Dear listeners, we’ve been talking about chickens for a while now, and I feel like we know each other. I’m finally comfortable enough to have this discussion with you.
Any new creature that enters your life brings with it its own unique forms of poop. When my wife and I first got a dog, we would delightedly email or call each other to report his bowel habits. “He’s been eating rocks again. It looks like cookie dough ice cream,” I’d say. Then we’d laugh hysterically about how we HAD to talk about poop. It was for his health. The dog walker notebook became a daily log of hilarity.
Kids are the same way. Not that the dog walker is chronicling the poops of children, though I suppose it’s possible. But poop is a window into the inner workings of little creatures who can’t tell you when they feel bad. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes they have a blowout in a restaurant so bad that it shoots out the back of their pants. Not that I know about this. I wasn’t so easy to gross out to begin with (unless you count the time my dad rented Blood Feast to watch while we ate Thanksgiving dinner), and having a kid has made me so numb to bodily horrors that I sometimes think I could eat a sandwich while changing a diaper and not be bothered. It would be hard in terms of not having enough hands, but not as much in terms of yucko. I have read that revulsion to bodily functions is a manifestation of a fear of one’s mortality. I must be ready to die.
So the chickens came into a home where poop is just something that happens. Chickens mix it up by actually expelling something that is both pee and poop, in a way. It’s like poop in form, but pee in chemistry. Luckily, when they are cute little chicks, their poops are also very cute. What makes it even better is that when they’re really small, they do a little dance before it happens. One day I walked in, and one of our chicks stuck her wings out and started wiggling her butt, and I thought, “She’s practicing laying an egg, how adorable,” and then a turd shot out. “Oh,” I said. I then came to enjoy catching the poop-egg dance, because it was still very cute, and at this point, it didn’t really smell at all, and was so small as to not really be a big deal.
However, there comes a time when a child’s poop goes from weird scrambled egg thing to a smaller version of adult dung, which, while lesser in size, packs all the stink of its larger counterpart. I knew this was bound to happen to with the chickens some day. And when it did happen, I was leaning over the brooder. That whole “pee in the poop” thing makes it smell nice and ammonia-y. I had smelled this smell before. One time my friend’s boss took us out to dinner in Chinatown. As we were leaving the restaurant, there was one of those old-timey shop scales in the trash on the curb. “I can’t believe they’re throwing that out,” I said. I grabbed it and threw it in the trunk of my car. When I got into the car, I smelled something awful. “Man, something stinks around here,” I said.
“Oh God,” said my friend’s boss. “It’s chicken crap. Your gloves. It’s chicken crap.” I smelled my gloves to confirm her accusations. I should not have done that. The scale came from a butcher, and was covered in chicken leavings. Some of the very same chicken leavings that were now on my gloves. I could at least wash those. The scale got hidden in the bushes in front of my friend’s apartment building. So anyway, in large doses, this is not a good smell.
In small doses it’s not so hot either, but it’s manageable.
If you keep on top of coop cleanliness, it’s not that big a deal. Each morning I cover last night’s “productions” with some new pine shavings, and then once a week I clean it all out. What I take out of the coop goes into a pile to mellow out for a while. Chicken poop is a fantastic fertilizer, but it seems it’s even too potent for nature at first. After about a year it’s ready to go into the garden. So I have a regular compost pile, and a dedicated chicken one. I haven’t even had the chickens for a year at this point, so I won’t be using their “handiwork” in the garden this summer, but soon enough they’ll be helping us with food that isn’t eggs.
Another angle to all this is that as the chickens grow, so do the poops. Sometimes I’d think the birds got bigger, but it can be hard to tell. I’m not out there with a measuring tape charting their growth, and sometimes a size change sneaks up on you. But then I’d open the coop, and it would be obvious. A small growth in outer size can sometimes make a large change intestinally. It makes me very glad that people chart their children’s growth by height and not other means. You really don’t want to look in the closet and find that measurement written on the door jamb. Or maybe you do. Just keep me out of it.