Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quicksand in the Coop

After reading on that sand makes a good bedding or “litter” for coops (see the blog post here) and chicken yards, I decided to give it a try.

We’ve always used pine shavings. But I’d find myself going through a half bale every three weeks or so, and putting a large amount of chicken waste and shavings in the compost pile. We were running out of room. Plus, it just didn’t seem to stay clean and tidy for very long.

We scraped out all of the shavings (when K built the coop, he put down an industrial grade vinyl tile that makes it very easy to clean). K calculated how much sand we could put on the floor of the coop based on weight. There are times when it comes in handy to have an engineering type in the family. He determined how much sand would weigh per square foot and magically calculated that the coop floor would handle a 2-inch depth of sand just fine.

We used construction grade sand (not the fine sandbox grade). It wasn’t dusty, and immediately felt cleaner somehow.  We use a fine tine small rake to lightly rake the droppings from the sand. Instead of about two cubic feet of waste going to compost, we’re putting about a garden shovel full – maybe about four cubic inches – into the bins. It works beautifully. It keeps the girls’ feet and toenails cleaner. We thought it was a great solution.

The next morning, the hens seemed to have forgotten that they walked on the sand to get to their roosts the night before. They typically hop down in the morning as quickly as they can. But when K opened the coop door the morning after the litter change, they seemed to think that someone had filled their coop with dangerous quicksand. 

(I'll attempt to post a video here... ) The big hens look down and shift around on their roost. They aren't sure what to do. The little hens are afraid to hop out of the nesting boxes, and Betty Boop, the Polish Crested, paces back and forth on her perch and looks bewildered by this sudden shift in footing (I think Bewildered is her middle name). All were highly suspicious. Once coaxed out with a treat, they made the leap into the unknown, and have grown accustomed to the sandy surface now. All the droppings from the night before were easily scooped up in a few minutes, and their coop was tidy again. 

And in case you wondered... Chickens do look before they leap. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Louise's Close Call

Louise, before her close encounter with Mr. Fox.

It was about 6 p.m. The sun was shining, and it was a nice summer evening. We were having dinner. The Weimaraner barked, but this was not taken seriously, since he barks at everything from butterflies to snowmen. 

But then we heard a chicken sending up a noisy alarm on the side of the house. M hopped up from the table and looked out the window.

“There’s a fox! In the yard! Chasing a chicken!”

All four of us scattered, running out of the house like it was a fire drill. (Our Dalmatian decided this was an opportune time to eat M’s sandwich. He was not concerned about the chickens. At all.)

We’d seen a fox scouting out the coop, and knew it had taken hens from nearby yards. In the backyard, Oreo was making noise, and the four young pullets were in a corner, looking worried. Violet, Pearl, Pip, and Thelma were also present and accounted for. But Louise was not. I herded the nine safe hens into the run and locked them up. M realized Wilson, the rabbit, was out hopping around, so she put him in his hutch.

The girls kept looking for Louise. I felt bad that I’d been complaining about her, but must admit that of all the hens, she was the one that I’d miss the least because she was so mean to the others. But still, I didn’t want her to come to a bad end.

Suddenly, M called out from the front yard that she’d found her. I held my breath, wondering if she was hurt, but by the time I got to the front yard, M was holding her and the hen looked sound, if a little bug eyed. “She was hiding under a bush. She’s breathing really fast,” she said.

She handed me Louise, whose feet gripped my hand tightly. No bluff and bravado from a normally cheeky hen. I carried her back to the chicken yard, opened the door and carefully put her among friends. She stood up, looked around, recovered herself and began to tell everyone all about her great escape. 

I left them to settle in, but I think I was feeling as rattled as they were. After cleaning up the dishes I went back out to check on them, and where they had been two distinct little flocks between new and old hens, they were suddenly one united group. I have heard that trauma will cause a flock to bond and pecking order to change. They all stood grouped together and even Louise—who normally pecks at Betty’s strange fluffy head—was wing-to-wing with the new hens like they were best buds. Any port in a storm.

No sign of Mr. Fox. But it looks like the hens’ free-ranging evenings are going to be curtailed sharply. K is working on enlarging their yard a bit, but until then, they’ll be sharing close quarters.