It is 9pm and just barely light, bedtime for the 26 meat birds. The Bearded One goes up to their pen and ushers them into the coop for the night with a broom. Even from the comfort of my computer chair with a cup of tea and Garfield in my lap — I have morning chicken duty — I hear them squawk and honk and complain. They do not just go to bed in a neat row on a roost like the layers even when it’s dark.
After the Bearded One corals them all into the coop and closes the top, he rakes the peat moss to cover the copious chicken poop. I sip my tea and pat my cat and read about my Australian friend’s efforts to fertilize her crummy silty soil with chook poo, which is Australian for chicken poop.
“What are the contents of chook poo?” I asked the Bearded One this afternoon when I started my research.
“Sweetie, poop is a base element,” he replied. We’ve been making chook poo jokes ever since. What else can you do?
It was stinking badly enough yesterday that we both got a whiff of it out on the road, so we added 6 more bales of peat moss today to make our deep litter method of poop management work with this many chickens.
A thin layer of peat moss has worked well with our layers, but there are only 10 of them, five are banties, and they run around the whole pasture pooping all day. The meat birds sit a lot, they don’t scratch around much at all, and it’s hard to keep all their poop buried in the composting peat moss.
Twenty-six Cornish Rock broilers each produce 2 pounds of poop a week. They’re 7 weeks old now, and the plan is to harvest them on August 25 with our neighbor Momma Goose. Three-and-a-half weeks to go. That’s 182 more pounds of poop between now and then. At least it composts well. Then the smell disappears completely.
Chook poo does make excellent fertilizer, but it’s too “hot” with nitrogen (1.8%), phosphate (1.5%), and potash (0.8%) to put directly on a garden without letting it compost with hay and dead plants for at least a month. But with our cool summer this year, the composting takes longer. It’s been cloudy all week.
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” the Bearded One sang to me this afternoon when I complained about the forever cold weather, “Only poop when she’s away.”
Gardening has been a trial this year. It’s a combination of worn-out soil (it takes only a couple of years to leech) and no heat. The whole country is burning up but we’re still running the space heater in the kitchen. The Bearded One wears a heavy flannel shirt to split wood. The corn is barely knee-high the first week of August. The beans are scarce and wimpy. What’s the point?
The broccoli and cabbage are lush and delicious.
So are the berries, onions and potatoes. Note to self: Stick to vegetables that grow well in a cool climate.
He cleans his boots with the hose and a brush, but they still reek, so he leaves them in the enclosed entry porch aka the cat condo overnight. The meat birds are tucked in for the evening once again.
Finally, he comes in the front door. I come downstairs to get more tea.
“They were scattered all over the freaking place,” he says, “the usual thugs flapping to a hiding place behind the coop.” I smile and kiss him. “Poor sweet baby,” I say.
He opens the fridge and reaches for a Coke, which is beside the Tupperware which still holds the precious rubber egg that I can’t quite bring myself to throw away yet. He ignores the egg and pops open a can of his favorite nectar of the gods.
He drinks deeply and says, “I’m all chook up.”