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Soil testing/Using chicken litter in the garden

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by MossyCreek, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. MossyCreek

    MossyCreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jan 28, 2015
    N.E. Georgia
    I was thinking of getting my soil tested by the extension office this year...who else has done this, or would recommend it? I have also been considering using some deep litter from my coops in the garden, but don't want to overdo it. Tips?
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I don’t know how the state of Georgia handles it but I highly recommend a soils test. The main thing you are looking at is the pH of your soil so you can adjust that if you need to, but you also get a lot of good info on soil type and possibly nutrient requirements. I find it better to know what I’m working with rather than just guess.

    If you want some expert help in interpreting your soils analysis there are some pretty good people over at the sister gardening site. We are a small friendly group that joke around and tease each other some, but there is some real good gardening experience there too.

    http://www.theeasygarden.com/

    There are a lot of variations in the “deep litter method” as actually practiced. To compost that stuff, you need to keep it moist. Most of us don’t so you wind up with a product where the poop and the bedding is pretty much scratched into a powder or fine bits but has not really decomposed. Putting that stuff directly on growing plants can cause problems. If it is too rich in nitrogen (the poop) it can burn plants. If it is too rich in carbons (the bedding) it can rob nitrogen from the growing plants.

    There are two ways around that. You can empty that stuff into the garden in the fall so it breaks down over the winter and before you plant it. That’s composting it in place. I don’t know how soon you are going to be planting your garden down there so I don’t know if it is already a bit late for that approach for you or not.

    The other way is to compost it. There are a lot of different ways to compost it, some labor intensive and some pretty lazy. I lean toward the lazy side. In either case you pile it up. If you keep it damp without letting it dry out or stay too wet and turn it regularly it will break down fairly fast, maybe two to three months. If you don’t control the moisture and don’t turn it, it will take a lot longer. How much longer? A lot of that will depend on how moist it is. Where you are you should get a fair amount of moisture so probable 6 to 8 months doing absolutely nothing after it is piled. If you lived in a dry climate like parts of Idaho or Eastern Washington State, for example, it could take several years.
     
  3. MossyCreek

    MossyCreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jan 28, 2015
    N.E. Georgia

    Great! Thanks so much for all the info! I think it is too late to put on the garden to break down by itself...but I will definitely do it this coming fall. I will follow your advice and get a soil test, and will also check out the site you mentioned. I need a lot of help gardening...I can grow animals, but plants are more of a challenge!

    How much experience do you have growing cabbage/broccoli/lettuce? I can't seem to get them to grow, for some reason...maybe the soil?
     
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Those are all fair questions. My answers will cover the last five years I’ve been living here with a mature flock. I’ve had about 15 broodies in that time that I let hatch. I’ve broken several more from being broody.

    how often do you have issues of the broody returning to the wrong nest,

    Probably five times though some hens are more prone to that than others. One hen had three of those five times in one incubation. When I see that I just move her back to the right nest. One time I found a different broody on the wrong nest and the eggs felt ice cold. I moved her back on the nest anyway. She hatched 11 out of 11 eggs. It’s not always a disaster.

    Of course I’m not there watching but what I assume happens is that another hen gets on her nest to lay and egg while the broody is out for her daily constitutional. When the broody gets back she gets confused and goes to the wrong nest.

    other hens laying in the broody nest after she's well along with her incubation,

    Other hens will lay in the broody’s nest in about half the incubations, maybe just a bit less. That’s why I mark the eggs and check under her late in the day for any unmarked eggs. As long as you remove them daily, those eggs are still good to use. I’ve never had a problem with another hen laying an egg with the broody once the eggs start to pip. I’m not sure why, it seems like they should, but it just hasn’t happened. I don’t know of the broody defends her nest or the others just don’t do it if they hear chirping. I’d be shocked if someone else has not experienced that but I just haven’t.

    or other hens getting into the broody nest and breaking eggs?

    On rare occasions an egg does get broken. I’m not there to see it happen so I can’t say exactly what caused it, but I have not seen any correlation to another hen laying in the nest and an egg getting broken. In other words, when I do get a broken egg I usually do not find any unmarked eggs in the nest.

