See you September 2nd. Enjoy what’s left of summer.
Posts Tagged ‘heat wave’
Well, a sick kid and work ramping up has conspired against tales of chickenry. However, this photo should prove there is plenty to talk about. Perhaps next week. Enjoy the crushing heat wave.
The chickens moved out of our house and into the coop about a year ago. Maybe it’s a little less than a year, but given how time dragged during the building of the coop, I’m going to call it even. Whether you clean out all bedding regularly, or do like I do and use the “deep litter” method and just keep adding more shavings, it’s probably a good idea to clean everything out and wash it down every so often. When I was starting out, I read something that suggested doing this once a year, and so, with it being almost a year, my thoughts turned to the Big Coop Cleanout. I wasn’t terribly excited about this, as cleaning of most kinds gives me anxiety, but at least I only had to clean. I didn’t have to clean and organize, so it could have been worse.
The one thing I knew would help me out was that I had built the coop with this annual event in mind. On the backside of the coop I have a board that is held in place by wing nuts. My idea was that once a year I would remove this board, sweep everything into the wheelbarrow, which I’d park right in back, and everything would be easy. Now it was time for the big test of this plan. I’ll admit that I had worried at first that the bolts I used in conjunction with the wing nuts might rust, but I will also admit that I had forgotten about that worry. So the good news is that I had not worried at all. The bad news is that I was right about the bolts rusting. However, these bolts were too long in the first place, and really only laziness and forgetfulness had kept them intact. So I undid each wing nut to the farthest point it would go before sticking, and then used a hacksaw to cut the bolt before that point. They then came off fine, and I removed my magic board.
I was greeted with a giant wall of pine shavings, visible chicken poops, and many more poops lurking deep in the pile. I girded my loins, picked up a rake, and plunged it into the coop.
I think my loins were the wrong thing to gird, because the rake didn’t work so great. I went back inside and got a shovel and the metal rake we use for the driveway gravel. I have never had good luck using the shovel in the coop, so I don’t know why I even brought that out. I think I just wanted to feel like I had options. The metal rake, flipped over so the non-pointy side was down did the trick. The bedding came right out, more or less into the wheelbarrow. I’m not going to claim I got it all in there, but I got enough in there. The floor of our coop is covered in linoleum that I ripped out of one of our bathrooms, and if you have the chance to put some linoleum in your coop, I highly recommend it. It was the perfect smooth surface for raking the shavings out, and it also protects the wood from the nasty moist things that come out of chickens.
When I originally read about this cleanout process, the instructions I read said to use bleach to clean everything in the coop off. I didn’t remember the ratio of bleach to water, and I didn’t want to overdo it, so I did an internet search to get a recipe. Remember how I’m always saying that people have opinions on the internet? Well, they had opinions about this too. Not only about how much bleach to use, but whether you should use bleach at all, or even if you should ever even clean the coop. Looking at the cobwebs that collected in the corners of the ceiling, I found myself on the side of, “yes, I should clean the coop once in a while.” As far as the bleach went, the internet made a good case about “do you really want to expose your chickens to this?” I don’t even like to use bleach in the house, if I can help it. I tend to use vinegar if I need to disinfect things, you know, because hippies. Why was that good for the house, but not the chickens? There were plenty of people who did do the annual cleanout who used vinegar, and they reported no health issues. The good thing was that if there was a patch of vinegar that didn’t dry before the chickens went back in, it wasn’t going to kill them. And it would smell a whole lot better than bleach, unless you don’t like salad. So I sprayed the whole inside of the coop, the roost, and the nesting buckets with vinegar, and then wiped everything down. I feared that the towel I used might no longer be among the living by the end of the process, but at least it would have died in the service of cleanliness. However, after a trip through the washer, it’s as good as new. It’s a Too Many Chickens! miracle. Anyway, some people say to follow a vinegar wash with peroxide, but I was fine with just doing vinegar. I opened all the vents to air it out and let it dry, and when everything seemed o.k., I threw down more pine shavings. It looked ridiculously empty. I guess when you’re used to a year’s worth of chips, enough to just cover the floor is about 5 inches too few.
