To compost, or not to compost?
Graham R. Cooper
You know how it is. You reckon you’ve got something sussed, so you blab on about it to someone who you think might benefit from learning about what it is you think you know.
And perhaps they do get something useful out of it. Even if yours is only ‘half the story’. Perhaps they’ll find out the other half for themselves – there’s no better way to learn.
Can be a bugger though, when at some later date, they fill you in on what you didn’t know you didn’t know about said subject!
Take the subject I said I was going to write about this week: putting some life into ‘dead’ sawdust and getting the hens to help. Well that pile of fresh sawdust I photographed for last week’s post, would, given my current regime, be drier after a year on the hen house floor than when it was first spewed out by the chainsaw!
You’ve got to have some moisture to support life. The chicken shit rolls around like marbles as the hens scratch away in the dry sawdust. When I let them out this morning, one was having a dust bath just inside the hen house door!
Sounds like I’m beating myself up about all this. That I should have got all this figured out years ago – bugger that for a joke. It’s just that having decided to write about the subject of using deep litter in the hen house, I got to reading a great piece on ‘The Joys of Deep Litter’ in a much lauded book called The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery.
Don’t get me wrong. Shoveling sawdust in to a depth of eight or nine inches and then forgeting about it for a year has worked out okay. A depth of at least a foot would be better, but I seldom accumulate that much sawdust over a year of chainsawing logs.
June’s brassica seedlings rocket away in a deep green abundance when she spreads, on top of the soil, the year old, nitrogen rich litter around them. I only clean the hen house out once a year, but the hens don’t get mites and keep healthy year round. Free ranging them during the day makes a huge difference. And the sawdust makes a contribution: you’re not getting much in the way of beneficial microbes in the dusty dry, but neither are you getting harmful ones.
The hen house and the chicken run under it are quite well-shaded by trees, especially later in the day. It provides a relatively cool environment and oodles of space for three or four hens. The sawdust is bone dry and I spread the damp chicken poops around rather than allowing them to build up under the perch.
In Ussery’s chapter on ‘Manure Management In The Poultry House’, he says that “there are ways to manage manure so it doesn’t stink”. His model for the hen house is the compost heap: “smelling as sweet as good earth, ready to fertilize the garden”. The absence of stink in our hen house suggests to me that I must be doing something right. But it’s a long way off being transformed into compost!
Yesterday I was mowing the lawns. I’d rather not – period, and it takes anything from three to four hours with a rotary mower (not a sit on!). Just the sort of chore to get me rebelling against any fresh initiatives round the place.
No, I told myself, I’m not going to make more work by taking on board Ussery’s wise counsel and instructions for getting the deep litter properly composted. My system’s worked fine for years, so if it ain’t broke, I’m not gonna attempt to mend it.
Lawns are now mown and June’s happy. Me too, now that they’re done. All’s well with the world again – perhaps I will implement his deep litter system. Chopping and changing – the story of my life. Bring on the violins.
I’ll be barrowing out the year old litter next week and replacing it with fresh sawdust. Crunch time!
I’ll make a decision before next Monday and tell you whether I’m sticking with easy street or diving deep into that litter. Either way, I’ll let you in on Harvey Ussery’s secret. Who knows, it just might inspire some of you to ‘compost’ that deep litter. The more kudos to you if you’re doing it already.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.