Are Chickens Really Gardeners?

The great thing about my job here at Horizon Structures (www.horizonstructures.com) is that I always have the chance not only to help customers with product selection but to also learn from the customer as well.
Yesterday during a conversation about chicken coops with a customer we were going over the dimensions and specifications of a couple of our chicken coops and she suddenly asked me if our coops were able to be used with the “deep litter” method. Of course I initially misunderstood her and thought she said “deep leader” method which led me to an internet search with no results about chickens.
Once the internet suggested deep litter I was on my way to an opportunity to learn.

As I am not completely versed in the subject, I hope that the information below may guide you to deciding if this is something you want to try. Of course, I welcome your comments and feedback to help me with anything I may miss or send me your suggestions of what you do on your own farm.

Basically, the deep litter method is a means using the browns and greens to create a compost pile of your chickens poop (the greens) mixed with (the browns) such as pine shavings (DO NOT USE CEDAR SHAVINGS) or Newspaper shreds/strips. Some people will use Hay or Straw which may be to moist for this application and may mold. This process happens right on your coop floor and for most people they only have to clean out their coops once or maybe twice a year. This is a great way to manage chicken litter for small farmers or even people in urban areas.

You will find that the deep litter method works best in coops with a earthen floor. If you have a coop with a floor in it you will need to put the material you clean out in a compost bin to break down farther and avoid damaging your plants. The key here is the dirt floor in the coop which supplies the moisture and culture to keep the compost process going. If you are using a dirt floor coop and find material that is more fresh on your semi-annual or annual clean out. You will also want to put that material in a compost bin for a period of time before applying to a garden.

As for the smell you may be expecting from having this build up in your coop? It is impoortant to maintain a good balance of fresh shavings on the coop floor to keep the moisture to a minimum. Let the chicken’s do some work for you too. Tossing some corn or feed on the floor will get the chickens scratching which they like to do anyway. This will help the aeration process. From what I have read, people report a very minimal if any ammonia smell at all.

You may wonder what some of the benefits are of the deep litter method. Here are a few for you.

*There is very little time needed to manage this process
*Low cost compost for your gardens and flower beds
*No smell
*Heathier Chickens as they benefit from scratching through the litter which contains beneficial microbes. Kind of like probiotics for the chickens.

Please note that as a standard all of our Horizon Structures coops come with a wood or gladbord floor installed in them.

If this is something you would like to try, lets talk about our 6×6,8×8 or even our 8×10 chicken mansion coop. We’ll work with you to modify the coop if you want to place on a natural earth base.

Also remember that we can modify any of our storage sheds to accomodate your chickens. We can add extra chicken doors, roost bars and nest boxes to get you the coop you want.

I look forward to your comments on this topic.

Remember: Happy, Healthy Chickens Lay More Eggs.

[email protected]

A Happy Barn In North Carolina

For our Blog this time we welcome a new guest writer.

A recent customer of ours, Amy Caraway in Salisbury North Carolina has been kind enough to share her excitement about getting her new barn but also provides some insight to how she handles her horses during what would be a more mild winter in a more Southern region. Her story also provides a good view of how our horse barns fair in North Carolina’s climate. It also demontrates the importance of good horse barn ventilation.

Thank you Amy for sharing with us and we hope her experience provides all of you with some helpful tips. Amy’s Barn is a Low Profile with a Raised Center Aisle.
One of my favorites.

 

Low Profile Barn

 

