Yup, chicken keeping sure is a learning experience. Not that I mind, mind you. I don't mind at all. That's part of the fun of chicken keeping: learning new stuff about chickens and how to keep them.
That red part at the back is the coop and the part enclosed by wire is the run. They also get to free range most days. They're out now, but, due to the snow still on the ground, they're not ranging much. They don't seem to care for walking in snow.
The deep litter method (DLM) is actually used inside a coop and utilizes inches upon inches of litter. But this is what our coop looks like inside.
However, we are trying out using several inches of wood shavings in the run bc:
- Although the eglu is movable, we don't expect to be moving it very often during the winter.
- E.g., during the fall, we moved it a couple of times each week. That gave the girls fresh grass to root around in every few days. Most of our yard has been covered in snow for a week or so now, so there's no fresh grassy place to move the coop.
- The other thing about moving the coop is that we like to use the optional stakes to keep the predator proofing apron on the run snug to the ground. It's really, really difficult to get the stakes in and out of frozen ground. In fact, we don't have them in now bc when we made what was the final move of the year, the ground had already frozen. It took a crowbar to get them out of the ground and neither of us was into trying to get them into frozen ground. Right now we're using heavy stuff to weigh down the apron.
- So the girls will be on the same patch for some time now, which could get gross and boring.
- The shavings will help to keep the manure from building up and getting gross and the girls basically wading through their own manure. Now I know that chickens walk through their own manure all the time, but when they don't have a lot of space to work with, it gets pretty gross.
- The shavings will give them something to scratch up; something in which to dust bathe; something relatively warm on which to sit. Some people throw scratch right into the deep litter. The chickens scratch around in it, thereby getting in some of their instinctive scratching behaviors and moving around/aerating the litter (which means less aerating I need to do). I hadn't tossed the scratch in bc I didn't know if they'd find it or if it would just get lost. According to what I've read from others online, they do find it and they do a fine job of aerating the litter while they're at it. Excellent.
The article, Deep Litter in Chicken Houses by Robert Plamondon, is a good source of information on the DLM. There's this insightful tidbit in the introduction:
Many poultry techniques that were once well-understood became shrouded in mystery after the poultry business shifted to factory farming. The old-time diversified farmers passed away, and there are one or two generations of industrialized farmers between us and them, breaking our cultural continuity. One of the lost ideas is the “deep litter” technique.
Without waxing or waning too poetic, I do feel like there's this big gap between me and my food. Of course, I'm not the only one who feels this way and I think it's a shame that there's so much going on with our food sources and most of us don't know much about it. It came to my attention about a year or two ago when I decided to try to eat more fresh food, less processed food, etc. and realized that there was a lot I didn't know about modern food production. I've only made small strides and I admit to more than my share of lapses in judgement wrt food choices, but I basically cut myself a wide swath of slack. E.g., every two weeks we get a basket of organic produce and there are still times when something goes bad before I figure out what to do with it. That's a waste of money and food (although I feel much, much worse when meat goes bad; fortunately, that doesn't happen too often).
Our hens, however, are here for their eggs, not their meat. I know some backyard chicken keepers cull their layers after the second year, but I don't think we'll be doing that. They have names, for goodness sake. How could I slit the throats of chickens with names? Plus, I like having them around, just for their own sakes...clucking, rooting around the grass, kicking up stuff, half-arsed attempts at flying, etc. I miss the warmer weather with windows open overnight. Usually every morning, around 9:00 or 9:30, I'd hear somebody clucking away proudly and think, 'Somebody just laid an egg.' Their chatter is a very comforting sound.
Anyway, I wasn't supposed to be waxing so much. So here are some pictures of the run with just a couple of inches of shavings. True DLM uses 6"-12" of litter in the coop. That link above about DLM is very interesting, even if I'm not doing true DLM.
This picture doesn't really show much more of the litter in the run, but I like Stephanie's up close and personal attitude. She's always the first one to come greet me!