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How I spent my Tuesday afternoon

Posted by on Wednesday 9 March 2011 in chickens | 18 comments

Yesterday John’s dad brought us a trailer full of wood chips for the chicken run. It’s not really obvious from the picture but the trailer is just over a foot deep so this is probably over a tonne of chips.

It’s the third such trailer load we’ve had – the area where the chickens live was originally a slope, which we levelled up with rubble, then topped with woodchips. The chips both rot down and sink down so it periodically needs refilling. We filled it up before the chickens arrived, then a month or so later, and it really could have done with being refilled a month ago but it was too cold to work then.

The chips aren’t expensive – about £10 for the whole trailer – but it’s far from an easy job. You see, the whole garden is on a slope too. We have to carry all those woodchips, a dustbin full at a time, down these steps.

Then these.

Then these.

And these.

And finally these easy peasy ones.

From the stream at the very bottom of the garden to the kitchen, there are 72 steps. An average flight of stairs in a home in the UK is about 14 steps so our garden stretches over five flights of stairs. My from-the-flatlands dad calls it a “a very Yorkshire garden”. The chicken coop is about halfway down the garden – so, from the front of the house, it’s only 42 steps or 3 flights of stairs (only!). Unfortunately it’s the steeper sets of stairs – the other 30 are almost flat in comparison.

I’m glad we don’t have to do it very often.

Still, I guess we should be grateful that it’s not the other way around – that we don’t have to drag the bins up those steps – and that the chickens seem happy with the new flooring.

Last time we did it, the chips were hot & (pleasantly) pungent from composting and the chickens didn’t like the feel of them, but this time, they were straight on and digging through for bugs and edible vegetation. As well as giving them something to dig in, the chips help water drain so it doesn’t get muddy in there and also works like deep litter, helping the poo be absorbed and rot down quicker. I just hope that by next time we need to fill it up, we’ve installed a stair lift ;)


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  1. sara

    Omg..no wonder your fit…or knackered..

  2. Maria

    good lord, that is a lot of stairs! best use of the space to terrace it of course, but wow, that will keep you fit.

  3. Linda

    You need a wide pipe to shoot the chips down from the top to the coop, or a flying fox pulley system?

  4. louisa

    sara: knackered, definitely knackered ;)

    Maria: it was apparently a muddy slope before the last people who lived here paved it – so I guess we should be grateful that it’s more useful now. We quickly built up a tolerance for them so one trip up them is fine, but many trips carrying heavy bins is still far from fun!

    Linda: we have talked about that – and if we ever spot a builders’ rubble shute going begging, we’ll give it a go, but the layout of the garden would still make it difficult — we’d probably have to do it to a midway point then start again. We usually just employ the “many hands” principle instead — when we first moved in, we offered our friends a free cardio workout carrying stuff ;)

  5. Justin

    I’m astonished by the number of steps involved. How much of a difference, would you say, is there in elevation between the stream and the kitchen?

    Must be beautiful…if you ever happen to get your hands on a helicopter (the REALLY good life), I’d be intrigued to see an aerial view. :-)

    • louisa

      How much of a difference, would you say, is there in elevation between the stream and the kitchen?

      I’m rubbish at guessing – I’ll measure it with a GPS receiver at some point.

      The house itself is four storeys on top of that – I think I walked from the stream to the attic room, I might have a heart attack!

      The aerial view is pretty disappointing actually – it’s too covered with trees to be able to see anything. The trees were in leaf at the time the photos were taken though so it looks like our garden is filled with giant broccoli :)

  6. Paul

    Wow…. Some impressive work there, hope the chickens appreciated it! :)

  7. Nikki

    Wow! It does look like hard work but very pretty too. My neighbours who keep chucks have them straight onto the ‘lawn’ which quickly turned to bare soil. This was one of the things that’s been putting me off as it’s often muddy and covered in poo. I like the look and litter tray idea o this!