As far as winter goes, this is part of the reason I liked all of the options Horizon offered during the barn building process. Ventilation is important both summer and winter and having the ridge vent, the functional cupola and the gable vents assure me that air can escape the building even if I have the barn doors and windows sealed up tight. Use of Dutch windows and sliding aisle doors allow me to meter how much wind or air I want to let into the barn depending on how hot or cold the temperature is, too. My old barn did not have enough ventilation, my farrier was always complaining about there being no air when he came to shoe my horses…so when I chose the options for my Horizon barn this was in the forefront of my mind as I made upgrade decisions. To be honest, I think my horses LOVE the colder weather until they they get wet, then they want to be inside the barn. If I have only one horse at home, I usually leave one door open to the pasture and give the horse free choice to be either inside or outside unless it is bitter cold and then I have them stay up at least during the night time hours. If I have more than one at home then I have them stay up at night during the winter. I fill up a lot of extra water buckets when the temperature is predicted to be lower than 32 degrees in case the water lines freeze and I feed extra hay in the winter to supplement the loss of grass in the field. Sometimes I will put extra hay outside in the field with them too when it is really cold. Since I live in North Carolina, our winters tend to be on the milder side. I normally don’t blanket my horses unless I have a horse who is scheduled to go to early spring shows or unless I have an older horse who needs the extra help with insulation. Another thing I try to remember is to pull any medications out of the barn and bring them in the house if it gets extremely hot or cold.

Traditional Timber Frame Horse Barns Revisited

Equestrians embrace tradition.  And, timber frame horse barns offer a time-honored tradition that is hard to beat when it comes to beautiful carpentry exquisitely showcasing the natural aesthetic appeal of wood.

When my husband and I purchased our farmland in Upstate New York, the neighbor had already taken possession of a lovely 2 bridge – or bank – barn in the front of our property. It was still standing proudly on the hill after 100 years, and despite the fact that its main occupants consisted of a flock of pigeons and said neighbor used its 3-story windows as target practice for his golf swing, we did try to buy it.

 

Old Farm Barn

 

I was so impressed with the timber peg design, and the huge roughhewn lumber that made up the main part of the structure and I had great plans for its use. The former occupants – a herd of dairy cows – had left the concrete ground level area 10 years before and the building was dilapidated with doors off their hinges and stone retaining walls at the entrances failing.  But, to me, the opportunity to own such a lovely, old barn and to bring it back to its former glory was a dream.

Sadly, it remained just that, a dream. The neighbors sold the property and the new owner decided to knock it to the ground and bury it where it stood. No announcement! We looked out the window one day to see a huge wrecking ball bashing it to pieces and our horses galloping around in their paddocks terrified of the commotion.

Fortunately, many timber frame barns have not met such tragic and untimely ends.  They have stood the test of time and are highly prized by discerning property owners.  Why is that?

The timber frame construction method encompasses mortise and tenon joinery where a beam – or piece of wood – is pegged on one end and then inserted into a matching hole (or notch) to conjoin solidly with the adjacent piece of lumber.

 

Mortise Tenon

 

The work is painstaking because of the craftsmanship and accuracy needed to complete it. Labor costs are necessarily higher, as the journeyman carpenters required must be extremely talented in working with wood and it takes time to produce top quality results.

This type of joinery is revered over the standard post and beam for its inherent beauty, as there is no visual interference to the attractiveness of wood by metal plates or bolts and nails.  Timber frame construction also provides the sturdiest and strongest and most enduring type of construction in wooden structures.

As the rafters are cantilevered, the timber frame horse barn also lends itself to having spacious interiors that are free of posts and obstructions. This is one reason that many old timber frame horse barns have been converted to homes.

 

Horse Timber Frame Barn

 

The raw materials used in timber frame construction are also unique and of premium quality further adding to the cost but with good reason!  You can read more about that HERE.

Timber frame buildings are obviously not the cheapest option when it comes to barn construction. But for the discerning horse owner that wants to step it up a notch (pardon the pun), the advent of a unique combination of a modular horse barn configured with timber frame construction does minimize the sticker shock. This innovative combination design is less expensive than a straight timber frame build completed on site.

Another factor to consider when it comes to purchasing a new barn, is the time needed for construction and the noise, mess and general stress than can be involved.
The advantage of this ‘revisited’ timber frame horse barn is the modular components that form the ground level of the building. These barn ‘modules’ are made in the factory and delivered prebuilt directly to the site.  Stalls, doors, windows – all the interior features – are assembled and ready to have the magnificent timber frame second floor loft (and lean-to/overhang if purchased) added on site to complete the barn.

