With deep litter in the coops, some people say you can let the chooks work it for months. Even though we regularly top up with straw as well as lavender, rosemary and wormwood cuttings, it became time to clear some of the top layer away, especially in their sleeping quarters where they typically don’t scratch it around all that much. The photo above shows Fluffball inspecting a new layers of herb cuttings.
The main thing that triggered this was happening in the renovated coop where the ducks overnight. My word, they can make a mess of things! All the straw underneath their waterer, and even the mulch underneath that, was one big sopping mess. It was a sure recipe for some undesirable and unhealthy stuff to start breeding out. As I had to dig out the wet straw and mulch I thought, just as well, a good time to do both coops.
Forking out the damp poo-filled straw is no fun, but I must say it was very exciting to work those layers of damp and nitrogen-enriched straw into the compost heaps. I can almost hear the heaps revving up with all the new input. I can’t wait for that new black gold to be ready to be used. Amazing – all the money we spent on chook and duck food is now turning into no-cost compost with built-in fertiliser. All I need to do is layer it, wait and turn it. Energy cycling, thank you Mr Mollison.
So my grand plan was to put in a drainage system in the duck coop, basically as I had done in the brooder when they were small, but now on a much bigger and self-managing scale.
So the drainage system consists of a shallow playpen tub (a cheap kids sandpit), a very strong grid (which had to be cut by angle grinder), a wood frame (which I made from some old off-cuts left over from the strawberry terrace project) and a few bits of plumbing, silicone gel and a section of old irrigation pipe. I could have gone for a big planter dish, which is a bit small, or for the massive sandpit bowl. Knowing by now how much the ducks can mess, I went big! I’d rather spend a bit more, battle a bit more to fit it in (that was quite a story!) but then have much cleaner and dryer straw in the coop. I bet the persimmon and loquat tree in the run just outside the coop are going to enjoy the frequent dosages of manure-enriched water.
However, things don’t always go according to plan. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. The other night when I cleaned their waterer (yes, they still mess it up) and brought it back in, there was the one duck taking straw from the floor and carrying it up onto the mesh and dropping it through the mesh into the water. And that of course clogs the plug. I can understand a few strands dropping in there over time, sure, it sticks to their floppy feet and then rub off on the mesh. But this is worse than that! The little so and so… (Actually they are getting beautifully big.) So I’ve had to improve my design and add a duck-proof and duck feet safe opening through which I can clear the plug hole.
My challenge was retrofitting it on the frame as it was in-place in the coop. The frame is really heavy and hard to remove. It was built to last, stay in place and not to move! Removing, refitting and replacing a 1.25m x 1.25m grid mounted on a heavy frame wasn’t really practical. What made it harder was that it was really uncomfortable to work in the confined space of the coop. I guess I should have thought about it upfront, except I didn’t have that same problem in the brooder because we easily removed and cleaned the brooder’s grid and catchment bowl every time.
So I thought about designing some clever little hinged and clasped hatch above the drainage hole, which I thought I could grind out of the mesh and retrofit. I would have had to make sure they couldn’t open it, because I can just imagine their flat little beaks getting in there, opening it up and then getting stuck trying to get to the muck below. They would – they’re ducks after all. In the end, I gave up on that idea, pried the whole mesh off (in the confined space), mounted it on a thin frame and then fixed the thin mesh-frame with hinges and clasps to the big frame, which stayed in place. I don’t think the bottom frame can be moved anymore… Anyway, now I can open up the whole mesh and clean the basin however and whenever I need to. Much better in the long run, I think.
But despite their mess, the ducks are really cute and beautiful! And useful too – even after a few weeks it seems that the snail population has reduced considerably.