aka How I Learned to Make Deep Litter Work for Me.
Last summer, I made the discovery of a chicken keeping practice known as Deep Litter. The idea is to keep about 3-5 inches of your preferred bedding on the floor of your coop, cleaning it out every so many months, as opposed to every day.
The chickens are supposed to help, by scratching and pawing in the bedding, turning it with their feet in search of bugs, food, etc, and causing the bedding to aerate.
The bedding, in turn, slowly decomposes and breaks down over time, and by the time you give it a good deep cleaning and fresh litter, the old has become the right consistency for garden compost.
Or so all the websites I researched told me.
Sadly, all last winter and summer, I failed to see evidence that my chickens were doing any of this turning and scratching. If anything, they walked on it and compacted it, leaving me to do all the hard work myself.
That is… until last week when I got tired of turning the bedding with my trusty bedding fork and decided to – gasp – leave the bedding I had just turned in two big piles in the middle of the coop.
I came back later that night and the piles were gone.
Why? Because as any chicken person can tell you – chickens LOVE piles. Dirt, leaves, grass, compost…. whatever kind of pile you have, your chickens will find them and play in them.
By the time I came back to do my last egg-check and lock up for the night, they had it all spread back into place. I’ll leave them more piles in a couple of days, and they’ll have something to keep them busy for a little while.
Overall, it makes for a good winter boredom-buster, too, if you think about it!
I’m still learning, but I like it. It’s less work for me. When I first started, I was cleaning the coop every day, sometimes for more than 2 hours at a time, and it was tedious. Deep litter put a stop to that. Now, I just clean off the roosts and the droppings board, and the occasional poop in the laying beds. Max time – IF I don’t stop and play with the chickens – half hour to do everything. That’s quite a jump from 1-2 hours. Although, let’s face it. I do play with the chickens while I work. It’s how I roll.
It’s true. Felicia is growing more and more to look and act like a little roo-ling. I just can’t bring myself to call him Felix, so Felicia he remains.
My little Miracle Max… or Maxie. Who looks scarily like a female version of Dots.
The Dalmies… so named because of their Dalmatian-esque color scheme… have been given Dalmatian worth names… this one is Pongo, named after the father dog in 101 Dalmatians. Pongo is mostly white,with the black spots on the back, tail and neck,but is growing up to have a slightly smokey grey color in the head and neck.
I am uncertain if Pongo is just in need of a bath or if this is a really cool color variant. Since none of the others look dirty, I have to hope it’s the latter. 😉
Dalmie #2 is named after the female Dalmation… Perdita, or Perdie. Like Pongo, she has black splotches on her back, neck and tail. But rather than the smokey grey, Perdie has gold/red in her neck and chest feathers. It’s really kind of neat!
The gold/red is the same color as my sexlinks… Abby and the Mystery Bin girls. If we’re right in thinking that Pongo and Perdie are Pip’s babies, then this is his sexlink heritage coming out in Perdie.
Aren’t barnyard mixes interesting? You really never know what you’re going to get!
DH and I spent some time working in the coop today, working on a project that I hope will make our coop more economical and less time consuming.
When DH first built the coop, almost two years ago, it had thirty-six laying boxes and no roosts.
We added the roosts last year.
Today, we removed some of the laying boxes, as most have been unused due to strange chicken logic that says they must lay in the same three boxes no matter how many are empty. If you have chickens, you understand that logic. It’s just how they are.
So, we tore out over half the boxes, going from 36 to 16. We put up new roosts in place of the removed boxes, with a droppings board beneath.
The testing committee (as you can see) consists of Pip, Pavel, Felicia, Maxie and the Dalmies.
They seem to approve of the finished product, although there were many complaints lodged during the in-going process.
It is my hope that this change will result in less time spent cleaning, because all Ill really need to do is clean off the roosts and dropping boards. And also it should save us money because I won’t have as many beds to fill, so the wood shavings should go a little further.
Fart eggs. Rooster eggs. Whatever you want to call them, it’s the term for a teeny tiny egg that sometimes gets laid and often has no yolk.
They can be laid by new layer whose bodies aren’t used to laying eggs yet,or by older hens who may be having reproductive issues.
I found one in the coop last night at bedtime.
Now, we do have two little hens who are just a little over 20+ weeks, and who have started hanging out in the coop more, checking out the nests. One is our chocolate Orpington, Hershey. The self-proclaimed Queen of Fluff.