 

Timber Frame Barn Construction

 

This saves time as the construction is not delayed by inclement weather or material shortages/deliveries. It also ensures a quality controlled product that is not hampered by crews that haven’t worked together before or don’t have the experience in the world of horsemanship.

Consider the concerns horse owners have about dropped nails on site, and worries of interruption of their peace and quiet for riding/training on the property and the disruption of construction noise as issues that can all be significantly reduced.

While a timber frame/modular combination building is not going to be quite as ‘instant’ a new barn on the farm as a standard modular horse structure, the delivery and set up of the final barn is only, on average, about 4-5 days longer.

The traditional timber frame is indeed revisited, with modern day improvements that can mitigate both the price and the construction time and fuss. Look for a company that offers a proven positive customer service experience, provides warranties and ‘to the penny’ pricing to ensure the barn purchase is a happy event from start to finish.

 

Timber Frame Barn Interior

 

Everything old is new again. Sometimes, the traditional methods are the best!

Hello from Sunny South Florida!!!

It has been just shy of four months since you have heard from me, so they wanted to do an update on my chicken coop and the girls, well, and the boy!

The coop is still AWESOME!!!!!  Lots of room for everyone to roost and lay their eggs.  They get lots of free range time now since they are all bigger and are able to defend themselves better.  To aid in their defense I have implemented a few “Predator deterrents”.  I have purchased four Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Lights. I installed them in each direction, North, South, East and West of the coop, facing out. The lights are solar powered and as soon as they detect darkness they blink red consistently all night.  I was never sure that there were “visitors” at night, but better safe than sorry is my motto.

 

Nite Guard (little black and red box on coop)

Nite Guard (little black and red box on coop)

 

I have also installed three trail cameras by Moultrie.  Not so much to protect my flock, but more so to see what they do all day and night.  I am nosy like that.  As soon as it senses motion it takes a day or night picture.  It’s like black OPs in the coop zone.

 

Coop Cam 2

Coop Cam 2

 

We also built a chicken fence to keep the dogs from being able to get to where the chicken zone is.  This helps so they are able to have free range time, which was my main concern.  It also helps to lesson the stress on the chickens, stressed chickens do not lay eggs, the dogs kinda tormented them while they were in their run area.  The fence also keeps the dogs from pooping in the area I have to go to tend and gather eggs.

 

Fence during construction

Fence during construction

 

One issue in regards to predators I have yet to solve….. it is a tricky situation with many considerations.  Last week I went out to the coop after dark to close the gate to the run, they had already roosted and the dusk to dawn automatic door had closed so they were all safe and sound.  I closed the gate and latched it, stood up straight and heard a rustling noise.  I had my big mag light with me and I aimed it all around.  I did not see any movement or hear it again.  I went to turn and leave and then I saw movement, freaking out ~ frantic movement. I started to hear the theme to every scary movie ever written!

Then I realized what it was ~~~~ a kitten. A little tiny ball of fur and rage! I DO NOT need any more cats to take care of!  I opened the gate and out it flew.  Then I remembered seeing an adult cat sitting on the top of the fence by the shed doing “re-con” on the chicken zone.  I was ready to leave, disaster diverted and then I heard the noise again.  I was now peeing my pants; my mind is racing, thinking how many kittens are in there? Why are they in there? I opened the gate again and out it flew.  I stood there a bit longer hoping that it was the last one. I closed the gate, latched it and left the chicken zone.  But then I started thinking ~ what if some were being stealthy, just waiting until morning for the massacre? My chickens in a closed run are sitting ducks (well chickens) to a freaked out, hopped up cat waiting for a free chicken meal.

 

This is Benz, he lives inside ~ he says "Please NO MORE CATS"

This is Benz, he lives inside ~ he says “Please NO MORE CATS”

Needless to say I went out five more time that evening, with my mag light, I laid on the ground, looked into the run area that is under the coop.  the images of what might happen were messing with my judgement.  I imagined these cats being all ninja and being sneaky on my chickens.  Of course nothing happened.  But a mother worries, ya know? So I am trying to figure out how to keep the cats/kittens out of the chicken zone.  I don’t want to trap them and turn them into animal control, they will just be killed.  Trapping and relocating is like passing your problems onto another and I don’t really like that option.  Razor wire around the perimeter seems a bit extreme.  So this is my dilemma.

