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PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger
As beautiful as our chickens are, raising a flock isn’t a tidy hobby. When winter thaws, spring reveals the soggy poop globs of many, many days gone by. Worse, they’re everywhere. Tackle winter’s manure buildup before too much un-composted chicken poop burns the sleeping lawn or makes your outdoor space stinky.
1. Rake It & Pick It Up
If conditions aren’t too damp, pick up as much chicken poop as you can from the yard by raking it or picking it up with gloved hands. Large, well-formed manure is fresher, and it’s easier to pick up than manure that was trapped under heavy snow. Old manure that has dried is easy to rake away from the grass.
2. Dilute It
“The solution to pollution is dilution,” as they say. To save grass from manure that has built up over the winter—manure that’s too soggy to pick up—is to spray it with the hose to dilute the nitrogen in the manure and wash it away. Heavy spring rains will dilute manure for you, but light rains aren’t enough save the grass from buildup.
3. Scoop It & Scrape It
This last winter, before we went out of town for the holidays, we moved our mobile coop onto our patio right next to the house. The house provided extra shelter from the wind, and the concrete underneath added extra predator control while we were away. I added a tarp over the top to guard against any cold rain getting inside our aging A-frame coop. The tarp also protected part of the run from excess moisture, where I’d added a small bale of straw to the 4-by-8-foot area. With recent warm, spring-like temperatures, the straw in the run started to become smelly, so it was time to remove it.
Any materials used in the run over the winter should be removed or replaced, whether your coop and run are mobile or stationary. Bedding materials, even dirty soil, harbor bacteria. Dirty bedding can also be a safe haven for parasites introduced to the flock through the winter when they weren’t able to dust-bathe properly. We moved the coop, and I raked the loose material. Then I scraped and shoveled the material that was matted to the concrete, and I hauled all of it to the compost bin.
4. Compost What You Can
Add all the chicken manure you can pick up, scoop up or rake up to your compost bin or pile. High-nitrogen materials, like manure, are considered “green,” and they must be added to high-carbon “brown” materials (like coop bedding, leaves and grass clippings) to break down as efficiently as possible. If you’re new to composting chicken manure, know that it takes up to six months to “cook” green and brown materials into rich compost. Compost it faster by turning the pile often and letting the flock do some of the mixing for you.
Be sure not to compost chicken manure that has had direct contact with other animal manures during your spring cleanup. Dog and cat waste should never be composted if the compost will be used on a garden that feeds people. Pick up manures separately with different tools, and throw away chicken manure that has been contaminated.