We have 3 9-week-old pullets settling into their brand new coop and run. We're 3 days in and so far so good. I have 7 and 9 year old daughters who are very hands on. We want to hold and interact with the chickens. My absolute main priority is the health of my family and the health of the chickens. We wear only our rubber boots in the run, and I have been really focusing on teaching the girls good hand washing and careful handling.
First, the chickens are roosting at night (yay!), but they are choosing to sleep on the poop shelf instead of the bar just above it, so they are laying in a lot of poop. Any ideas for discouraging this and getting them to hop up a few more inches? Should I make the bar even higher? Right now it is just above the shelf.
Second, They immediately flocked to the nesting boxes for security when we brought them home, and now spend a great deal of their time hiding out there throghout the day. Is this a good thing, since they will see that as a safe/quiet place when it comes time to lay? Or should I be blocking them off from the nesting boxes so they don't continue to see it as a place to hangout and, you know lay in more poop!
Third, our run is currently grass. I know it won't stay that way, but for now they seem to be enjoying scratching and pecking at the grass and ground. Once again, poop is my concern. Should I be putting bedding in the run to help manage the poop? There is really no way for me to clean out the poop as it stands now.
Fourth, I have a garden and have been putting the poop that I clean out of the poop tray in the compost. I know it is high in ammonia and should not be applied directly to plants. Is there a general rule of thumb for how long the manure should break down before it is ready to be used as compost?
Thank you for all of your help. I'm afraid I'm being a little paranoid about all of the poop, the chickens laying in poop, and my daughters touching the chickens. I need some newbie reassurance.