Dirty Job and a Measuring Stick

I have taken on quite a few dirty jobs on Ten-Acre Ranch since FD and I moved here back in 2008. Most folks who come from a farm background or have a few acres of land, understand that dirty work is just part of this life. Of this dirty work, cleaning up after livestock is probably some of the nastiest I can imagine. Fortunately, it does not require special know-how, but just good old common sense. Back in June of 2011 I wrote about one filthy task that I do in a blog posting titled, “Cleaning the Chicken Coop“. The following is an excerpt from that post:

I make all of the chickens and roosters exit the barn when I clean the coop. It makes for less noise and no snoops underfoot.
Whitey is the meanest chicken around! She and I have a long history of respecting each other… basically, we leave each other alone!

“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 satisfaction.  Basically, one removes the chicken waste, does a little cleaning and sanitizing,  spreads diatomaceous earth or lime (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 feed them,  keep fresh water out, and collect the eggs daily.  No one taught me how 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 barn 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 garden 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 go fast and easy. Being organized is the key.”

Just a few basic garden tools are needed to take on the task of coop cleaning.
A handy hook from the ceiling lifts the roosts for easy scraping and raking the dried poop!
This hen would not leave the nest when I escorted all of the other chickens outside while I worked.
The garden rake is my favorite scraping tool.
Poop, feathers, and sometimes a few very rotten eggs are en mass in the manure.

The chickens here on the ranch actually belong to my mother-in-law. Generally, I do not agree with her practices regarding care of the chickens and inbreeding of the stock, and for many years I kept myself twisted up about what I observed in the chicken barn and yard. FD teases me about the “Lori measuring stick” that I carry around, measuring my ways of doing things against someone else’s method and, of course, mostly declaring my way to be superior.  When we first moved to this place, I was so unhappy with the conditions in the chicken barn that I decided to take charge of cleaning the chicken coop. Twice a year, when my in-laws were away on a religious sabbatical or trip to visit friends or family, I cleaned the chicken barn.  This arrangement worked fine until I got my measuring stick out and had a fit about some “infraction” my mother-in-law was committing (at least in my eyes) and, in delivering “justice” to the situation, withdrew my help in maintaining the chicken coop. With each violation of the “Lori measuring stick”where my mother-in-law’s animal husbandry practices were concerned, I became more disillusioned and upset. I finally just quit helping or arguing my point altogether. They were her chickens after all, and she had never asked for my help nor my opinion. Unfortunately, my withdrawal of cleaning the barn only made me more miserable as the months went on… and likely the chickens suffered too.

Gosh only knows when this poor hen perished. These are the types of situations that really bother me. She might have been sick, or picked on by the other hens, or just old. No matter what caused her death, no hen should die in a heap of poop. I removed what was left of her and hauled her to the burn pile for cremation, since it does no good to bury anything on this place, as the foxes dig the bodies up. I always thank the hens for providing nutritious eggs and endless entertainment throughout their lives.
The hen that refused to leave her nest ended up being a helper. I found her chasing mice and cockroaches while I worked.
I look terrible in selfies, probably because I rarely take selfies. Here you can see the type of mask I wear, and one can also see how the dust hangs in the air despite all windows and doors being open on a breezy morning. I can guarantee all of you that I am every bit as miserable as I look in this photo!
Chicken poo and barn dust clings to hair and coats exposed skin. EW!!
Scooping floor straw and scraping any clinging poop from the floor is the last step in coop cleanup.
The chicken barn is on the other side of the garden. The manure pile is just behind me around a corner. That’s a lot of walking to haul fourteen wheelbarrow loads of manure!
This will be next spring’s garden and flower bed manure. To avoid applying a fertilizer that is too “hot”, it’s best to let the manure season for a year or more out in the elements.

