Almost time for Spring Cleaning!

It’s proving slow to arrive, but spring is surely just around the corner. Here at Mo’s Mini Farm in north-central Alabama, we’ve already noticed buds on a few early bloomers. Wonderful thoughts considering it has either rained or been extremely overcast nearly every day for the whole month of February.

Chicken Coop & Brooder Bedding

20151006_172759On our last trip to the farm/feed store, we stocked up on large flake pine shavings in anticipation of cleaning winter out of all the coops. We have found that the large flake pine shavings are the most economical and functional for our needs. We have too many coops and pens to “scoop” often enough for other types of bedding to work well. Straw tends to get too wet here and not dry out fast enough to avoid a moldy mess. Likewise, it seems with our humidity that sand is also not a good option. We tried it several years ago, and it just stayed too wet inside the coop. It does work well for a sandy area in the run where the sun can shine on it, but not inside the coops. Because we have read various opinions and discussed this with other chicken owners in various areas of the country, we feel there are several important factors in choosing the best bedding for your coops:

    1. consider your climate/environment – humid, dry, extreme temperatures, excess rain – when selecting the bedding material that will work best in your area
    2. availability – choose something that you can both acquire and afford regularly
    3. evaluate time requirements – straw or sand may work well if you are able and willing to “scoop” and replace several times a week, but pine may be better if you are more interested in monthly cleanings or even the deep litter method
    4. health of your chickens – always evaluate how your chickens are doing with your bedding choice. Respiratory issues? Impacted crops? Bumble foot?

     

    While we used cedar shavings in our dogs’ houses in the past, we have never used cedar with our chickens since most sources strongly recommend against using it due to the oils that can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Some people say that it smells better, but that aromatic cedar odor can damage a chicken’s more sensitive respiratory system, especially younger birds.

    More recently, we tried aspen shavings in our dogs’ houses because they were having some mild skin irritation, and we had it on hand for using with our rabbits. It worked so much better that we only use it now, and we didn’t hesitate to use it in the brooder when we ran out of pine shavings. 20170517_073442_HDRSimilarly, we now only use aspen in our brooders for at least the first month. It’s much more expensive than pine, but it is the best brooder bedding we have found since it is much drier, has less dust, and absorbs much better than the pine shavings – maybe because the aspen is kiln dried which is nearly impossible to find around here in pine shavings. We feel it’s worth the extra money because we have much cleaner brooders and thus healthier chicks. You can find aspen at most pet stores since it is used with small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc., but we usually buy our aspen at Tractor Supply (better price there).

    Waterfowl Pen and House Bedding

    Since we are in a generally mild climate, our ducks and geese have little housing. We have a few sheds and houses for them to get in, but they typically prefer staying out in the weather – even when we get a little snow. They free range daily, but during winter, when the overnight pen gets more muddy and cold, we spread wheat straw around the principle sleeping areas to provide a little extra warmth. We have always used the same wheat straw in their shed/houses and nesting houses until this year when we couldn’t readily find it at a reasonable price. This year we opted to use mixed “cow” hay in the houses where it doesn’t get very wet. Hay tends to clump & mold much easier and faster than straw which is why wheat straw has always been our choice. We still used wheat straw in the open pen areas, and the hay worked fairly well in the houses, until the recent deluge of rainy weather…nothing has fared well in this current state of mud.20160606_234852

    For the record, we do not use any bedding material in our duckling or gosling brooders. We use the mesh non-slip liners that can be sprayed off and reused since those babies are so messy! But that’s a post for another day…



Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


When illness hits the entire house at the same time…

…the animals still need care. Here are a few tips on how we manage large numbers of poultry with minimal care. Plus, we provide some information about our experiences with using natural methods to treat illness in chickens…we weren’t the only ones sick this week.

This past week, the entire farm-house was down…food poisoning that hit us all within a few hours. Even when we are all attached to the bathroom &/or a trash can for 24+ hours and then moving at half pace for several more days, our 95 chickens, 23 ducks, 6 geese, and 6 guineas still need to be fed, watered, and turned-out/locked-up. Luckily, we had already implemented several ways to help ease the time commitments required to keep up with 10 different coops.20gal

Probably the best poultry accessories that we have to date are our custom-made 20 gallon watering buckets (right). What a lifesaver they were this week!

