Sunday, March 31, 2013

Finally Spring!

Spring is finally here!  Even during the 30 degree days, the angle of the sun provides enough direct sunlight to warm ones shoulders and give the needed reassurance that indeed, for reals, Spring is truly on its way and all is good in the Universe.

Spring means work, getting ready for the coming growing season and cleaning up all that is revealed by the melting snow. 

It has been a while since my last post.  At that time we we're raising a new batch of baby chickens.  The older hens just aren't laying the way that they used to and there we're predation issues (raccoons mainly). With care, they all (except one that was killed by an unknown predator during an experimental trial of letting them out during the winter - it was a hark or an owl that got it since there we're no tracks leading to the kill scene) made it through the winter time.  With the aid of a 400 watt heating lamp and some exterior insulation, they all spent the winter cooped up in their 4x16 living space.

Until only recently, the chickens spent all of their time in this small space.  This was not an issue for a while, since they we're still young and small, but recently the situation shifted to a need for more space and free-range-chicken exercise.  Just in time!  The weather is breaking now and the chickens are able to get outside and be chickens.

Today was the day  to clean out the chicken coop.  I knew it was getting pretty bad.  Maybe next year I will make it a point to do this sort of job more periodically.  I certainly maintain and change their bedding often during the rest of the year, but this years winter seemed to go on forever and I couldn't make myself do it.  Also, there is freezing that occurs.  The collected layer of dropping intermixed with the straw/hay substrate below begin to freeze into a very well stratified rigid structure that defies physical coersion and if one waits too long (so I have learned) a solid and growing block of frozen chicken shit piss straw bugs etc will be so massive that it only makes sense to wait until there is a chance of thaw sometime please and thank you, Ma'am, in March.

So, fresh bedding just kept being applied and really after all, during the hard winter that substrate is going to be at or around freezing, if not colder (yeah, colder), so it was not going to be particularly stinky, etc.  But now, it really is Spring.  I knew one of these weekends coming up soon I would have to address the big thawing layer of .. It was today that I had the pleasure of cleaning out about 5 months worth of composting hay and straw laden with chicken manure, a few hefty layers of it, that had built up during the winter.  

Below is a picture of what was the worst of it.  This is the back door of the coop that is located right behind where they all roost, and therefore where most of the manure is located.  By my rough count, I moved over 1000 pounds of the stuff into new compost heaps that we prepare to be used in late Spring.  My nose tells me it should be pretty good stuff.  I think this was about 600 pounds, maybe more.

Here is the same area with fresh alfalfa hay.  Putting a layer of hay or stray underneath where they roost is a great way to catch all of their crap and its ready to go for composting.  

The manure being kinda randomly distributed and layered in the hay/straw substrate this will be a great starter mix to help fuel the composting (an art to which I claim no ownership nor expertise in) process.  And it' easy to whisk away.  The crap that is.  When it's all glommed onto a bulk of something else that is easy-whisk-awayable.  Yeah.

Things in the green house or more or less not happening.  Except compost that is.  

We used the greenhouse during the winter for kitchen compost and managed to fill in quite a large hole, like maybe a yard even.  Just stuff from each day collected that we knew the chickens wouldn't want would get collected and put in there.  I continued the compost pile, extending the hole and layering the chicken manure mash as I brought it from the coop to the greenhouse, covering it with a layer of soil and repeating again or 4 times.  It was good to see that there was a healthy worm population in the soil as I dug through the dirt.  With a little tending, the compost should be ready by late May. 

So, yes our chickens are making a lot of manure.  They are fully grown now!  Here are a few shots of them in the coop.

Bardrock sitting on an egg

Look at the variety of eggs!  Most striking among them are the pale blue/green eggs.  These we're laid by the variety of chicken known as the 'Easter Egger'.  Easter Egger chickens lay these colored eggs that range in shades of light blue and light green.  

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