Last fall, after a long stint of avoiding the chicken barn altogether, I finally sneaked into the coop on a morning when I knew my in-laws would be gone and finally cleaned up the wretched mess that had not been dealt with in more than a year. At last, my tormented soul could take comfort in knowing the chickens would at least have a few months of semi-comfort. Then in early June of this year I did it again. This time, I also picked a day when I had the place to myself, knowing there would be no interference from my in-laws. Coop cleaning is not a job I like at all, but I feel better doing it knowing the chickens get a break from the filth for a little while. And at least, I have finally realized my expectations of how chickens should be cared for, and arguing my point with my in-laws, has never proven productive – though my mother-in-law does always thank me graciously when she discovers that I have cleaned the barn. So now, I do this dirty job knowing I am just doing what I need to for myself, and I understand that is all there is to it. Really, it boils down to feeling good about doing a job that I feel is important for the well-being of the hens and roosters.

The cleaned coop.
The hens explore the clean digs and fresh straw. Already a few hens find their way to the nest boxes to get to the business of laying eggs.

Maybe someday, I will manage to give that measuring stick of mine a toss. I wonder if such an act could liberate me from my expectations of how something should be done, or how someone should behave? This is certainly worth exploring…

The reward after a hard morning’s work is having a cup of good coffee, watching the woodlands awaken from the back porch.

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


34 thoughts on “Dirty Job and a Measuring Stick

  1. That hair clinging photo says a lot. I had no idea what was involved in cleaning up chicken poop. I have a good friend who lives near me with over 70 chickens. I’ll share this with her. She is a fanatic about rescuing and taking care of her chickens, all different breeds and sizes. She even has an ICU where she tends to them. It is a lot of work but bless you both for caring so well for your feathery family. Hope you have a good weekend. 🙂

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    1. Oh my goodness! Seventy is a LOT of chickens, and to do ICU work is a lot of work and responsibility. I don’t think I’ll be clucking about all of my hard work after hearing about your friend! My hat is off to her and the good work she is doing! If I were there I’d be lending a hand for sure! 🙂

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  2. Lori, I can’t argue with your stick and I’d be sick too if I were in your shoes. I’d just clean it each and every time the folks were away and not let it mound up into a job made of so much manure. When growing up, that was one of my chores, helping my dad clean the chicken coop. It is dusty and my dad and I would wear a white rag tied that covered our mouths and noses. My parents kept around 30 chickens and sold eggs to supplement the income of the field crops. It wasn’t much but it helped along with selling fresh guinea meat to wealthy folks in town.

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    1. I think a lot of farm folks kept both layer and meat chickens. We always kept about twenty for eggs for our family, but my Dad’s parents had two hundred at times, most were layers. An egg man came by twice a week to pick up huge crates of eggs. Then once a year we helped with butchering and freezing chicken meat for winter. It’s funny that never once were we kids asked to clean the coop.
      I am very sure that measuring stick of mine will be tossed at some point. It doesn’t serve me very well, if it ever did! 😀

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  3. Lori, I agree, that sometimes we do have to perform tasks that are not our responsibility and then just feel better for knowing you have performed a needed service. I am sure your MIL’s chickens love you for it. BTW, I just lost Betty to a fox last night and now I am faced with building a new chicken house in the next month. (My chicken tractor is no longer reliable.) So I think I may try one of the old time methods you’ve picture here, like that lifting roost shown in this post, albeit on a much smaller scale!

    Q: Have you ever considered buying a remnant of vinyl flooring to cover the old plywood base under the roosting bars? It really makes cleanup much easier (JMHO). I know, I know; not your chickens. 😉

    Thank you for a timely post!

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear about Betty. I always worry about the squirrels I’ve raised as we have a huge population of foxes at times. Raccoons can be horrible too. That hook to lift those heavy wooden roosts is a real help. Your idea is wonderful! I’d never thought of doing something like that to ease the cleaning process. Surely a remnant couldn’t cost too much. Thanks for a great idea, Lynda!!
      Someday FD and I will build a smaller chicken facility with better materials. I’d like a tractor to move around too. The old chicken barn is in horrible shape – it’s been leaning in for years. One day we’ll wake up and it will be laying in a giant heap!

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  4. Ahh, that photo of the dust on your arm is making me want to take a shower. What a nasty job! I just found out that my sister is getting rid of her chickens because she’s tired of dealing with their mess, and this post gives me a better idea of what she’s talking about.

