The day was perfect; 80 degree temps, 20 mph winds and the skies a bit overcast. I was not going to get another day like this in mid-May. Oklahoma never celebrates much for spring weather days. No siree. We go from winter cold to scorching summer heat in the blink of an eye. One might relish a couple of fair weather weeks in the middle somewhere, but even that could be marred by a violent spring storm, like tornado activity or hail.
I dressed in my oldest pair of jeans, complete with patches. I noted gaping holes at the pocket seams, at one hip and both knees. Patches weren’t going to hold this garment together much longer. A farm girl rarely parts with her favorite old threads. It isn’t about the look, it’s about comfort and love of a soft, favorite fabric. I selected a t-shirt riddled with holes, donned my Muck boots, located a filtering mask for my face and flopped my sun visor on top of my head. I was ready to go! Ready to tackle the semi-annual chicken poop scooping venture!
Heading to the chicken barn I stopped to look over the pathetic brussels sprout plants that bugs had overtaken. I had battled these same bugs for two years prior. I quickly decided to pull up the plants and let the chickens feast on them. This would make for a good diversion for my friends, keeping them out of the barn while I was inside cleaning. Most all were delighted with the spoils, that is, except for Miss Gulch. I named her after the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Doesn’t the hat/comb, nose/beak and the discerning eye look a little bit familiar?
Chicken coop cleaning doesn’t take a lot of know-how. It’s one of those common sense tasks. If you fail at chicken coop cleaning 101 the first time, you will always have subsequent opportunities to hone your skills and achieve perfection eventually. Basically, one removes the chicken waste, does a little cleaning, spreads diatomaceous earth (for insect and mite control), then puts down new straw or hay. We raised chickens at home when I was a young girl. My Mom always cleaned the coop. It was our job to collect eggs. No one taught me to clean a coop. I just knew when I moved here it had to be done.
After that first stint of cleaning the chicken barn, I discovered many short-cuts and methods to ease the “discomfort” of the task. I found it takes simple organization. Opening all of the doors and windows makes for excellent air flow and less dust. I wear a filtering mask. The kind with the little ventilation respirators are great for keeping the face cooler. A good pair of gloves is a must. I wear muck boots because they are easy to clean, and they protect from mice. Yes, the first time I cleaned the coop it hadn’t been cleaned in a long time. Mice had taken up residence in the poo and came running from all directions, including up my shoes and pant legs!
Having just a few common tools makes the job quick and easy. If I had to pick one tool it would be the garden rake. It makes for quick, concise removal into the wheelbarrow. Turning it over on the straight edge allows for scraping and dredging. Working from one end of the coop to the other makes the job fast and easy. Being organized is the key.
The only problem I run into are a few hens who refuse to leave the barn. Uno (our one-eyed wonder) finally left the barn but she sulked outdoors giving me the big “stink-eye” with her good eye every chance she got. She rarely ventures outside because the other hens pick on her. That’s how she lost her eye. I see she has no tail feathers these days either. Then there is Mildred, another favorite who I named after my rather robust Grandmother who had bad legs. Mildred likes to scavenge a mouse if she can get one, but her legs are bad and she’s slow, and often
another hen will snatch up her prize! Mildred will growl and cluck in disgust over her loss. She’s underfoot a lot, but she’s one of my favorites so she gets by with just about anything! Another event I have no control over is the timing of egg laying. I try to clean the nest boxes out first so that would-be egg layers can get in their favorite nest box to lay an egg. I am pretty sure when the urge hits to lay an egg it cannot be put off! I feel like an intruder while I am cleaning in the barn.
What should be a pleasant time of egg-laying, is interrupted by my scraping and clanging. Pretty soon a din of rebellious cackling and clucking in disgust takes over and I can’t hear myself think. Chickens do not like to be disturbed.
One of our gardens is next to the chicken barn so I get a lot of observation time in while I’m weeding and watering. Chicken watching is a delight. They are very social and often hilarious to watch. Each hen has her own personality and quirks. Our roosters, Earl (I’m not fond of) and Hugo (gets beaten up by Earl occasionally which is why I don’t like Earl!) are excellent sentries, looking out for the ladies. Of course they make sure we have, uh, fertilized eggs, which I’m told are healthier for us than the unfertilized version. Our flock of chickens work hard for us, so it makes me feel good to be their housekeeping maid a couple of times a year.
The Nadarko Poultry farm, owned by FD’s Great Uncle Olin and managed by Olin’s brother Noel, once occupied the acres we live on. The old chicken barn is one of two remaining poultry buildings left from the business that started up in the spring of 1925. Noel bred White Leghorns and won many state poultry contests and competitions for high egg production. In its time, it was considered one of the most up-to-date breeding facilities in the State of Oklahoma. I am sure Uncle Noel and Uncle Olin would have a good laugh at my simple farm girl knowledge of chickens. They might argue that the Barred Plymouth Rock hens we now keep are a poor production bird in comparison to the White Leghorn’s that once were bred here. I do not know the statistics. All that matters to me is our girls lay eggs and they are friendly hens. Uncle Olin and Noel might snicker about the way FD’s mother and I do things around here. But, it might just tickle them too, that in some small way the poultry tradition still carries on in the family.
Someone once told me that our family history is the legacy we pass on to future generations. I sure hope someday there’s a little girl or a clever boy who takes a shine to the chickens… delights in their antics and peculiarities, and learns to keep a clean chicken coop!
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…