The chickens have been a lot of fun.. but they have also been a little work. When they were young and in my bathtub as chicks I washed the feeder out regular and kept adding shavings.. a sort of deep litter method for their bedding. When they moved out to the coop I pulled up the plastic that was lining the tub and took it to the compost pile and dumped it. Was glad to get it out of the house as it was beginning to get a bit of an odor to it. Time to do something else.
When the chicks were moved out to their coop, I decided I did not want to continue with the deep litter way of keeping their bedding. I did not like the idea of buying shavings and also piling up their waste for weeks and months on end to await a massive once or twice a year cleaning. I decided I wanted to do a little every week to keep them clean. I had read about sand but was not entirely convinced that would be the way to go. The coop pretty much is just where they spend the night and roost. It is not large enough for me to walk into but I put two large doors that open out on the back to get access to the coop for cleaning. I needed something that was easy to scoop through and clean yet would not need complete removal on a regular basis as the coop was not designed to allow a complete removal of bedding. I read on the Back Yard Chicken Forum about a product called Sweet PDZ that is like sand but a zeolite product so it absorbs ammonia. I decided this would be the way I wanted to go.
I get my Sweet PDZ at Tractor Supply and it runs about $10.00 a bag. it was designed to use instead of lime in horse stalls but has been used in many other applications with success. I used two bags when I put the chicks out to get about a half inch all across the bottom of the coop.
For cleaning I use a mesh file tray I got at Wal-Mart to scoop and sift through the sand like PDZ and a kitty litter scoop. The kitty scoop allows me to pull the PDZ into the tray where I sift it back and forth. You can see in the photo above a weeks worth of roosting over the bedding leaves quite a mess. But the nice thing about the PDZ is it dries the droppings out and also absorbs any odor. Though the floor is a mess, there is virtually no odor. The tray allows the finer PDZ to sift back to the floor and catches all the feces and chicken feathers in the bedding.
Once a week I sift through the entire floor and remove the droppings. I empty the sifter into a cat litter bucket I have next to me outside of the coop. It takes about 15 minutes to remove all the feces and then to spread the PDZ back out. I am keeping about a half inch layer in the bottom as there is really no reason to have it any deeper. When it rains I do get some wet areas around the doors that the sifting breaks up into finer particles again and I just mix the wet into the dryer particles when I spread it back out. When it warms up any damp or wet PDZ will dry out.
The removed manure is then scattered across the top of the compost pile. There are particles of the PDZ in with the manure but it does not harm to the compost pile and is nothing that would cause concern when growing food to eat. Per their website the all-natural Sweet PDZ is recyclable in gardens as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Sweet PDZ is pH neutral.
So far the Sweet PDZ has been economical. It cost me $20 for the initial covering of the bottom of the coop and I have added one other bag since I put the chicks out mid September. So I have invested $30 to date. I kept a little from that last bag and have been adding a handful to the cat litter boxes here in the house when I clean them to control odor. I have another unopened bag that I will add probably half of around the first of the year to maintain the depth on the floor. I expect worst case to add a bag every three months, so it will cost me about $40 annually to use this flooring.
Once a week I also rake the run. I rake up all the loose stuff and rake it into a pile. The chickens then spend their time scratching through the pile and kicking it back out again. For a while I was removing most of what I raked up and adding it to the compost pile. But the run floor is getting to be pretty hard packed dirt, so I am leaving a bit more of the leaf debris in the pen. I recently got some bagged leaves from Craigslist and have since dumped one of the bags in the run. The chickens were a bit scared of it at first.. then they got to scratching around and got it scattered everywhere. I raked the leaves into a pile tonight and added another bag of leaves on the top of the pile. I will let the chickens scratch the leaves as they look for their food I scatter and break the leaves into smaller pieces. It may take a bit as the leaves are Live Oak leaves.. and they are tough. But a few months in the chicken pen will get them torn up and mixed with chicken manure and they will be a great addition to the compost.
I did have to take some time last weekend to block the chickens access to the area over their nest boxes. It was a cozy area where a few chickens could roost. However, it is not designed to be easily cleaned as I have to actually get into the coop to get access to that top area. It was a nasty mess to clean up as there is no bedding up there to absorb moisture or odors. Once I got it cleaned up I put the bag of shavings I got for the nest boxes and an empty cat litter bucket up there to block access. So far so good. No one back up there and the area is staying clean. Will organize it more in the spring as a storage area.
As I eagerly await my first egg.. I enjoy the daily interaction with feeding the chickens and really do not mind the additional chores that have been added to my life. The pullets should be ready to start laying around the first of the year.. that is when they hit 20 weeks of age. I have added shavings and some fake eggs to their nest boxes and am now checking the boxes every few days as well as doing the other chores. Though a little work, the chickens are a lot of fun to watch and worth every penny and second I give them.