Since the coop went into operation in late May of last year, I have shoveled out the poop pit and cleaned down the roosts twice. This maintenance has been more than sufficient, especially as I use sand for the coop litter, which I find, with daily scooping, goes a long way to keeping a very clean coop. Your mileage may vary.
But, once a year, a coop really needs a comprehensive cleaning for the health of the flock. With the one-year anniversary of the coop looming, and seeing as I have vulnerable babies about to make the coop their home, I decided that now was the perfect time to do…what I really didn’t want to do.
Saturday was the ideal day: not too hot, not too sunny. Having purchased thirteen bags of washed all-purpose sand and two bags of play sand, I girded my loins for a hard day’s night. This is a long post; I do apologise. It was a long day.
First job, shovel out the remaining sand. My favourite feature of our coop is this removable screen door:
It’s secure enough to leave the exterior door open during warm nights for superior ventilation, but removable for ease of mucking out the coop. The Man can be downright genius.
Once all the old sand was shoveled out the doorway (and let’s not gloss over the physical accomplishment there; sand be heavy), I shoveled out the poop pit, and the Stepdaughters and I set to work washing down every single dust- and poop-covered surface with a water/vinegar solution. Feeder, roosts, walls, doors…sand be dusty. Chickens be poopy.
As this was going on, I had two hens wanting to lay in the coop nesting boxes, and they were unamused. Tallulah arrived, ready to lay, just as Stepdaughter the Elder had removed all the pine shavings from the nesting boxes. I tried to convince Tallulah to use the Baby Box in the showroom of the barn; she had discovered it, after all. But she wasn’t having it.
We broke for lunch at this point in the proceedings, and Stepdaughter the Elder returned to the coop to find that Tallulah had laid while we’d been in the house. In the coop nesting box. On the bare plywood floor. With no litter whatsoever. From a standing position.
Her egg was dented in at the pointy end. It had exited Tallulah’s body, and dropped eight inches, pointy end down, as eggs do, to the bare wood below. Gravity is a harsh mistress, gentle reader.
We cooked up the egg and gave it to the chickens. The circle of life can be ironic. And delicious.
So, now the coop was completely cleaned out. I couldn’t replace the sand until the brooder crates were set up, and I hadn’t completely thought that through. Hey…plan early, plan twice. If it’s good enough for the Marines, it’s good enough for me.
I decided to place the two medium dog crates on their sides; they’re taller than they are wide, so this placement gives the babies more floor area. They can’t use the rocky all-purpose sand I use for the big girls, which is why I had bought play sand. But how would I contain the finer play sand within the perimeters of the crates? And how would I keep precious heat inside the crates, and vicious, jealous hen beaks out?
Stepdaughter the Elder solved the problem: blankets. More precisely, the ivory fleece panels which were her bedroom curtains before we redecorated last year. We had used them to drape over Buffy’s crate when she was recovering inside the house; now they were going to be repurposed again.
It was at this point in deliberations, by the way, that Abby decided she wanted to lay. Not wanting another cracked egg, I quickly lined “her” nesting box with all-purpose sand. Why the change from shavings to sand? Sand stays cool; shavings keep warm. If a girl’s going to hang out on her belly on a surface, for as long as hours, making you breakfast, no less, she should be comfortable. That’s what I think, anyway. Hence, pine shavings for cold weather, sand for warm.
Abby did not appreciate my thoughtfulness. She stared at the sand as though it were dog poo. What is THIS?! Chickens do not like change. She ran in and out of the coop several times, doing her best Chicken Little, screaming at us as though we were pursuing her with an axe. She finally just stood in the nesting box, on the sand, for the longest time, and then settled down to lay. Chickens may hate change, but they have very short memories. It works out.
That drama over, it was back to the brooders. In my characteristically short-sighted way, I started out actually sewing the fabric to the crate. Fortunately, sanity prevailed early on, and I soon thought of a much simpler, less labour-intensive way to fix the fabric to the crate bars: clothes pins.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…the clothes pin brooder:
Turkeys to the left; chickens to the right. The chicken wire slanted rooftop is to keep the older girls from roosting atop the brooders, as they inevitably would, showering their abundant droppings onto the babies below. There will be coverings over the front when the babies arrive.
Once the fabric floors of the brooders were filled with play sand (yes, I brood with sand, not with more-popular shavings…I made that decision one week in with my first chicks), I could cover the rest of the coop floor with the all-purpose sand. I moved and emptied fifteen bags of sand, each weighing 60 pounds. I’ll wait while you do the math.
So now we have a minty-fresh coop, ready for babies. Well, almost ready. I still need to set up food and water, and the all-important heat source, but there’s plenty of time for that.
The girls have already adjusted to the crates invading their space (and they take up MUCH more floor space than I had anticipated), except that I had to rescue six of them from atop the roosts this morning. You see, I took away their landing strip.
I had thought my body would give me hell the next day, and the day after that. But, I was surprised to feel okay, even if my knees sounded, and felt, like bags of shattered glass.