The other, of course, is her sister, the ever curious little Pavel. Pavelle.
The only thing keeping me from thinking it’s Pavel’s egg, though, is the fact that this little egg is a nice brown color, and the egg Pavel hatched from was more of a very pale peachy-pink. Almost white, but not quite.
Now, there is also Abby, who could decide to go back the business of laying eggs any day now. Just because it’s winter is no reason to think she won’t. She went right back to it last winter, with Pip sitting in the empty nest beside her because he had no clue what his Momma was doing. (and the proceeded to sit in the nest with her newly laid egg afterwards, because apparently she’d left it alone and it needed baby sat. Ah, Pip! A big brother, even then!)
We also have all the Rhode Islands Red who’ve been in and out of various stages of molting this winter.
So… anyone could have laid the teeny tiny egg, really.
A few more pics for size comparison. We had a normal-sized tiny egg (which I assume is Hersehy’s new egg?) the day before, in the same nest. So it could be Hershey’s tiny fart egg.
As you can see, it didn’t have a yolk, just incredibly thick whites. And the shell was hard to crack. Like really. It was thinker than I imagined it would be.
Our neighbor has turkeys. White ones. Or rather, our neighborhood has turkeys. White ones.
You see? They free range everywhere, and don’t care whose farm they are on. Not only that, but these are second generation turkeys. The neighbor’s tom and most the first flock died, and the hen mated with wild turkeys… to produce this:
They like our farm, and since the end of summer, they’ve been coming and visiting. Checking out the garden. Eating out of the bird feeders. I’ve even caught them checking out the chickens from the other side of the fence.
Dots and Pip usually meet them on our side, all bluster and bucks and warnings about whose pasture it is.
Today, the wandering white turkeys decided to check out the inside of the chicken pasture.
I was surprised, because they didn’t hurt my chickens. Just walked around doing their own thing. Pavel and several of the hens ran over to check it out. One of them puffed up his feathers at Pavel but did not attack or anything. Given they’ve been running wild for months and months, I was a little worried when she ran right up to them!
Well, I promised an actual flock update, because I haven’t given one in a while.
There’s not much to say about the old ones. They hate the nasty Cold White and some of them are still in various stages of molt.
Is this normal molting? I envisioned them losing their feathers in October/November…not January! And yet, aside from Amy, I know I have at least four more hens who are in the midst of a slow molt. Does it always take this long? I’m so glad we haven’t have negative temperatures, because they would freeze! Especially Amy! I mean, look at her!
I’ve been feeding them Feather Fixer mixed in with their regular food, because I heard it helps them molt quicker/get over it faster. Whatever. I don’t think its working. Or else it is working and they would be molting until June without it??? Again, is this normal for it so long???
Seriously,because I feel so bad for the poor cranky things!
Now…since it is cold and windy today, and the flock all opted to stay inside and bug me while I attempted to clean their beds and fill the feeding tubes, I did manage to get pictures of Ashley’s Babies. They are eleven weeks old. as of yesterday.
The tricky part is that all the white ones – Max and the Dalmies – kind of remind me of Eugenie at that age. She was big,had a slightly pink face, which stood because she is white, and I wasn’t sure at first if she was a henny or a slow-developing roo. Keep that in mind as you look at the white chicks. Feel free to click the pics to make them bigger.
Max looked like a boy when he/she was little,but now I see inklings of a little hen.
I think this is the same one I named Dalmie #1 in previous pics. Not sure.
A gentle reminder that as per Twiglet’s comments on prior posts, we think Pip is the father of the Dalmies.
So… I’m betting anything that Felicia is really Felix. If this chick starts laying eggs in the spring, I will be so surprised.
Well, that’s the scoop on Ashley’s Babies. If you’re up for a game of “Henny or Roo?” Feel free to take your best guesses in the comments.
ETA: If anyone is interested in comparing these chicks to Dani and Eugenie at roughly the same age…
And now… here’s a special treat… Abby’s baby Easter Eggers. The will be 8 weeks on Thursday.
These chicks don’t have names. I’m trying not to name them until I know what they are. That, and Little Dude wants to name them after Sith Lords. And I don’t want an Easter Egger named Darth Maul. *sigh*
The darker chick is smaller, really skittish and mouthy. Based on behavior alone, I think she’s a hen. She is curious about me, but afraid to come close. She likes treats and will eat out of my hand and then yell at me for more when I walk away.
