To compost, or not to compost? Part Three
Graham R. Cooper
The floor of the house can be dirt, concrete or wood. Dirt floors are not recommended as mice and rats can easily enter the house, eat mash or even eggs, and disturb the hens. The result could be lower egg production. Concrete floors are easy to clean but cold. Generally wooden floors are preferable.
On concrete it is necessary to have ten inches of litter. Wooden floors need six inches. Untreated shavings, straw, or sawdust can be used for litter. As sawdust compacts and cakes, shavings are best. Pine needles can be used but they are not very absorbent. Do not use hay as it remains damp and goes mouldy, causing many health problems.
Glenys O’Byrne, Backyard Poultry in New Zealand
We bought the book soon after it was first published in 1989. It came highly recommended and we followed much of Glenys’ advice on keeping backyard poultry.
Our hen house has served us well for close to thirty years. It has a wooden floor, and the run beneath it sits on the ground. Ground treated posts laid on their sides and embedded in the soil act as a foundation for the entire structure and prevent mice, rats and stoats from tunnelling into the run. Big stones usually halt tell-tale signs of an assault on the foundations, and if that fails, concrete works well – poured into a rat hole to plug it up.
When we are away the run is essential because the hens can’t range freely during the day. I just have to make sure the two-way traffic is hen only!
And, you guessed it, I have decided to stick with dry sawdust for the deep litter layer. My previous two posts explained Harvey Ussery’s evidence-based case for turning the litter into mature compost while still on the hen house floor. He has earth floors and it feels so right to me to use his methods on soil.
It would be far more problematic and involve a lot of extra work, both initially and ongoing, to adapt his methods for use on a wooden floor. In our case, made more challenging by the sheet steel sides of the house: there’d need to be a moisture barrier in place to stop them rusting from contact with the ever so slightly damp material. And I’m not about to build a new hen house or to modify the one we have!
‘Ever so slightly damp’ would mean just that. I’d need to simulate what Ussery calls the “wicking of moisture” from the soil. No dampness at all and the litter won’t compost, more than a tad and you risk a build-up of harmful pathogens.
Oh, and did I mention a need for soil? What do I do? Cart it in to form my base layer? I wonder to what sort of depth? And should I mix in some mature compost and some of the year old litter to act as inoculants, giving things a kick start?
Once I’ve got it all in there and “good to go”, what next? Do I keep a spray bottle handy and give the litter a fine spray every now and then? How much and how often?
Experiment and see what works? Nah – I’m sticking with easy street. My method’s okay, so why try fixing it if it ain’t broke.
We do get cold winters though. And the heat generated by decomposing litter would help. Still, wood itself is a good insulator: They have the floor boards plus eight or nine inches of sawdust. Nestled in amongst mature trees, the structure doesn’t get too hot in summer, and the trees help mitigate winter’s chill.
Sound convincing? I hope so. Anyways, I reckon it’s “good enough”.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.