The thaw has arrived. Or perhaps it is a faux thaw, as often happens. But real or just a tease, the past week’s temperatures have been warm, the snow is melting and the sun is back. As every Alaskan knows, or at least those that don’t live on entirely south-facing slopes, it’s that dreaded time of year when one’s house is flooded with sunlight. Dreaded because now there is no ignoring the wood ash, dust, dog (or cat) hair, and other flotsam and jetsam that accumulated during those dark winter days. Then the house looked “quaint & cosy”, now it looks like something that could be featured on A&E’s Hoarders. Strong daylight has a way of doing that.
So, the past couple of weeks have been a flurry of spring cleaning, and before the energy dissipated, or I got fed up with the whole regime of dust cloths, mops, brooms and the like, I decided to tackle the hen house – not only to give it its customary spring muck-out, but to start on the long list of improvements I plan to do this summer (of which you will undoubtedly hear more about as the spring progresses).
Chief among these was to try the “poop hammock” that was recently posted on the Chicken Wire by Linda D. This is a piece of screen, made taut with some wire, slung under the main roost to catch droppings. She uses hooks on one side so the screen sling can easily be detached and emptied of its contents into a bucket.
This seemed like an easy (brilliant actually) way to reduce the stench and amount of mucking out required by confined birds throughout a long winter. So this morning, preparatory to cleaning out the coop, I spent a good two hours rigging up an experimental poop hammock. Because of the way my coop is configured, and because the birds generally reach the roost by launching off their nest box ramp, I decided to try a hammock under just one half of the roost – figuring that catching and removing half the droppings was better than none.
So it was with great excitement that I made my evening trip to the hen house – eager to see just how well this contraption was working, imagining several of my hens tidily lined up in their customary spots on the roost, neatly depositing their droppings into the hammock.
Except, not. What I failed to factor into all of this is the chicken’s great ability to immediately recognize something that is not kosher in its environs* and to not only treat it with the greatest suspicion, but to avoid it all together – even in a 6 x 6 coop.
So much for innovation.
* chickens really are smart – and it is not just those of us who are slightly nutty over their flocks who think so. Scientific American recently published an article about the intelligence of chickens: Brainy Bird, by Smith, Carolynn & Zielinski, Sarah,
in Scientific American. Feb 2014, Vol. 310 Issue 2, p60-65.