Activities · Critters · Garden · How-To

Fall Cleaning is for the Birds

Many chicken keepers will tell you that coop cleaning in spring is imperative. I completely agree, but I feel there is another cleaning that is oft neglected and is just as important: Fall Cleaning. Now, dear reader, you would be soundly within your rights to ask “Why, Jacquelyn? Why would you go to all that effort if it’s just going to get all soggy and gross from rain and poop during the winter? I thought you were laz- I mean, efficient!”

My lovelies, it is one group of things that tips the scales to me taking action and it is an unlikely one at that (unless of course you are Ancient Egyptian and then it may seem logical it would tip scales, but I digress): FEATHERS.

Stinkiest feather bed ever.

Yes, feathers. In fall, chickens shed every single feather and grow a new one, although not all at once because Nature isn’t a dummy. Feathers in and of themselves aren’t bad, but it’s what they attract that I dislike: pests. Chickens can get mites, lice, and less commonly, fleas. Thankfully these are all avian-specific pests, but still, 1. gross and 2. poor, miserable birds. So! Now that the Ladies are done growing their new suits, it is time to tidy up Le Palais des Poulets.

Top things first: I start with the coop proper. The nest boxes are guh-ross, both with feathers and poop, because Xochi has decided that roosting is dumb and sleeps in a nest box and chickens poop mostly while they sleep. THANKS XOCHI. To get the nooks and crannies, I conscript yet another plastic kid toy (hey, I bought it first, so technically it’s mine by kid-logic, right?) and get them mostly clean.

For being a plastic kid shovel, this thing works great!

Under the roost, the molted feathers are mostly on the top layer of bedding, thankfully. Why thankfully? Because I don’t compost feathers – the mites and lice eggs can actually live through the backyard composting process. They require more “help” to break down completely, which is why they go to the great windrows in the sky (aka the municipal compost facility). However, I am selfish and still want some of the black gold in the coop to end up in my compost bins, so I rake the top layer full of feathers and then put the rest in my own composters.

It’s mine, all MINE!

For Fall Cleaning, I don’t spray anything down. Instead, I get most of the feathers and poopy bedding out before calling it good and adding in some fresh pine shavings. I really enjoy this part; I’m like a fresh-pine-scented-bedding-fairy.

In this case, I am sad there isn’t Smell-O-Net available yet. Mmm, pine.

Next is the run. I rake all of the feathers, plus melon rinds and poop clods and various other detritus from summer. I situate the pile conveniently close to the door.

How long has that melon rind been in there? It looks fossilized, yuck.

I used to shovel the feathers out but this removes a fair amount of dirt in the process, which not only annoys my garbage collector (and is against the rules) but also means I have to replace more dirt, which annoys me. Too many people annoyed, so I find a better solution: a manure fork! Yes, one you use for horses, but you can “sift” the stuff you want out of dirt and bedding! It’s a little tricky to do with feathers, but it means a whole lot less dirt is removed. And that makes both my garbage collector and me happier.

Thank you for your service, manure fork. I appreciate you.

Once all of the feathers have been dumped in the municipal compost bin the wheelbarrow because I was too tired to go get the bin from the front yard and the feather-free-ish bedding is in our compost rollers, I let the girls know their abode is now Fall Cleaned and you’re welcome. They were… unimpressed. It’s okay, I’m sure they’ll thank me later, just like my children. Right?

Suspicious hens are suspicious. I blame the manure fork.

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