Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring Clean Out: Deep Litter Method

About this time each Spring, I write about our use of the "Deep Litter Method" of handling animal waste through the winter months. It is a riveting topic that is sure to cause unbridled enthusiasm on the part of our loyal readers. At least, that is what I tell myself as my life changes from cute animal images to what feels like days on end of shoveling out manure. I also convince myself that when we plant our garden next Spring, we will be happy to have this black gold to top fill all of our garden beds. The truth is, after a couple of back-breaking hours of hauling manure in all its odoriferous glory, the benefits of doing so matter much less than the reward of it finally getting done and knowing that this unpleasant chore will not need to be repeated for another year. I know some folks who employ the deep litter method year round. For us, I prefer to do semi-weekly clean outs of the stalls and coop for the majority of the year. It just makes me happy to see them clean with a fresh bed of pine shavings. For more information on the Deep Litter Method, this article from Mother Earth News was very informative.

Yesterday, Sean and I tackled the chicken coop. I am very proud that I personally shoveled out 3/4 of the coop on my own, with Sean hauling away the litter to a new compost pile. He had to step in and finish for me. My back just would not take any more shoveling. When it was finished, I spread out hay in two corners in the hopes that our goose, who has been laying eggs regularly this past couple weeks will go broody and hatch out a nest of goslings for us. Sean, also tackled the horse stall. He's super-man like that.

This weekend, we hope to begin removing the thick layer of soiled hay from each of the goat stalls. I hope that with warmer days and sun, we will have the entire barn clean by next weekend. (In re-reading, I noticed that I employed the word "we". Truth be told, this mass clean out is much too heavy for me to lift. While I can care for the routine clean outs on my own without trouble, when it comes to the once-yearly major clean out, Sean does most of the work. My part involves keeping him company with my ready wit, counting how many loads he's hauled (very helpful, I am told) and feeding him vast quantities of hearty food when he is done and has showered. But, as we are "one-flesh" I take partial credit for this work because Sean is kind enough to allow that. Totally Super-Man.)

We spent hours this week tracking down more hay. We're thankful to have found additional hay bales for the animals, but they will only last a couple of weeks before we will need to find more. We are searching to purchase a couple round bales for Jasmine. Since she eats like a proverbial horse, a round bale in the pasture will help us to stretch the limited number of square bales we can purchase. We can feed round bales to the goats too, but we have found that in the past, this costs us more in the long run and is more work for us to boot. It will take Jasmine a bit to eat a round bale on her own and that will ease the stress on the limited amount of square bales we have. At least, that is the theory. It is worrisome how many folks are out of hay. Neighbors who have the equipment and hay acres and acres of land for their herds of dairy cows or sheep are buying hay themselves this year. One more worry to add to the pile.

One of these neighbors stopped in to check on our search yesterday. It was a kind thing to do and his concern was appreciated. While here, he mentioned that a bale of hay was laying on the side of the road, just up the way. It seems someone lost a bale in their travels. With no way to discover who had lost it and the bale broken up and getting wet in the rain, the bigger shame was in letting it go to waste. It was not suitable for goats or horse, but would be useful in the nest boxes and Ebony would appreciate the warmth to root into.

While we were out, we caught a
glimpse of a couple pairs of wild ducks in the stream. The Hooded Mergansers are so pretty. Perhaps this pair will have a nest. I hope so. Our Mallards are starting to pair off. Angelis and his hen have flown the coop and spent the last week together in the would-be pond. I don't know that they will appreciate it or even use it as we intend, but I think a flake of the road-side hay placed out for their use might encourage them to build a nest and start sitting. So far, the nest of duck eggs in the chicken coop has not been sat on regularly. I'll give it a week to see if any of the hens will claim it. The nest of chicken eggs is being set upon by a very broody and protective black hen. This is good news.

I hope they build a nest and hatch out a clutch of ducklings for us.

Back at home, Sean and I made quick work of the afternoon feeding and watering chores. While I brought hay and grain to the goats and horse, we let the kids and their Mommas out in the yard to stretch their legs and romp. The other goats' stall doors are facing the field, so those goats can leave the barn anytime they choose. The nursing mothers and their kids are separated still from the main herd, so daily exercise time is a must.

I like sitting and watching the kids bounce and play. The boys are all feeling the urge to head-butt one another. The girls are more interested in eating whatever they can find or steal.

Anna the Brave
Jasmine is less thrilled with this arrangement. Jasmine is used to stealing a bale of hay if Sean throws them down to me before I bring them into the barn. She just reaches over the white line and pulls a bale to where she can eat it in comfort before I get them all where they need to go. Since it keeps her out of the barn and from getting in our way, I leave the one she claims outside for the while. The kids have caught on to this routine... and they are fearless.

Jasmine finished her grain before Abigail and the chickens could help themselves to it. 
They took turns jumping on top of the hay bale and eating what they wanted between Jasmine's mouthfuls of hay. Miss Anna had no manners what-so-ever. She tried to steal hay directly from Jasmine's mouth! I worried that Jasmine would show her displeasure by threatening to bite, but so far, she flips her tail, twitches her ears, and eats large mouthfuls before the kids can get too much of  her stolen booty.
The new kids are growing every day. It is such fun to have eight littles bounding about on spring feet. I am working on editing some video for you. I'll post it as soon as it is ready. Salome is due to kid any time now. So, be on the watch for those pictures, too.

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends.
~Sean and Sonja ♥

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