*** Sensitive reader advisory! As you can probably sense from the title, I use the word “shit” a lot in this post! I know there are other words I could have used instead, but when you’re talking about mucking out chicken shit there really is no better word to accurately describe the horribleness that it entails. Consider yourselves warned. ***
Last week Andrew and I mucked out our hen house. You may remember the beautiful mobile house that Andrew built early last season. It’s a lovely red barn-like structure built on a trailer, with next boxes, roosting bars, and small chicken-sized doors that can be locked when necessary. The bottom of the hen house is comprised of metal grates with holes small enough to keep critters out, but large enough to let their poo pass through. Or so that was the idea. Chicken shit is actually pretty sticky. It globs together, forming a thick cement-like paste as it dries. It had been several months since we last cleaned out the hen house, and when we recently moved it to a new spot we noticed there wasn’t the normal accumulation of shit (also great fertilizer!) underneath it. That’s when I opened the door and took a look, and a whiff.
A layer of hardened chicken shit cement about four inches thick had accumulated below the roosts. The chickens walk around on this shit floor, and then go into their nest boxes to lay eggs. That creates dirty eggs, which creates lots of extra work for me, as it is my job alone to clean eggs (by hand, using sandpaper!). We decided it was time to do some mucking.
Another feature of our hen house is that it has one human-sized door. This is great until you realize that you can’t reach the far end of the hen house without climbing through and under (shit covered) chicken roosts. Our longest handled shovels couldn’t reach. We did our best, me awkwardly straddling and scooping and passing full snow shovel loads back to Andrew to dump outside. We also angled shovels through the little chicken doors, doing out best to scrape and scoop what we could at awkward angles. Eventually we couldn’t do any more with our shovels, and we brought out the hose with a spray nozzle to finish the job. The water pressure at the farm isn’t terribly high, so it was a long, wet, shit-flying-everywhere process.
Andrew and I took turns, as you can only handle so much. Chicken shit is relatively odorless once dried, but get that shit wet and boy howdy! The ammonia almost knocks you on your butt. As I was bent outside the hen house, gasping for fresh air I caught an amazing glimpse of the mountains that peek out when the weather is clear. This got me thinking about life. I think a lot of life feels like shoveling and or spraying shit off the walls, but sometimes (or often, if you’re lucky) you get a beautiful mountain vista that brings your Chi back to center. Then when you go back into the shitty hen house you can bring that image of the mountains with you, and focus on the beauty that abounds despite the drudgery of the task at hand.
Things at the farm are slowly starting to pick up speed. We’re still planning for our season ahead, and have orders placed for our chickens and turkeys. We’ve had one surprise lamb already, and more lambs and goat kids are due any day. Just last night we artificially inseminated our sow Tuesday, and are excited about hopefully welcoming little piglets in a few months. We also have six purchased feeder pigs on the farm in preparation for our upcoming summer Meat CSA program.
After the four floods we survived in November, Andrew and I made a promise to each other that we wouldn’t have animals here at the current farm next winter. In theory that means we somehow find and buy our own farmland in the area, either small acreage nearby so we can go back and forth seasonally, or large space where we can move our entire operation. In practice I have no idea what this will actually look like. We certainly don’t have the capital that many land-purchasers have, and we probably don’t have much opportunity for traditional loans. Our low paying livelihood, in combination with our outstanding student loan debts doesn’t make us look like the most promising candidates. We have begun exploring unique opportunities to land access, and our fingers are crossed that something will come our way. Please keep your eyes open for opportunities in the greater Puget Sound region, and if all of my readers send out positive land-acquiring vibes out to the universe, perhaps she will respond.
While we wait for the next exciting chapter we are busy as ever preparing for the upcoming season. Our popularity is growing in leaps and bounds, despite having no products for sale at the moment. New people are joining our mailing list every day, and I’m fielding lots of new queries about our meat and the CSA. We are hoping to add a Seattle farmer’s market this year, and also increase our restaurant chicken sales. Big things are coming! We just have to muck around in some shit before we get there.