The chickens have not registered any sort of complaints about any of this. I think they may be weirded out by how spacious it seems without the extra chips, but we’re all getting used to it.
As I was wiping off the nesting buckets, I wondered if maybe I should take out the one they never use, since they never use it. They are pretty into the other one. I put it back just to not change too much. And of course, since they can read my mind, they have been using the one they never used to use quite a bit now. I guess they needed to change things up, and this cleanout was enough to get them to act on it. The salad smell has subsided, and I think we are getting back to whatever normal is around here. It wasn’t so bad, but I don’t mind waiting another year before I do this again.
Sooner or later, you’re going to have bugs or smells or bugs and smells in your coop or run or coop and run. Bugs and smells are things that will find a way. If we could harness their power to appear, we could solve the energy crisis, but instead we continue to push things like fracking, when the money is in bugs and smells. Anyway, let’s focus on saving the coop or run or coop and run. I’ll deal with saving the world later.
I have been pretty fortunate to not have had much of a problem with bugs or smells, or maybe I have just have a high tolerance for them. Where we live has a lot of bugs. You’ve got your ants, your piercing/sucking mouthpart parasites, a.k.a. humungous mosquitoes, various flying stinging S.O.B.s, and then loads of dragonflies, which I actually totally enjoy having. The green ones seem to be especially friendly, and even let you pet them. On the flip side of that, we also have these weird woodland roaches that live in the leaf litter. If there’s one thing we have, it’s poison ivy. If there’s a second thing, it’s leaf litter, so we’ve got these roaches everywhere. They fly, too, just to be the total package. Luckily, if the roaches go near the coop or run, they’re going to get eaten. Circle of life. Most of the other bugs aren’t that interested in chickens. What you’re going to have a lot of is flies, because you’re also going to have a lot of poop. Flies are into that. So controlling the poop is a start. This helps with both the flies and the smell.
So how do you control the poop? Well, to start, keep the coop clean. If you’re not keeping the coop clean, you may have bigger problems than stink. What I do is put clean pine shavings down on top of any fresh coop poop in the morning, and then once a week I clean out the under-the-roost area. That’s where it’s all concentrated. For the rest of the coop, I do what’s called the “deep litter method,” which involves adding more shavings, and getting the chickens to mix any old poop around so it’s not near the surface. You do this by throwing treats in there, and they mix it all up by scratching around. There’s not that much poop actually mixed in there, at least in my coop, since they only really are in the coop to sleep or lay eggs. It doesn’t really smell like anything.
The run is where I’ve had problems with smells, but really only if it’s been wet or humid. These last few weeks have been kind of brutal in terms of humidity, and even then, I only notice a smell if I’m standing right next to the run. The times it has been bad, what I’ve ended up doing is dusting everything with diatomaceous earth. This is powder made from fossilized micro-organisms called diatoms. The cool kids call it D.E. I’m not sure why it works on smells, but I do a dusting, and everything smells fine until the next rainstorm. You can also try putting sand in the run, or even straw, but I’ve never had the smell get so bad that I felt the need to try that. Which is good, because straw can get icky if it rains, and there’s one more thing to have to clean out. The nice thing about D.E. in the run is that when the chickens take dust baths, they get coated in the D.E., which can help control mites.
Diatomaceous earth also works wonders for bugs in the coop. The diatoms are broken into tiny pieces, and these pieces will do a number on the exoskeletons of insects. I will periodically sprinkle some in the coop just as a preventative measure. It gets mixed around in the bedding as the birds walk on it, and so there’s no place to hide. The main thing to be concerned with is that you get food grade D.E. That’s o.k. for animals to come into contact with. Feed stores usually have it, since this is such a tried and true remedy for a lot of things. If you do any sort of search online for “bugs in the coop,” the first line of defense is always D.E. If things get bad enough, you may have to take everything out of the coop, bleach it (don’t bleach the chickens, though), and then put it all back when it dries, and keep the chickens out while it’s drying. This is a good thing to do once a year anyway, but the mood is much different if you’re doing it because you’ve got a critter invasion.