    I admire your self-awareness regarding the “Lori measuring stick.” I think we all have our own versions of that in some way, and it’s good when we recognize that our way isn’t always the best or only way to do something. However, when it comes to the health of the animals entrusted to our care, I think we have to err on the side of high standards, as you seem to do. I applaud you for doing what you can to help ease the suffering of those chickens. It’s so sad to see animals die from neglect, as apparently happened to that little hen you found. I’m going to make a donation to Farm Sanctuary right now as a tribute to her.

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    1. Aw, Kim, that is a lovely gesture! Your thoughtfulness is one of the things I love most about you!

      I have come to realize that my measuring stick has been a problem for me most of my life. FD has always teased me about sizing things up as to how I would do them, but it wasn’t until recently when I read, “Rising Strong”, by Brene’ Brown, that I realized just how deep my expectations of others runs. And you know how it is when we have that “Aha!” moment… you can no longer deny it – you are cognizant of it every time it comes up. Right now I’m in that disbelief stage not realizing just how often I pulled that stick out!! 😀

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    1. Chickens and roosters are so entertaining. Our chickens are next to my garden so I see a lot of interaction and antics while I work. I have heard they make great pets and if they’re handled while they are young, they are extremely docile. I need to do a blog post about the hen “Whitey” that I photographed above. We’ve had some intense moments!

      Sorry, I don’t need a rooster, and in fact my MIL has two too many right now. That’s another issue she and I have locked horns on (yes, I admit to having horns!!), she keeps way too many roosters to the number of hens. I hope you find a good home for your rooster. Are there any local farmers who might take him? We have a local flea market where people bring all sorts of farm animals for free or for sale.

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    1. Jeepers, Monica! I guess I have a LOT of character in that case! Ha ha! Have you raised any chickens in Montana? I imagine it would be difficult in winter and also hard to find someone to watch them while you are traveling. Those farm-fresh eggs sure are wonderful though. I can’t see us ever without a few chickens here.

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  5. It is a hard lesson to learn, to either do something for yourself or do it for another reason, and be detached from the outcome or judgements of others. It is something I learned from raising our daughter. I learned pretty quickly when she was young that she had her own mind about certain things (how to dress!) and to go find other battles that were worth fighting, such as her safety and wellbeing. The latter things she learned the hard way at times, though I did my best to protect her, but other things she does her own way and I’m fine with that. In fact I marvel at her ingenious approach to achieving her own goals at times. They are not my goals, but that doesn’t matter. I truly hope you find some peace and wish you many nice cups of coffee in that ‘farmgirl’ mug!! Job well done. xxx

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    1. Oh Ardys, how I wish I was having coffee with you so many mornings. I have a feeling I could benefit from your wisdom and compassionate nature. I feel like such a late bloomer figuring out so many of the things that have kept me crippled for so long. It did me good to read this story about you and your own journey to find peace. 🙂

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    1. Hi Laurie! Some of our chickens have marked personalities and are quite entertaining to watch. I can’t be sure if this is the same one or not, but there is usually a hen or two that love to seek out mice or bugs while I’m working. They’re very clever at catching and killing those mice, and I have heard chickens can kill snakes too. It usually takes me two to three hours to clean and put new bedding down. Spring is worse than fall cleaning. The chickens spend a lot more time in the barn over the winter months and the poop is harder to remove from the floor than the roosts.

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  6. Hi Lori, I am sure the poultry appreciate your work in cleaning their quarters given the size of the job. The benefit is lots of free fertiliser for the garden. I am surprised you are not wearing a head covering given the dust and filth floating about in the air.
    It can be hard to know the boundary between helping and interfering especially when negotiating difficult family relationships.

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    1. That is a very good notation about wearing a head covering. This kind of work in the warmer months is pretty much unbearable for me to wear a head covering or long sleeves. And I have always been irritated at wearing a face mask. The respirator kind help a lot, but I still get too hot under that mask, and I remove it each time I take a load to the manure pile. The more clothes and face gear I must wear, the more unpleasant the job becomes.It’s all about comfort for me.. and I take a shower immediately after the job!