The yellow/buff-ish one is bigger and less skittish, but standoffish. Like a little rooster-in-training. He also likes treats but doesn’t demand them, like his sibling.
Now… these chicks are staying. When the other 2 vanished without a trace, I told DH that under no circumstances were we sending either of these to Freezer Camp if they were roosters. Why? Because he told me I could keep Esther if I really, really wanted, but I flip flopped, and then he said “well, you do have Abby’s 6 eggs.” So I aired on the side of Abby having potentially 6 new EE chicks.
This is why you don’t count your chicks before they hatch, people. Pavel hasn’t forgiven me for sending her favorite brother to Freezer Camp… and Abby only has two chicks.
So…unless the little yellow/buff one has major dominance issues with Dots and Pip, these chicks are here to stay. No matter what.
I’ll end this post by pointing out anew section of the blog I’ve just started working on. Meet The Chickens, a series of bio pages for my flock so that when I say Dots, Abby, Jolene, Wilda… you know who I mean. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but for various reasons, I just haven’t. Mostly because I have over 30 birds at any given time and it’s hard to pinpoint their personalities at a glance. Look for me to do a page or two a month, highlight each bird. Hopefully by the end of 2017, I’ll have gotten them all on there. Right now, it’s just Dots. 🙂
I only ask because half (or more than half) the people on the eastern coast of the U.S. are getting a ton of snow this weekend.
How are your chickens handling it? Do they like snow? Cold weather?
Or if you’re like me and NOT getting a bunch of snow, how do your chickens like it when you do?
Do you do anything to help them get outdoors on the cold days? Or do your chickens mostly stay inside?
Everyone does ‘chickening keeping’ differently, so I’m curious.
Mine are, as frequent readers know, semi-free range. They have a coop, a run, and a fenced in pasture that keeps them away from the road and out of the top of the barn, but doesn’t not prevent predators. They have room to wander and eat grass/bugs/whatever, but not room to hurt themselves trying to cross the actual road.
I chose supposedly ‘winter hardy’ chickens when I was buying breeds, but I’ll be honest, that term does NOT mean that they LOVE winter. Or even like it. In fact, my older birds are downright chicken when it comes to winter. The big babies huddle inside where the Cold White isn’t and make a fuss if I try to get them outside.
My younger group from last spring’s chicks? Actually pretty adventurous. Or maybe they are too afraid of spending all day in the coop with the cranky older girls to be afraid of a little snow?
Pip doesn’t like it. He’d rather be inside with the older ones, but since Dots does, too, one of them has to go outside with girls who want to stay out. So he’s getting used to it, too. In the name of ‘being the Man’ and protecting the flock.
Also, I try to help where I can. I know the snow freezes their toes, so on the mornings when there is snow on the ground but it’s not still snowing, I will spread straw on the ramp and in the run, giving them a place to walk that isn’t cold and wet. I might also entice with warm oatmeal or Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.
Straw on the ramp. They knock most of it down running for the morning feed dish.
See what I mean?
Even Hershey doesn’t mind when she has straw to walk on!
Pip standing guard over some of the adventurous ones.
This isn’t so bad!
Walkin’ in a Winter Wonder land…
One the days when it’s still snowing, I don’t bother. They don’t go outside. Just look at the open door like I’m crazy.
So that’s how I help my chickens ‘enjoy’ winter. How about you?
So today is Pip’s birthday. He is 1 years old today!
Isn’t he handsome? I gave him banana for a morning treat. He shared it with a henny. He’s a good boy!
And now, for the bad news.
Abby is down to two baby Easter Eggers. I don’t know what happened to the other two. They were there with her yesterday morning. Little Dude and went to clean the coop after church and they were all there.
I took pictures of them for their 1st week-aversary post.
So here’s an update on all the chicks. Abby’s and Ashley’s both.
So, I’ll start with Abby’s chicks. Most of her eggs hatched yesterday, a day early.
Five of them hatched yesterday, and Abby held on to the other egg until mid morning and then she moved off the nest to eat and drink. When she does that, I know the egg won’t hatch, so I removed it.
Of the five remaining babies, one of them passed sometime this afternoon. I found it when I came back from grocery shopping. Sad because it was the cutest one (IHMO) and the one I liked the looks of the best.
I am very disappointed about the little yellow-ish colored one. He was different looking from the others.