  8. Linda

    They only turn an area really muddy if you leave them on the one patch too long. For short lawn -just one day. For thick weedy area -a week. For an area you want to plant out -two weeks (and then rest two weeks before planting) That’s for 4 chooks with about a metre square each in the run and a bit more under their coop. I mainly use them to weed and turn garden areas.

  9. Alexis

    Okayyyy. . . .that looks . . . .painful!

    Loved the “photo-journey” though :)

    Are your steps too steep for a few planks laid over so you might use a wheel barrow? (that’s what I do – but we don’t have near so many steps)

    it looks like you were practicing for trekking kilimanjaro!

  10. David

    Good work, but our girls would be out of there in seconds. They have selective flying skills. They’ll get out of anywhere you want them to stay, and get into then fail to get out of anywhere they’re not wanted. I spent 20 minutes today trying to get one of ours out of the fenced veg garden. Stoopid bird flew over the fence to get in, couldn’t get out. At least not until she’d had a good go at digging up the garlic…

  11. Linda

    Hi David, have you clipped the flight feathers on one side? Some people think it’s cruel but our girls don’t protest at all and stops them escaping to places predators can get at them.

    • David

      We haven’t up to now, but I think we might have to. I’m sure that they’re teaching these tricks to each other. It used to be one particular bird, now 3 of our 5 seem to be air worthy!

  12. louisa

    Hi guys!

    Nikki: the chippings do a really good job of covering up the poo – I’d recommend them. I know other people use straw for deep litter but it would involve too much carrying for us – these chips last a lot longer.

    Linda: thanks for the chickens-on-a-lawn advice.

    Alexis: far too steep for that I’m afraid! When I first moved to Yorkshire from the flatlands of Merseyside, my calves instantly turned to rock hard muscle – so many hills over here!

    David: ours can jump/sort-of-fly really high – and it’s because of that, and because we live next to woods (with plenty of foxes), we enclosed their run with chicken wire. You can’t really see it because it’s fine, but it means the run walls didn’t have to be 2ft higher.

    Re: wing clipping. I don’t think clipping wings is cruel – when I clipped wings on a chicken-keeping course, the chicken wasn’t bothered in the slightest – but I think you have to weigh up what is more of a risk in your particular set-up: that they’ll fly somewhere they should without having it done or whether they’d need to be able to fly to escape a predator. If our run wasn’t enclosed, I don’t know what I’d do as both are a distinct risk here.

  13. Jan

    With or without clipping the chooks can still get up pretty much anything in our garden, and one side vs the both wings doesn’t seem to make much difference. Now they are no longer bothered, we don’t bother clipping the wings any more.

    Oh and have you considered a sedan chair style bin carrier.
    two big wooden logs strapped to your bin full of chips.
    It might make it safer to carry next time?

    I made a quick chicken run for our chooks for free the other week. It was a 9ft strip of chicken wire i got from the dump for free and a large pile of bricks I had lying around.

    I raised the whole coop up by about 1 ft and built two 9ft long lines of bricks (1ft high) with the wire resting on top, with a layer bricks, This has given them much more space to run around in. I was quite pleased with the result and as it is all bricks I am pretty sure its about as fox proof as I could make it. The best news is my coop did not require any changes and I can lift it off my new run and pack it all away whenever I need.

  14. Jan

    My next plan is to build a multi storey coop. I think it is a cunning plan for people without much space who want to keep chooks. Remember you heard it here first ! Flat pack run with multi layers heading up & down. A Veritable Chicken skyscraper.

    • louisa

      Hi Jan, we raised up our coop by about 18″ to allow for more room and for a shelter underneath (and apparently it makes it less likely that rats will gnaw at it too). Our mezzanine shelters around the coop add to the floor space too – but not as fancy as a chicken skyscraper! Do let us know when you’ve made it! :)

  15. Jeannette

    Linda’s mention of using a pipe had come to my mind as I read your post. (I started thinking of the rubbish shoots used on buildings.) A browse brought up Superflex Plastic Tubing at http://www.flexible-tubing.com. That, or something similar, may be worth looking into. You might be able to find some second hand.

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