Today was the day. The day to walk the talk. The day to put up or shut up. The day to poop or get off the pit.
Yesterday’s warm, wet weather assured that the poop wouldn’t be frozen to the pit itself, and today’s mild weather meant working conditions in the coop would be comfortable. Cleaning out the poop pit will never be a fun job, but there’s not fun and then there’s Not Fun. One likes to choose the former over the latter whenever possible.
We planned for cleaning out the poop pit when we designed the coop. The screen door, a last minute design addition which has proved to be the best idea we almost didn’t have, looks like this from the inside of the coop:
The Man made the frame to fit the opening to within a millimeter of its life (and the opening isn’t remotely square); the screen itself is hardware cloth, secured with screws and washers. (Thank you Backyard Chickens Forum!) On warm nights, we don’t even close the outer coop door, but leave the girls with blissful breezes and as much daylight as Mother Nature sees fit to provide.
But the beauty part (and The Man gets all the credit for this) is that it’s removable. Note the latches at each corner. That door is going nowhere when it’s latched up, but, unlatched with the help of a hammer, the screened frame comes right out, opening a full-size doorway to the outside. When the tractor is pulled up to the opening and the bucket is raised, it’s only a couple of feet from poop pit (you can just see the edge, at right) to tractor.
I asked The Man to place the tractor outside the coop’s exterior door before he left for work this morning; the rest was all up to me. As soon as I learned I would be waiting for The Cable Guy from 10am-noon, I got right to work. Without any breakfast. Or even a cup of coffee. In my jammies.
The last time I cleaned out the poop pit was the first time, and I dreaded it. It was going to be heavy and messy and blindingly smelly. Then, it turned out to be none of those things. The contents of the pit were light and dry and odour-free. The whole job took all of ten minutes, so I wasn’t dreading it nearly as much today…
…when the contents of the pit were heavy and messy and blindingly smelly. Oh. My. DOG. It was like moving concrete. Ammonia-saturated concrete. And, yes, there was one escapee when I plunged the shovel in the first time. I was too grossed out to care.
I then sprayed the roosts and edges of the pit with a water-vinegar solution, let it soak, and wiped down the surfaces with paper towels. The last step was to replace the poop chute, which prevents the poop from falling between the pit and the outer wall. An old shower curtain liner, having lived its second act as a dropcloth for painting projects, was cut in half and tacked into place, useful a third time.
As a former voice teacher of mine used to say, “It ain’t beautiful, but it’s better.” (She never said that to me, of course, it goes without saying.)
Having topped up the tractor’s bucket with the poop pit’s contents, I then tossed the pine shavings from the coop floor on the ground outside. Might as well do a real cleaning while I was at it. It was my plan to forgo pine shavings as flooring material, and switch to alfalfa. The mice were having altogether too much fun hiding between the two bales leaning up against the wall, thusly:
My brilliant solution was as follows: I’ll break apart the two bales of alfalfa and use them as flooring in the coop. The chickens will enjoy scratching through it for flowers and seeds, and coop will smell like green tea. The mice will no longer have the pine shavings on the floor in which to burrow and hide, nor will they be able to hide in the bales of alfalfa.
Can you spot the fatal flaw in my reasoning??!!
I was halfway through dismantling the first bale when it struck me: the mice will be able to burrow and hide in the alfalfa flooring just as well as they had in the pine shavings, only they’ll be able to actually eat the alfalfa.
D’oh!!!!! Well, I was in it, now. Time to commit.
It was at this point that a second flaw in my plan made itself apparent. Being a city slicker, and having never taken apart a bale of, well, anything before, I was unprepared for the sheer volume of alfalfa that was now spilling onto the coop floor. It was like watching popcorn pop, or opening one of those fake peanut jars with the huge paper snake in it.
Having only semi-disassembled half of one of the two bales of alfalfa in the coop, I was already calf-deep in alfalfa. Not only were the mice going to be in heaven, but the chickens were going to be drowning in a swamp of alfalfa.
Oh, go ahead…laugh. I don’t mind. It was pretty funny.
I scooped up as much of the disassembled alfalfa as I could and walked out the interior coop door, through the barn’s front doors, around the side of the barn, and threw it into the open run door. I could have mashed it all through the pop door, a shorter trip, to be sure, but that didn’t go so well.
The second bale of alfalfa remains where it was, untouched. I had thought that The Alfalfa Annex would have to be sacrificed for the greater good, but it survived the day. The Alfalfa Annex is dead. Long live The Alfalfa Annex.
Long story short: it was a lot of hard work, but the coop is much cleaner and now smells like vinegar and tea. I saw the three mice this afternoon (yes, there are three of them), as their little heads popped up through the alfalfa flooring, and they seem very happy with the changes. Glad I could be of service.
They may have won the battle, but there’s a new weapon in the war. It seems that mice HATE the smell of peppermint. I will be arming myself with peppermint oil and cotton balls at the earliest opportunity.
The moral of the story is: if you can’t beat them, mint them…