Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cleaning the Chicken Coop/Does it smell?

When it comes up in conversation that my husband and I keep chickens in our basement, one of the first few questions asked is, "Doesn't that smell?"

I will be honest, if we let changing their bedding go too long it does start to smell. Right before our wedding we were both too busy to change it and you could start to pick up an odor when you were about half way down the basement steps. Since the wedding, we have gotten back on track, and we change their pen about ever three weeks. It takes us about a half an hour. When it does smell, it only smells in the basement. We have never let it go so long that our entire home smells! Changing their bedding is just like when you changed your childhood pet hamster's bedding but on a bigger scale!

How we clean the coop...
What the chickens are doing while we clean out the basement pen....must be nice : )
1. First we put the chickens outside in their makeshift pen.
2. Remove all their "accessories" - the water, food, nesting box, etc. 
The pen with the bedding swept out. Didn't Jeff pick a nice pattern of linoleum for the girls?
3. We sweep up the aspen bedding which we buy at the pet store and carry it outside to our garden or compost pile.
Washing the bottom of the waterer.
4. We wash out their water and food containers with disinfectant, soap and hot water.
This is the bedding we buy for the girls.
5. Lay down new aspen bedding and put back their accessories.

A note about bedding: Using wood shavings over linoleum has worked out really well for us. The wood shavings absorb moisture and the manure quickly dries out as it gets buried in the shavings. This really keeps any smells to an almost unnoticeable minimum. The chickens also like to scratch and root around in it. It is also a cinch to clean. We just sweep it up and either put it in trash bags out by the curb, or put it out in the composter in the back yard. We usually go with aspen bedding which is a more expensive than regular pine shavings, but really keeps the pen smelling fresh and clean. Beware of cedar, though. Supposedly the strong smell given off by cedar can be harmful to chickens respiratory systems.

Clean to their majesties' satisfaction!

Aquaponic Mishap 2

While I did make a fatal flaw in the aquaponic system I didn't mess it up in the way I thought I did! So today I was at our local home brew/hydroponic store (Yeah, isn't that cool?) I was asking about their pumps after my last aquaponic post where we thought I had left out a pump (see post here.) I ended up chatting with the girl who low and behold turned out to be a aquaponic major at a local college. (Yes they do have such a thing...I was just as surprised to learn that.) She was great! Turns out that I am okay with out pumping the water out of the tank onto the plants since the air pump makes the water (with the poop when is dissolves) mist onto the bottom of the plants. So instead of buying a new water pump all I had to get was a a tube for my air pump to make sure the mist spreads around all the plants.  My big mistake was is putting perlite as my growing medium. Fish will eat the perlite and can't pass it which eventually kills them. I am going to have to grow my plants in just the pea gravel. Lets hope I can transfer my seedlings to the just pea gravel pots because I would hate to lose that growth.
The fish in the bag they came in. I had them waiting overnight so the temperatures would adjust to avoid shocking them.

Aren't they cute?

Freedom! I let them into the big tank this morning, and I am glad to say not one of the died overnight!

Garlic Planting

One of the many garlic seeds I planted today. You can see a little of the cider making pulp that we are using as fertilizer also.

Chicken bedding instead of straw to keep the garlic warm over the winter. (Yes that is my Halloween pumpkin in the background that we threw in the garden to compost over the winter.)
Sadly it is that time of year to plant cold crops so today we put in our garlic for next Spring. My dad got us the garlic from a local farmer's market. He wrote on each bulb what kind of garlic it is but the marker blurred so I have no idea what I am planting! Hope we like it! Lacking straw to put over the garlic like you are supposed to do I put old chicken pen bedding over. I figure it will keep  it warm like the straw would and the chicken poop will be fertilizer- bonus! Lets hope this garlic works out.

Fish Poop?

Hmm.... so it appears that I overlooked a major part of the DIY aquaponic system. Last night when we got home from the hatchery. I had to immediately get dressed for a black tie event. Another challenge of being an urban farmer- going from farm duties to professional duties. Not a problem though! I had my pantyhose on underneath my jeans and used a witch hazel based hand sanitizer to get the fish smell off me. A simple black dress with a major wow crazy artsy fartsy necklace to distract from not so perfectly done makeup/hair and I was good to go! Anyways where I am going with this post, is while I was gone at this dinner Jeff started doing some research on aquaponic systems, and I left out a major element when I was building my system.  I forgot about the poop!!!! The fish liquid waste (pee) will filter into the plants since the plant pots are submerged in the water but the poop will sink to the bottom. This means two things, one my system will start to smell and two I will have to clean the tank which isn't fun and the plants wont get the fish poop nutrition. I am going to have to go out to the hydroponic store and pick up a pump and figure out a way to get the water pouring on to the plants. To be determined on how to do this.....

Fish for the Aquaponic System

Wow, yesterday was a long day. Jeff and I drove two hours each way to get fish for our aquaponic system! I was shocked by how hard it was to find perch fingerlings. Originally I had wanted to find tilapia. I called all the local aquarium stores who told me they didn't have any. Then I tried pond stocking hatcheries who would only sell them to me by the hundred. Eventually one of the hatcheries took petty on me and let me know of a guy who would sell a small number. I called Phil at Fingerlakes Aquaculture. He was great! He let me know that I didn't want tilapia after all since I would need a heater to keep them from dying, and I should probably go with perch. He was a wealth of information and yesterday we got the twenty yellow perch fingerlings. We had to put them in a cooler and drive home with them in the back seat. I was worried on the way back if I had to stop suddenly we would have fish and fish water everywhere! Lucky Jeff, myself, and the fish made it home safe and sound. I put them in the bag overnight in the aquaponic system to let the temperature adjust and today I opened the bag and let them loose in the main system. Not one of them died but Phil did warn us that the stress may kill about 10%. Fingers crossed for the newest members of the homestead!