Okay, so Pip isn’t one of Abby’s new Littles, but he washer very first Little. He spent most of yesterday going in and out of the coop, pacing and just seemed to be hanging out. He and Abby have a special bond. I have often observed that even though most people don’t give chickens credit for ‘family ties’ in the way we humans think of family, Pip and Abby seem to have it. He has ‘helped’ watch after her other hatches, being the protective big brother to Pavel, Hershey and the Boys all summer. He is respectful of her. In my mind, he was pacing the coop yesterday because he could hear the change in her soft buck-bucks and hear the peeps of the babies,and he knew that his Momma was having her babies.
Today is a different story and he was outside helping Papa Dots watch over the flock! But yesterday he was waiting to be a big brother again. Pip, btw, will be 1 year old on the 29th. Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!
Now… Ashley’s babies… some of whom could either be Pip’s little siblings or offspring depending on which hens mated with which rooster… are going to be four weeks old this Sunday.
They are STILL here. They are, however, very difficult to ‘pen down’ to get pictures of. Ashley has kind of reared them to be wild. I walk out to watch them and they run as far away from me as they can.
I did manage to scoop them up and get some comparative pictures tonight, so we can see how they are, and make some early guesses on Hen or Roo.
First up here is Miracle Max. Max is the biggest. No longer yellow, he is mostly white, reminding me a lot of Eugenie. He (I’m guessing Roo) has a big comb, which is already slightly pinkish and the beginnings of jowly wattles.
This one is is Dalmie #1. She has a black spot on her back and a little higher up on her shoulders, otherwise all white. Smaller comb and almost non-existent wattles. She’s slim in body and has slightly more slender legs.
In case you can’t guess, I’m betting on a little henny with this one.
This is the Dalmie #2. He has a big comb and the start of jowly wattles, but his comb isn’t as pink as Max’s. He’s mostly white, but with a strip of black in his tail and a splotch of up in his hackle feathers.
I included a picture of his feet. Both of the Dalmie’s have slightly grey legs. It’s like a combination of the Golden Comet yellow with the grey of the Australorp. I’m willing to bet anything that the Dalmies are white Australorp crosses.
This is Felicia, aka the Cinnamon Bun. I promised a friend I would name one Bye Felicia… and this is the one we chose to bear that name… and I can’t decide if Felicia is really Felicia…. or Felipe. Smaller comb, but bigger than Dalmie #1’s. Slightly noticeable jowls… but not quite.
This chick also is one of the bolder of the four, and I’ve seen him/her butt chests with Max. That’s usually a sign of a boy, except that I’ve seen hens do it, too, even at that age.
Felicia is my Question Mark. Hen, Roo… this chick is going to keep me guessing.
And while you all are guessing … here’s a video I took this morning of the four of them, plus Ashley, playing a rousing game of “It’s mine! It’s mine!” with something they foraged out of the grass.
One of these days, I need to write down my thoughts on the different types of chicken parenting I have observed this year. Abby, Claire and Ashley each have exhibited vastly different styles of chick raising. Abby is a helicopter mom, always close to her chicks, always near by. Vicious if you threaten them. She isn’t afraid to lay into the hen or rooster who get close to her babies. She barely trusts me with them. Claire is an overseer, who leads her babies outside,demonstrates skills and watches them practice til they learn. She lets them roam, but guards the space she’s designated as theirs. No one goes in or out without her leave. Ashley is very hands off and scatter brained. Her babies follow her, learn from watching, but she often just wanders off and leaves them alone while she forages elsewhere. They freak out, cry and cry until she returns. Vastly different from my other mother hens.
Yes, that is a post for another day,when I have more time to collect and present my thoughts. 🙂
I just wanted to share this post, because I have the best roosters in the world.
Double Dots, my Golden Comet (aka sexlink) rooster. He’s a year and a half old and the ‘papa’ of the coop.
Pip, his oldest son, who is now 10 and a half months old. Pip is his father’s right hand man, a protective big brother and learning to be a good boyfriend to the hens.
Dani, (I should call him Danny now but he’s been Dani so long and it sounds the same so he doesn’t know he has a girl name.) who is just trying to earn a place. He’ll probably wind up in Freezer Camp, sadly, but he’s starting to grow into himself.
Do you see the family resemblance between father and sons?
Do you have roosters you think are ‘the best in the world’?