy. But only a couple of ripe ones so far. I honestly do often think about how badly I wanted this time to be here when it was butt-freezing cold in February.

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And after enjoying fresh corn on the cob a couple of nights in a row, it was time to put some into the freezer, along with the never-ending supply of wax beans.

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chicken tractor (tiller) part deuce

The project continues. An old blue plastic pitcher that had been gathering dust for years got a makeover (I knew I was saving that for a good reason, just not exactly which one).

I drilled small holes in the spout and handle, snipped up a clothes hanger for suspension, and installed a leftover poultry nipple. Classy blue chicken waterer.

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Then I dusted off a tiny plastic tarp that I’d bought on sale a while ago (2 for $5), grabbed a few more zip ties, and had instant cover. Also matching classy blue.

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Time for a test drive. The girls were a little freaked for a bit, what with a suddenly expanding universe.

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But soon, in they went. Success! They even enjoyed the classy blue waterer within a few minutes.

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There’s still one concern. The tractor is nice and light, pretty easy to drag. But the chickens are a little flighty and they bunch up as far away from me as they can get, which means at the end being dragged. I think that could spell injured legs for the girls if a foot gets caught under the frame.

I have a set of wheels from and old cart (of course), but retrofitting a PVC frame will be challenging. I’ll have to find an axle the right size and figure out a way to attach it. But one step at a time.

They seemed to love it once the tractor stopped moving. I let them scavenge for a couple of hours and then moved them back into their pen without a hitch.

Now on to the next challenge…wheels.