I have recently done a “Super Dooper Coop Clean”, this entails removing everything from the coop and spraying it all clean with a pressure washer.  I then spritzed some water/bleach mixture in the poop zone.  I set up a fan to speed the drying.  After the coop was completely dried I took out my shaker of DE (Diatomaceous Earth – food grade) and I covered every surface, including the ground all around the coop and run.  DE takes care of ants, mites, fleas and other nibbling pests.  I then put all new hay into the nesting boxes and the center section of the coop, also know as the dining hall.

 

Random Free Range

Random Free Range

 

Using the pressure washer will only be a once/twice a year kind of thing.  For deep cleaning only. On a weekly basis I drop the “cleaner coop tray” and scrape off the poop and gather up any stray poops from inside the roosting area.  I also add fresh hay as needed through out the month. I put the poop in one of my unused raised garden boxes to compost.  The hay I remove from the nesting boxes and dining hall I just put on the ground around the coop. It adds to the fun of searching for bugs and worms.  Makes it more of a challenge, keeps ’em sharp!!

Of course I had to pretty up the coop for the girls, so I hung some nice little lace curtains.  This was easy peasy!  I bought some marked down lace, cut it to fit the window openings plus margins, and busted out the ‘ol staple gun, put them up and allowed for a little overhang to cover the staples.  Then I used some ribbon to make tie backs.  They love the new look of their coop!!!  Will~I~am did point out that HE would have preferred camo ones.

 

I want CAMO!!!!!!!!!!

I want CAMO!!!!!!!!!!

 

The chickens are doing great!

I currently have three layers, well possibly four; Sunday there was a super small egg in one of the nesting boxes.

Carrie laid her first egg on November 25, 2012

 

Carrie's First Egg

Carrie’s First Egg

I was laying in bed on that Sunday, the windows were open since we were having a cold front.  All of a sudden I heard chicken screaming, not the “we are getting attacked” noise, but more of a “OMGOSH this hurts” noise.  I knew what it was right away.  But I didn’t go running out there, I did not count my eggs before they were laid, oh no.  I got up and ready for church in my normal mode and then I went outside to the coop ~ THERE IS WAS!!!!

A little tiny perfect blue egg, so proud.

We also have a “rogue” chicken that comes into the yard.  “My milkshakes brings all the boys to my yard” or rather my chickens bring all the ……………………….you know where I am going with that.  Anyway, I named it “Rogue”, I am still not sure where he comes from.  I think it is a wild chicken though, looks like my amerucanas do, but skinny and smaller.

 

Rogue inside the runRogue inside the run

 

Willow ~ one of my Buff Orpingtons that I hatched now goes by Will~I~ Am – like the dude from the Black Eyed Peas. He is a lovely rooster that is starting to crow, although it sounds more like a pre-pubescent boy with his voice changing. But two out of two experts (Me and my chicken partner in crime) agree that this IS a rooster.

 

Will~I~Am

Will~I~Am

 

I hatched this handsome fellow!!  The chickens have been free ranging during the days, they really love it.  (Please note that in the photo you will see two orange 5 gallon buckets , they are covering sprinkler heads that would drench the coops, so until I get them capped, we have buckets) Don’t judge.

 

Free Ranging

Free Ranging

 

I haven’t yet put mulch down over the sand, so I have been putting the hay from the nesting boxes down.  Honestly, I don’t think they mind at all, as long as they can scratch they are happy.  A worm or a grub ~ BONUS!!! They have the whole side of the house (top of pic) and more space behind where I was standing to take the picture.  That is Will~I~Am and Jenny on the fore ground, Mo and Sno and one of the Cuckoo Marans with either Carrie or Miranda.