    Most of the time when I see a broken egg, it looks like a toenail punctured the egg, not that the egg is split in half. And the egg shell is usually unusually thin. That could have come from another hen walking on the eggs but the broody herself will walk on the eggs when she gets on and off the nest. The broody uses her feet to turn the eggs too.

    I can remember only one time that an egg was split open. That made a mess in the nest and got practically all the other eggs dirty. That was just a few days into incubation so I tossed all those eggs, cleaned the nest, and gave her some more eggs.

    My broodies generally allow other hens to climb in the nest to lay an egg. It’s not a dramatic event though on occasion a broody will defend her nest. I can easily see where an egg could get broken while the broody is defending her nest from a hen wanting to lay an egg but I haven’t seen any evidence that has happened with mine.

    It is also possible a broody will defend her nest from something else. I have had a snake eat the eggs out from under a broody. That specific broody did not defend her nest at all, just sat there while a five foot black snake was sort of wrapped around her and going after the eggs. I can see where the eggs could get damaged if a broody did defend her nest against a snake, rat, or some other predator. I think this is what happened when that egg was split open. I’d been having a problem with a snake but after that, the snake quit coming around. But that is a guess, I don’t know that for sure.

    I did have one real disaster. A second hen went broody a couple of days before the first broody was due to hatch. About the time the eggs started internal pip, the two broodies fought over the eggs. She probably heard them chirping in the eggs. About half the eggs were broken in that fight. I knew I should have isolated that second broody because of the potential for this to happen, but I failed.

    So, if you have a hen go broody in any nest, you just leave her to her devices. Do you intervene is she's chosen an high nest?

    The only ways I normally interfere with a broody is when I give her the marked eggs. I remove the fake egg and any others in the nest and slip the marked ones under her. That’s usually in the middle of the day. Then, once every day until hatch starts I check under her late in the day to see if there are any unmarked eggs in there of if anything else is wrong. I never candle the eggs. I just leave her alone. After hatch starts, I leave her alone. The more I interfere the more harm I’m likely to do. I leave her alone until she decides to bring the chicks off the nest.

    If the coop is pretty crowded I will probably move her to a coop I’ve got out in the run. After a couple of days there I open that up and let her raise her chicks with the flock. She returns to that coop at night. If the main coop is not very crowded I don’t even do that, just leave her alone. It may be a day or two before I know how many chicks she has for sure and what colors they are. I’ve never had another adult flock member harm a chick.

    One time I picked a hen up after she brought her chicks off the nest so I could see what she had. One chick had crawled up under her wing. I crushed it and killed it by picking her up. The more I interfere the more harm I do.

    I saw a broody hen get chicks out of a 10’ high hay loft back when I was a kid growing up on a farm. She said jump and they did, then bounced up and run to her. It does not bother me if a nest is high but I certainly don’t advocate ten foot high nests. My highest nest is about 3-1/2 feet high. I’ve had hens get chicks down from that with no problem. Usually they will take the chicks to a corner of the coop to spend the night instead of trying to go back into a low nest, but I have had a couple of broodies take chicks back into one of the low nest, maybe 14” off the coop floor. Most of the time the chicks make it, but once I had to help a couple get in that nest the first night. I have seen a broody try to get her chicks to go to a nest, but when some couldn’t make it she gave up and went to a coop corner.

    I did have a problem once in a nest. I used a cat litter bucket so it was kind of small. When a chick that had hatched early climbed up on Mama’s back it fell off and hit the floor. Chicks do that all the time, climb up on Mama and eventually fall off. My other nests are 16” square and that is never a problem, but with that small nest Mama was sitting so close to the edge that the chicks sometimes fell out. I picked three chicks back up and put them back in that nest that time. Then I retired that nest. The chicks were not hurt, either by the fall or the other adults.

    I did have a broody kill three of the eight chicks she hatched. I don’t know why but she did. It was not another hen in the flock. It was the broody.

    Most of my broody hatches have been without any real drama. Most of the problems I’ve seen could have happened even if the hen were isolated, especially if a snake can get in with her. But yes, there are risks with a broody hatching with the flock. There are also risks incubating them yourself or isolating a broody. Choose a method and try it. If you don’t like it, try something different.

    Hope that answers most of your questions.
     

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