We have tried a few different kinds of waterers, but none have been as successful in keeping the water clean and the surrounding area dry. We highly recommend using these watering cups for your chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, and other similar poultry. [We do not recommend as the only water source for waterfowl.]

We have also installed several different kinds of feeders in our coops with 10 or more birds. We have installed wall-mounted feeders (below) in two coops with the least floor space which have worked well. They are a little pricey, but worth it for us because they do hold a large amount. 20160903_162155

In our largest coop, we created a custom-built feeder (below) that fit the space and holds a full 50lb bag or more of layer pellet feed. To make sure the feed stays pest and moisture free, we converted a clear Ziploc Weather Shield storage tote into a feeder with a large pvc pipe feed dispenser. We do have to occasionally rake the pellets to the center to fall down the pipe, but it works great overall – sure beats having to haul a heavy feeder to the other side of the lot every 5-6 days! The foam seal around the tote keeps feed fresh and dry long enough for it to be consumed, and it’s easy to tell how much feed is left since it’s clear. We plan to make another similar feeder for another large coop in the coming weeks.

Unfortunately, last Saturday – the day before the house fell to illness – we had just started treating one of our hens in the coop with our oldest birds. Our 5-year-old white Marans, Snowball, was showing some respiratory congestion – very raspy, heavy breathing but no sneezing/coughing or mucus discharge, and quickly we pulled out all the stops in hopes making this a short and isolated problem. Saturday afternoon, Mama Mo applied VetRx to Snowball’s comb & wattles and under both wings. 20160903_162251

We also mixed up a special gallon of “medicated” water. We have had great success with Durvet’s DuraStat (right), a water-soluble combination of natural herbs like oregano. We normally don’t keep water inside the coop, but when we treat with the DuraStat, we leave it in the coop overnight – a good dose first thing in the morning seems to work quite well.

Additionally, late Saturday night, Mama Mo dosed Snowball with our own custom natural oils blend (below), and it’s a really good thing because this was the only treatments she received before we were all down for the count! We are happy to report that by the time we were able to get back out there to do more than open/close a coop door, she was fine.

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How do you handle being down and not able to take care of your livestock? We’d love to hear ways that help you get through the rough times.

Also, do you use natural methods to treat your chickens when they are ill? Tell us about your experiences!



Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Do you keep a running egg inventory?

We have multiple coops on our “mini” farm – 6 large coops and 3 smaller hutches to be exact! As part of our farm records, we began keeping a running inventory of eggs this past year. Knowing which coops are producing best can be advantageous in many ways. Good egg production indicates which layers are in best condition for performing at top levels. Most importantly, a drop in egg production can indicate many things that need to be addressed – notably illness or other problems like improper nutrition, an egg-eating problem, or even an egg-eating predator visiting your coops. When things on the farm get busy, it can be easy to not notice a drop in egg production in time to address an issue before it becomes a larger problem. Keeping an egg inventory is an easy way to prevent this. We simply created a monthly chart in MS Word, and we log how many eggs are collected from each coop every evening.

Unfortunately, collecting eggs from nine different sets of nesting boxes and remembering which came from which proved to be a daunting task. We likely had a few errors in our inventory counts. Since we are planning to focus primarily on egg production in 2018, we are hoping to establish a better method of organized egg collection. Mama Mo has searched for a basket or rigid bag with multiple compartments to be labeled for each coop, but apparently, that is not a common item for anyone. However, there may be an unusual solution to our dilemma.

Wash Boss by Bucket Boss

Mama Mo found an item called a Wash Boss – it’s an organizer that straps onto a 5-gallon bucket. The six pockets should be large enough to hold multiple eggs, and since it’s made for getting wet, cleaning should be easy. Of course, that still leaves us a few compartments short to be able to collect from all the coops, so we plan to also use another item called a Super Stacker (below) that fits inside the bucket.

Super Stacker by Bucket Boss

They are made to stack inside the bucket, but our plan is to put our custom herbal nest box mix in the bucket and put the divider on top. This way we can also refresh nest boxes as we go, if needed. Nothing beats consolidating chores!

We have all of our coops named, so it will be easy to label each compartment and know exactly which eggs came from which coops, especially when spring arrives and everyone is in full egg production mode. When we get it all put together and test it out, we’ll post about the pros and cons of our little “innovation”.