I want to share a little story about one of my hens.  Her name is Sno, I got her and her sister Mo after one of my silkies went to the big coop in the sky.  I didn’t think Jenny would do good alone, so I rushed off the Griff’s ~ A local feed store, and got two baby chicks.  Both Amerucanas.  Sno was the only pure white chick in the box, and well I just had to have her because she was so different from all the others. We picked Mo because she had a black patch in her head that looked like a Mohawk.   That lasted about a month and then started to fade away.

Sno and Mo have been raised by my Jenny, they always nestled next to her and roosted with her when they all got bigger.  They were so much smaller than she was, but being a Bantam Silkie Jenny is now dwarfed by Sno and Mo.

 

Jenny and Sno

Jenny and Sno

 

That is Jenny and Sno right when I introduced them.  I am sure Jenny was like “what the heck is that”.  But she quickly started mothering them.  Never a peek or a squawk towards them.

They all stayed in the brooder until Mo and Sno had their feathers and then I put them in the little coop.  I didn’t want to throw them right in with Carrie and Miranda, they were both so much bigger then the little girls.

 

Jenny and Mo

Jenny and Mo

 

So after about another month I decided to put them all together in the big coop. I decided on the “slip ’em in while it is dark” tactic.  They wake up and would be like “Yo who are you?” and they would say “Dude I have been here forever, you are losing it”.  It worked, they all get along great.  In fact they all roost side by side.

On January 23, 2013 I came home from work and gathered eggs, and there were THREE!!!!!!!!!! I was sure I had collected them all the night before so I had a mystery layer.  I  had a mystery to solve and by golly I grabbed my Nancy Drew hat and I dug right in.  I gathered DNA, took finger prints, made mold castings of foot prints.  It was on, on like Donkey Kong.

 

Three eggs

Three eggs (brown is a wooden prop egg)
Such excitement – I was shaking

 

Actually I popped out the SIM card on the camera in the coop, ran into the house and put in in the computer and started scrolling for the picture proof.

 

Sno ~ “I just laid an egg!!!”

 

This picture is the exact moment she stood up after laying her very first egg.  I am so proud…………..tear.

She was hatched sometime at the end of July 2012 or the beginning of August 2012, I got her on the 24th, and she had to have been a few weeks before they sell them.  So now the wait is on for Mo to start laying. (*UPDATE ~ Since starting to write this blog entry  this week I have had a fourth layer, the SIM card was put in upside down so no picture of the “moment”.  I have since put the SIM card in correctly and now am just waiting to see when another long skinny egg is hatched.

 

1, 2, 3, 4 let me have some more!!!

 

Here is the low down on my chickens:

Carrie ~ Amerucana ~ Purchased from local feed store ~ Hen ~ Named after Carrie Underwood ~Singer

Miranda ~ Amerucana  ~ Purchased with Carrie from Local feed store ~Hen ~ Named after Miranda Lambert ~ Singer

Jenny ~ Blue Silkie (actually looks black) ~ Hatched in my guest room ~Hen ~ Named after my sister

Mo ~ Amerucana  ~ Purchased from local feed store ~ Hen ~ Named because she had a Mohawk

Sno ~ Amerucana ~ Purchased from local feed store ~ Hen ~ Named because she is pure white

Will ~ I ~Am ~ Buff Orpington ~ Hatched in my guest room  ~ Rooster ~ Named Willow then realized she is a he, Will ~I ~Am in the Black Eyed Peas ~ Singer

Emma ~ Buff Orpington ~ Hatched in my guest room ~ Hen ~ Named because this is a good solid country name

Abby ~ Cuckoo Maran  ~ Bought from local feed store ~ Hen ~ Named after Abby on NCIS

Zeva ~ Cuckoo Maran  ~ Bought from local feed store ~ Hen ~ Named after Zeva on NCIS

So there you have it, among many other activities I am currently partaking in this is my chicken zone in Sunny South Florida.
As always we love to hear your comments and questions.  Please feel free to leave either and we will get back to you.

 

Will ~ I ~ Am and Emma

Will ~ I ~ Am and Emma

 

Thank you for visiting,
Betsy