Hopefully for most of us across the nation, Winter has had it's last and final Hoorah, but now for the cleanup and getting things spiffy for the warmer months to come.
Many of you may have experienced some needed repairs, limbs and shrub damages and overall messy cleanups to add to your already long list of tasks around the farmyard or backyard.
Spring brings the snow melts and the rains that nourish the soil and emerging spring vegetation, but make for messy, mucky chores. But with this said, it gives you an opportunity to fix some of the issues so they may be less troublesome in the future weather events.
If it so happens that your coop and chicken runs are in low spots, you may need to put in some fill to bring the peaks and valley's level, so the water is able to run off or at least not set in large pockets through the inclement weeks that may occur. If the low spots are throughout the coops and runs, where drainage is poor, you may even have to go as far as to re-locate those chicken housing areas for a more optimum situation. As mentioned, Fill is possible, if these areas tend to just have some shallow puddles, and pallets can often be placed strategically over those when you are able to actually see the trouble spots. Straw and Hay may help to absorb some of the excess that has not drained off easily and can be raked out and composted or allowed to compost on site, that will eventually fill in the areas, however may also create boggy areas if they remain soggy. So you will need to assess your situation to see what may be the best course of action.
If the coop and run areas are down hill where water drains off higher spots, you may try channeling that water another direction, such as toward the garden that needs the water. If it's not possible to create channels with a shovel, sandbags/dirtbags along the edge of the drain flow can be situated to divert the water from draining into areas where it creates the problems. Once the drainage issues have been resolved, either through a drain system, or through a diversion system, you can get on with the actual clean up chores.
For part of the resolution to the drainage, you can mulch up the limbs and shrubs that have been damaged and use part of that as fill for those poorly drained areas. Most limbs/shrubs are harmless to the chickens, with a couple precautions about using any Cedar family or Eucalyptus family mulches. Fruit woods, most conifers are suitable to mulch and use as fill or even bedding. Use good judgment with the plants and trees you have on your property and be sure that any and all are safe to use for drainage, garden mulch or bedding materials. Any that is not, can be either hauled off or used in other ways that do not affect the chicken housing areas.
It is very important to address water issues. The more water that stands, for the longer periods of time, can cause outbreaks of fowl Cholera from the tainted water, setting up an environment for some very serious health issues in your flocks. So no matter how many tasks are added to your spring cleaning issues, this water issue is one of vital importance and should be at the very top of the list. Never allow water to puddle up around the waterers from dripping hoses, or this creates an environment where excrement gathers right in an area where the birds need fresh, clean water daily. So keep those areas high and dry as much as possible. Raise the waterers, place a wood pallet beneath if you have no other solutions, which will keep the birds up and out of the tainted water where they can access their fresh water station. Having stumps, upside down buckets, old ladders, barrels, or even large boulders in the chicken runs can help to give the chickens an environment out of the mud and water collection that cannot be prevented otherwise.
The next priority after debris clean up and drainage issues will be any and all repairs from damaged runs, posts, gates, coops, roofs and supports. Make sure all are secure once again with all draft areas repaired or sealed off so this will be less apt to be an issue in other weather events. Repairing roof damage and wire damages will also protect your chickens from predators that will locate those openings if they have not already.
Cleaning of the coops and runs is as basic as good hygiene in any environment. For Natural cleaning agents, Vinegar, Lemon and other citrus can insure at least a preventative measure within the coop environment. If you ever have a serious illness outbreak in the flocks, you will have to resort to stronger measures because not all bacterias are equal and some will be completely inflexible to a natural antibacterial agent. It then will require a strong bleach solution to destroy harmful bacterias. We would love to believe that natural products will remedy all situations, but that simply is not the reality. Natural agents are great as preventatives, but they do not have the same capabilities of killing resistant bacterias. Though I mention bacteria as not being equal, it is true. There are good and vital bacterias, and there are bad bacterias. The object is to keep them in balance, not allowing only one or the other, but a balance of both or there will be no resistance built up.
Of all coops, Plastic Garden/Tool Sheds and Metal Garden/Tool Sheds are the absolute easiest for cleaning. They are easily spray washed with hot soapy water or other natural cleaning agents. Though NON insulated wood can be spray/power washed, it is also an environment for dry rot if soaked and not allowed to dry through and thoroughly, which then leads to parasite and insect infestation. So, if power washing a wood environment, do it quickly without complete penetration of the wood, and if insulated wood, cleaning will become a more difficult process over time since insulation can and does trap moisture, and creates an environment for rodent, insect and parasite infestations. Also make sure the power washing is not creating streams and channels for water to be trapped around the perimeter of the coop. If you see this happening, you must avoid that cleaning method or resolve the water collection issue.
Cleaning out bedding waste is all about muscle and a good old fashioned farm rake and pitch fork. Rake out the waste material and compost it. When you replace with fresh bedding, add Agriculture lime to the floor and bedding. The Ag Lime is the cheapest and best known natural odor control and pesticide/insect repellent and will not hurt the environment nor be a problem when composted, though you may need to add some potash (stove/fireplace wood ash), to balance the alkaline from the Lime usage, which you would do while composting all garden materials to keep your soil nutritionally balanced regardless.
Spring cleaning is a perfect opportunity to check for any and all loose wiring, repairing any and all leaking hoses, replacing fittings, lights, and making sure everything is in proper working order. Weather related events are hard on hoses, plastic fittings and wires. Taking the time to check all, will save you heartache when another weather event occurs, so that you can be assured that the environment is safe for you and your chickens. Set up an environment that makes it easier for the chickens to get up and out of waste collecting areas with boxes, pallets or any other easily available and moveable objects. Set up a dry environment for dusting. Dusting areas are as simple as soft dirt, DE/Diatomaceous Earth, Sand, or wood ash, but must be an area that is high and dry so water is not collecting in those dust bowls. Of course chickens will set up their own dusting environment, work with that, just making certain that it is not an area that can collect too much moisture or just another mud bowl.
Though all may sound like a lot of work in the process, it is work that will save you time, effort and more serious problems in the future. Taking the time to do things to create an environment that is best for the chickens is the greater goal, which in turn saves you the time with chores when mud and muck inhibits those chores. It's not realistic to believe we can prevent all the mud, but we can set up areas to make it less of a problem. Doing repairs before they get worse, makes maintenance so much easier in the long run and a lot less costly to keep up that maintenance. It's when we allow things to worsen without addressing them that the tasks tend to get more overwhelming and harder to remedy. Never expect a pristine environment around a farm and especially around fowl, this sets you up for frustration and is virtually impossible to achieve, but it can still be a hygienically safe environment from you and your critters. Do the most urgent tasks first, and each task in order of importance until the environment has been repaired and cleaned as efficiently as possible.
Always remember good hygiene around all animals. Make it a practice to wash between coops, between brooders and coops and between isolation/quarantine and healthy coops. And between the house and the coops, brooders, quarantine areas. Make it a practice for your own health, visitors health and especially important for all children to remember the rules of hygiene. We are not overly cautious, we are respectfully cautious.
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