Speaking of critter invasions, diatomaceous earth is something that works wonders on bedbugs too. Put your mattress in a bag, dump some D.E. in there, seal it up, and after about a week, you should be good. You not only get to say the word “diatomaceous,” but you win out over bedbugs too. Of course, no one really wins when bedbugs are involved. Not even me. I get itchy just saying that word. I brought this on myself.
There’s no Garden Guys Green Revolution Radio this week, and as a result, no Too Many Chickens! Enjoy the lack of the sound of my voice/sight of my words. And don’t forget (if you’re in the area) to come see me at the Chelmsford Farmer’s Market, next Thursday, July 11th, from 3-4. Or just wait for a new episode on the 12th. Whatever your deal is.
This week’s heat wave has passed, but it’s not even July yet. I’m sure there will be more heat to come, so I thought I’d share some ideas with you about how to keep your chickens cool in the summertime. Like many other living things, chickens don’t like extreme heat. What I have found comforting in my attempts to keep my chickens safe in both the cold and the heat is that lots of places have hotter summers and colder winters than where I live, and people manage to keep their chickens alive through it. That’s not an excuse to slack, but it does keep me from completely freaking out with worry. I need that from time to time.
The big thing you obviously need to do is make sure the chickens have fresh water at all times during the heat. This is actually something you should be doing anyway, so it’s an easy step. I’m away at work all day, so I fill up the water first thing in the morning when I let them out. In the summer, I just fill up the water container with the hose, and then usually manage to spill it all over myself. Newly awake, I then try again, and usually do better on the second attempt. I also like to put some apple cider vinegar in the water. It’s good for the chickens, and it also helps to keep crud from growing inside there. When it gets warm, that’s a thing that likes to happen. You should still clean it out every once in a while, though. Vinegar is an amazing thing, but it can only do so much. Sorry vinegar, but it’s true.
Frozen vegetables are another item people like to give their birds in the heat. I’ve read about people putting frozen broccoli in a suet feeder and letting them peck at it all day. That’s akin to another popular one, which is to freeze a cabbage and hang it where they can peck at it. I just toss the frozen stuff in the run, and let them go at it. I like to keep it casual. You don’t have to freeze the stuff, either. Even refrigerated watermelon will do the trick. Is there anyone who doesn’t like watermelon? I haven’t met them, and frankly, I don’t want to. This is one reason I like chickens. They’re on the watermelon tip.
Since I’m not around a lot of the day to keep presenting the chickens with various cooling off items, it’s important that they have a lot of shade. In my general luck with building the coop, I picked a good spot. They get nice morning sun, but by afternoon, they get shaded by some trees. They also have space under the coop where they can go if they need shade at any time. That seems to be their favorite spot. I often find them just sitting there in the dirt. This freaked me out at first, but now that I know they haven’t all lost the use of their legs, I’m o.k. with it. They hang out in the dirt and also take dust baths there. I had considered hosing down the run before I left for the day, but since they use dust baths to cool off, I didn’t want to take that away from them.
Technology can also play a big role in the cooling of chickens. Some people just hook up box fans near their coops and let them rip. Ours is too far from electricity to pull this off. I’d have to run an extension cord, and that brings issues of its own, not the least of which is what to do if one of the thunderstorms that tends to accompany heat waves hits. Now I’ve got wet electricity all over the yard. If I had power out there, I’d give it a try, but for now, maybe not unless I’m home. Fans are totally the low end of the spectrum here too. I’ve read about people investing in “misters,” and they’re not talking about the little spritz bottles. They’re talking about devices like the ones supermarkets use to keep their produce damp. I guess it’s like running under the sprinkler for chickens. It’s neat, but expensive, and there’s a saying about wet hens that makes me think twice about this. When I see the cost involved, I only have to think once.
What always appeals to me about keeping chickens is the wide array of ingenuity that you see when you’re looking for a solution to a problem. Keeping chickens cool in the heat is no exception. You can keep it low tech like me, or go all out, if money is no object. My feelings usually veer towards thinking that the more complicated something is, the more headaches it can potentially cause. I will do my best to keep them safe and happy with the more rudimentary end of the heat busting spectrum. I guess you can call me a paleo-chicken guy. But don’t, or I’ll hit you over the head with my caveman club.