Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Animals, Healthy Animals

The Chicken coop as it was.

This was the very first project I tackled on our little hobby farm.
Since the house came with 2 living animals (the chickens)
their needs came right after the people and animals in the house.
Our barn is about 110 years old (possibly older) and I think the coop is about the same. It is an amazing coop, and we're so lucky! It was properly constructed with a lot of knowledge of animal husbandry and making work easy. I'll do another post about the coop itself in the future, but this one is about what happens when people maybe don't know too much about what they are doing take over...

These photos are from March when we went to look at the house. If you look at the ground you can see it is gray, not just because of the concrete but that was the colour of the old shavings and bird-poo. If you look at the walls and ceilings those are not bits of fabric hanging down, but cobwebs. There was also a huge load of rat-poo in around the chicken feed (which was thankfully stored in a good plastic container so it's not spoiled).

Keeping animals can be a lot of work but the basic principal comes down to: no animal should have to live in their own poo (even if sometimes they want to).

Poo happens, and on a farm it happens a lot; but keeping their poo away from the animals is the easiest thing you can do to keep everyone healthy. Sometimes that means removing pieces of equipment in order to clean things up. I had to take the 2x6s off the back roost in order to remove the caked in bird poo that was on each one.

Cob-webs are a fire hazard, and there is no excuse for webs like these, they were thick as fabric in some spots! Go in with your broom every day and keep an eye out of cob webs as you move around your barn. Once a week go around and make sure you've removed all of them. Making it part of your daily routine will make this into a non-job instead of a huge one a few times a year.

I don't know what happened to chicken #3.
When it comes to chickens, nest boxes need to be kept clean. You don't want bird poo in your breakfast, clean out your nest boxes as they are soiled. Since we only have 2 chickens and 10 nest boxes I'm going to cover a few so the girls don't poop in them (they have their two favourites already picked out anyway).

There is a place for garbage, and sprinkled around your buildings like a treasure hunt is not it. I'm sure it is easier just to stuff feed bags into the rafters instead of hauling them out to the curb (and in some older barns they were used as insulation) but they keep & hold and incredible amount of dust and dirt in those little nooks and crannies. You're much better off hauling garbage back with you every time you go to the barn, and putting it away wherever you're keeping your garbage, and getting real insulation.

Everyone needs fresh air. I appreciate that an Ottawa winters night can get very very cold, but you're not doing your animals any favours by blocking out all the cold air so they are re-breathing all the ammonia and bacteria in their home. Instead, choose animal breeds that are best suited to your climate, feed extra and learn more about what equipment you can use to help keep everyone toasty (safely!).

Chickens especially need fresh clean air, the coop had feed bags stuffed in it's ventilation shafts, and the entire roof of the coop is covered with plywood (and MORE feed bags) which is just trapping more dust in the coop. Every single window was also caked closed with dirt, rotting wood & poop. The girls are SO much happier to have their windows open. There is a reason all this great ventilation was put into the coop in the first place, I'm glad it was easy to bring back.

We'll be removing the ply-wood ceiling and putting up more chicken wire instead (to keep the ladies from roosting in the rafters & making a mess); but that's not a priority so we're leaving it for later in the summer while we get more of the main barn ready for animals.

It's not just about keeping the animals area clean, but my works-space as well. Now everything is tidy and well-laid out so I can find what I need right away, plus it's off the floor away from the rats. 
The run has been trimmed down, we left a small patch in the middle for
sun and predator protection, not really necessary with the coop door
open all the time, but the chickens seem to enjoy it.
A million times better! Clean, airy & and it doesn't smell.
I added two bags of shavings over the ground, then some really old hay 
(so they aren't going to eat it) around the back of the pen.
We've replaced the 2x6s I removed from them roost on the back wall 
and replaced 2 dowels so far, this way it will be easier to clean in the future.
The ladies were so pleased with their newly cleaned coop they spent almost and entire warm and beautiful Sunday afternoon inside the coop, sitting in their nest boxes talking to each other. I had been getting 1 egg a day from Henny only, but Penny was been so pleased with the box she's been laying too.

And maybe I'm more picky then the average person, I don't know. But I do know that this coop is now a place I want to be, and a place I can bring the kids with me to feed the chickens or collect eggs.

Also if you're ever selling a small/hobby farm. Clean up the barn before visitors come.

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