Friday, 24 February 2012

Cleaning the Coop

Yes, I realize my posts are going downhill...but something has to be done about this poor coop design!

From January 1, 2012 
I have heard that learning something new every day is a good thing to aspire to.  I would suggest that this would depend on just what one is learning.  What I learned today, though important, is rather unpleasant.  That is, I learned that shovelling chicken poop is more unpleasant than shovelling horse manure.

That being the case, I must also admit that cleaning the chicken coop was not altogether an unpleasant task.  Being a bit warmer than the next days in the forecast, the job needed to be done.  In other words:  I’d rather do it on New Year’s Day, a Sunday afternoon no less, than on a colder day.

So while some napped and others played Mario Kart, I headed out to the barn to shovel out the chicken coop.  The donkey’s stall had a couple of growing piles as well, so my son came out with me to tackle that end of the barn.

The biggest draw-back to shovelling the chicken coop is that it is entirely enclosed, thanks to my great job of covering the walls with plastic to keep the hens warm through the winter, and the fact that the door has to remain closed to prevent the adventurous birds from escaping. 

Which leads to a second problem with this job:  shovelling into a wheelbarrow that does not fit through the coop door.  First I pulled the wheelbarrow into the outer doorway of the coop.  The coop is set up so that the chickens have access to an outside coop attached to their end of the barn, but there is a second door to enclose them in the inner coop, entirely within the barn, so that they can be kept in the warm inner part of the coop during the cold winter months.  It was this inner part of the coop that needed to be shovelled, since that is where the hens have been spending the cold winter days.  And it was in this inner coop that I needed to keep them.  But it was in the outer doorway that the wheelbarrow had to stay.  To complicate things further, if a chicken got out into the outer part of the coop, she could scoot outside the barn into the outdoor area which has a doorway that is too small for me to crawl through in order to retrieve her.

For the most part, the shovelling went smoothly.  There were areas that required more digging than shovelling since the coop had not been shovelled often enough since the hens have been kept inside.  This caused a dust to form that was rather unpleasant given the lack of air flow.  But the real trick to successful shovelling lay in manoeuvring the full shovel through the open door, around a 90 degree turn to the outer door to empty it into the wheelbarrow, and return into the inner coop, all without letting the chickens through the doorway in which I was standing during the entire procedure.

The chickens were watching my actions.  They moved nearer and nearer to the doorway, which meant shooing them away before opening the door to empty the shovel.  Picture me dressed thickly in warm apparel, balancing a shovel full of chicken droppings, reaching for the doorknob, then turning to shoo two over-anxious chickens away from the door before turning again to open the door, then pull the shovel through it, turning again to dump the contents of the shovel into the wheelbarrow which is blocking the other doorway, then turning back, still wielding the now empty shovel, and moving back into the coop and closing the door behind me.  And all of this within a span of a few seconds, speed being my ally in keeping the birds in their coop.

Comical as it may have been, the birds saw it all, and one very crafty, ambitious hen, saw her opportunity and dared to dash through my legs as I turned with the shovel still full.  I tried my best to put my foot between the chicken and the out-of-doors, but she managed to scoot past me and headed toward the small doorway cut in the side of the barn which led to the outdoor part of the coop. 

Now at this point several things could have happened.  She could have run into the outside coop, where I would have had to crawl through a very small opening, try to catch a bird which loathes being caught, and somehow carry her through the same small opening, while crawling on hands and knees, to return her to the safety of the warm inner coop.  Fortunately for me, she must have found the outside air too cold for her liking, and she hesitated at the barn wall opening, turning to see what other options were open for her.

The other option she could have taken would be to run beneath the wheelbarrow, out into the freedom of the barn.  She would have had to navigate back through my legs to do this, and I am thankful that she thought better of this challenge, or at least hesitated to embrace it. 

But while she hesitated I noticed her partner-in-crime, up until this point still safe in the inner coop, finding courage in her sister’s bold escape, running toward the door in reckless abandon. 

I could not close the door to keep her in because that would block the very path I needed the other chicken to follow.  But I could not let the second chicken out or my troubles would be doubled!

Fortunately my son had come over from the donkey end of the barn to give his back a rest, so he stood on the other side of the wheelbarrow to block chicken #1 in case she should make a break for it and try to run under it and into the barn.  This allowed me a moment to shoo chicken #2 away from the inner coop door, which had to be done repeatedly for the rest of the rescue.

So while my son guarded the entrance to the barn, I shooed one chicken away from the inside of the door with one foot, and the other chicken towards the outside of the door with my other foot...  It was a challenge, but eventually the escapee returned to her warm roost.  I suspect that she found the great outdoors much cooler than she remembered it, and she gladly returned to the warmth of the coop, once enough time had passed so that I would know that it was her own idea.

With both birds back in their coop, I finished the task of shovelling it out.  The floor could not be completely cleaned because I have no straw to replace what I shovel out.  This is something that needs to be remedied soon so that I can completely shovel out the floor and give them more straw for warmth and nesting.

So with the wheelbarrow full and both coop doors securely closed, I wheeled over to the other end of the barn to dump my load into the sled my son had been filling.  He had cleaned up one pile, but the other was frozen.  Another job for another day.

With the sled full, we left the barn to find a good spot to dump its contents.  The site had to be near enough to the barn to be convenient, but far enough to be out of the way; not too near the gate to the back pasture; not too near the long growth Whopper is eating now that snow is covering the shorter grasses.

A tall order, but after surveying the area behind the barn we found a small hole, more of a dip really, that was just the right size for our load.  We pulled the sled over and hoisted one end.  My son helped, bless his heart, and received a dump-load on his shoes as thanks.  His look said it all, though it can not be described in words.  He kicked his shoes free of their load and we pushed the result into the hole with the rest, then shovelled snow onto the pile to discourage Whopper from eating from the pile, as horses, and evidently donkeys, are prone to do.

My son then headed back to the house, being cold due to his faulty notion that since he was raised in northern Alberta where the winters are long and frequent temperatures below -30, he does not need more than a t-shirt until -10 or lower.  Even when working hard, -5 is too cold for a t-shirt!  Feeling sorry for him, I had given him my jacket when we were emptying the sled, since I had the foresight to wear two turtleneck sweaters that morning, but he was too cold by then to warm up much without going in, so he headed off across the pasture to the warmth of the house.

Post Script:  Since this post, we have added luxuriously soft mounds of wood chips to this formerly barren-looking coop.  The picture above was taken after the cleaning (hence, much of the straw was gone) but before the addition of the new bedding.  Pictures of the comfy quarters as they now stand will follow once I remember to take my camera with me to the barn again...

1 comment:

  1. Really? You went out on New Years Day?
    I don't remember that. I must have been on of those who were playing Mario Kart...