      That manure makes the best fertilizer for the following spring. Grubs break it down into lovely soil if one can wait two years for it to season.

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    1. Ha ha! Steve, I don’t think this job has to be such an ordeal, but we’re working with an old poultry facility. Today’s chicken coops are easy to clean and the roosts are lightweight. Those wooden roosts we have are very heavy. I’m just about not a big enough girl to lift those suckers and get the holding hooks under them!

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  7. Oh, Lori, what a hardworking and compassionate soul to tackle this horrible job. But you needed to, for yourself and for those chickens.

    Where did you get that mug? This would suit me perfectly. I love the earthy look and, of course, the identifying words.

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    1. I agree, Audrey, those chickens deserve clean digs. I appreciate their hard work putting out eggs every day… it’s the least I can do!

      I found that mug at Rustic Ranch in Valley View, TX years ago. They were selling out their stock of dinnerware and this was the only mug like it. I just Googled “Lifestyles Rustic Stoneware – Cowboy Living TM” and see that ebay has several, but are they ever pricey! I know I only paid about $8 for mine. If I ever run across another one in an antique store or flea market, I’ll pick one up for you!

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  8. Do you think some people have bigger measuring sticks to make up for the ones have have little or none?….nature and life likes balance. Wouldn’t worry about it too much (who needs more worry?) it seems you are able to tune it up or down as necessary.
    Those poor chickens. Surprised the chicken union isn’t demanding better living and working conditions. Can’t imagine the smell…and I’d worry about snakes coming in after the rats and finding chickens/eggs. (Bet vintage farmers of olde days would be mesmerized and thrilled with your mask). My mom had to end chickens as a kid (scars on backs of legs to prove it) and hated it – so we never had chickens.
    I’d consider some maybe if they could free range, fly and roost in trees outdoors like we saw in West TX (I know predators and egg hunting, but realistically if I lived on a farm had chickens they’d be mainly pets and yard ornaments)

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    1. The “chicken union” would surely have a case over here. And you bring up a good point about the snakes being attracted to food sources. We have had snakes in the nests to eat eggs, and there are some horror stories about how my in-law’s have dealt with that situation too. I best stop here… the measuring stick is trying to make an appearance again.
      When I have my own chickens, we will build a small facility that is easy to keep clean. We will have a portable tractor to protect the girls where they can eat grasses and bugs, and have shelter without danger of predators. And yes, I believe they will be working pets. Those eggs are golden… what a gift!

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  9. And I thought I worked hard in my little ole chicken house! Good thing my hubby helps me. I always wait a little too long and I have to pick a nice cool time of day to do it. I can’t seem to get it done in the heat very well. It always does feel good to get it done and see the results. Especially when the hens seem to appreciate it. I just found out about the diatomaceous dirt. I will have to start using it. I also read that you can feed the food grade dirt to the chickens. Do you do that too? I would cry if I found that poor hen. It was hard enough to find one of my hens dead yesterday. Tom found her first. I was debating if we should dispatch her. She was very poopy in the behind and was struggling to walk just the last day or two. I felt very bad for not dispatching her sooner. Tom kept saying she would pull out of it. I should have and will insist the next time. Have a great weekend. 😉

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    1. I’m so sorry about your hen. Those decisions are so hard to make… and generally chickens are tough and usually do pull through. They’re very resilient.
      I do sprinkle diatomaceous dirt in the layer crumbles. However, do keep in mind that if you live in a humid climate, DE tends to clump and is not as effective. I sprinkle it in with the fresh hay also (for bedding) as it is very effective in keeping insects and mites under control. I sprinkle it all around the porches too as it helps keep spiders from making webs all over, and crawling insects are non-existent. Some folks dust their pets with it. Food grade is what I buy. Good luck!! 😀

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      1. Thank you for the information. I am doing a little research on DE and I read that the Food Grade was what is wanted. I definitely would like to keep the creepy crawlies out. I have seen too many spiders in the house and basement this year. I think I will definitely be buying some.

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