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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spinning Straw Into Gold

Some several weeks ago I moved my compost pile to where it is now, and into the Geobin compost bin I purchased.  I noticed while digging it up that a lot of it was rotting anaerobically.  How did I know that?  Because it stank to high heaven, that's how.  That rotting garbage smell was a sure sign that I didn't have enough carbon in the pile.

I needed to get some more straw into it, so as I filled the Geobin, I incorporated the last of last year's straw bale in with the compost. My friend Rae helped me out recently by hauling four bales of straw for me, which are keeping dry in the garage.  Those are hopefully going to cover my carbon needs for the rest of this year. (I'm sure the neighbors think I've lost my mind and went full farmer whenever they look in the garage and see four bales stacked up.)  I have a separate, new garbage can that's never held garbage in it, and I keep my dry carbon in it.  Last fall I started it with dry leaves from The Biggest Sweet Gum Known To Mankind, which I put through my shredder.  Then last weekend, I topped off my carbon barrel with some shredded straw.

Shredding straw in the garage

The idea here is to render the carbon smaller so that it will decompose more quickly, because I need lots of compost fast. I've read that fast compost is not as fertile as slow compost, but I'm not as worried about soil fertility at this point as I am incorporating organic material into my native clay. I can always fertilize with a variety of organic methods. To me, compost is the absolute gold I need for turning the backyard into ground with good tilth that will feed us.

The carbon barrel is outside now, parked next to the compost piles. Going forward, we'll add more carbon to the working pile as we add compostables from the kitchen.  I've instructed Steve not to add anything to the resting pile in the Geobin; I'm going to let that finish, and I'm hoping that it will be done by the time the seed potatoes show up in April.  The compost and carbon barrel are going to be key for growing potatoes, and I'll post about that later.

Shredded on the left, regular straw on the right

In the meantime, I have a question for you keepers of chickens.  I've read that pine shavings are the best thing on which to raise chicks. I've also read that the silly little dears eat pine shavings.  Here is a picture of the shredded straw next to straw that hasn't been shredded. The shredded straw is pretty small, and broken up.  Do you think that shredded it would make decent bedding for chicks? Or do I really have to make the investment into pine shavings?

I've also read that chicks stir up a lot of dust.  Where did you raise your chicks? I'm thinking about putting them in the garage, but I'm concerned about the car.  Would backing the car out of the garage be enough exhaust to make them sick?  I've also read chickens have very sensitive lungs.  We don't idle the car in the garage, but it does smell pretty bad just backing it out.  I can think of only one other place to raise them, but I'm concerned about the dust since it would be in the house.

What do you think?


Miriam said...

We both know Kim's the real chicken expert in our family, so I posed your questions to her. She recommends you not use straw because it's not very absorbent, compared to pine shavings - she thinks you won't spend any more in the long run, because you'll have to replace the shavings much less frequently than the straw. But if you were going to use straw, I think the idea of shredding it is great, since our other problems with straw were that poop just matted on it, and it took forever to break down in the compost. Having smaller pieces would address both those problems.

We raised our chicks in a bathroom in the house. Neither of us were aware of any particular dust issues - and Kim has a dust allergy, so I think we would have known if it was a problem. Their food can be a bit dusty, and once they're full grown they do a lot of scratching at the dirt, which is dusty. But while they were chicks still in the house, we didn't notice any dust.

Hope that helps!

Rae said...

We're first-timers with chickens, but here's what we are doing... Ours are in the house in a homemade brooder (converted rabbit hutch about 1.5'w x 2't x 4'l). We wrapped it in cardboard since it is wire sided, and put a piece of wood over half the top. I'll try and remember to email you a pic tonight. We have ours on pine shavings from the pet store, and haven't had any problems. None of the chicks have gotten blocked up, and no dust problems. They don't smell (at least not yet). Most birds are sensitive to fumes from cleaners and such... Don't know whether occasional exhaust would hurt them or not.

Paula said...

It does, Miriam. The hall bathroom was not even on my radar, but it might make just the place for baby chicks. I'd just have to move in with Steve for awhile. (Maybe pretend we're still dating while I'm at it!)

Please do send a picture, Rae. You guys have a big bunch of chicks, don't you? Do you think pine shavings from the pet store are cheaper than what they have at the feed stores?

Rae said...

The feed store would probably be less expensive per lb (or whatever measurement they use) but you'll likely need to purchase a larger quantity. We used pet store shavings because we had them on hand... We use them as bedding for LJ's corn snake. And yes, we've got a dozen chicks, which I consider to be quite a few. I swear they grow another inch every time we turn around. They're starting to develop personalities too. Funny little things. They're awfully funky looking right now, caught between feathers and fluff. Lol.

Amy Lagerquist said...

I would think the shredded straw would make a fine bedding, provided you fluff it up and add dry stuff regularly enough to keep it from compacting into a solid, heavy, unmanageble mess. I like pine shavings and haven't had a problem with my chickens eating them, but the ones I use are larger so that could be why. I know Matron of Husbandry uses straw as her bedding, but her chicken housing is water tight, they have tons of room (more square footage per hen than books recommend), and she adds fresh carbon frequently, so it stays managable for her. My chickens have access to an uncovered run and I have a harder time in my drafty coop keeping things super dry.

Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

I've also heard that chicks can eat the pine shavings, although I've used them without a problem. Straw isn't as nice - as the other person said, not very absorbent. I tried peat moss once since that was recommended, but while it was nice and absorbent and chicks could eat it without harm, it was also dustier than shavings. Right now I have a batch of cornish rock chicks in a pen in the greenhouse and their bedding is construction grade course sand. Not sure how that would be inside the house, but out there it works great. I'd use it again.

Paula said...

Thank you ladies! I guess for chicks I'll get the pine shavings from the feed store. Maybe when they're bigger I could use shredded straw, and lots of it. And I think I'm going to put them in the hall bathroom.

Do they cheep all night, since you have to leave the heat light on?

Rae said...

Ours are pretty quiet at night, though they occasionally throw a 10 minute or so party at odd hours. Most of the time, though, they don't cheep loudly enough for us to hear them.

Paula said...

Thanks Rae. Steve would probably sleep through that; I probably will not. The hall bath is right outside our bedroom, so I'll hear them if they get noisy. Oh well; at least I'll have something to do when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night...

click clack gorilla said...

Hey Paula... I personally, being a spendthrift, would recommend getting wood shavings from any local place that cuts wood (construction places, lumberyeards etc), they'll often give it to you for free just to be rid of it. We use either those, or newspaper. Neither has caused any sort of problem as far as them eating it goes.

When one of the hens has a brood we usually build them a little box, but as it sounds like you're raising chicks that didn't just hatch from a mother living at your place, I suppose that's not so muhc relevant.

Nice blog anyway!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paula, I found your blog through Mucky Boots, which I just found because they live near me! I'm raising chicks for the first time and have just blogged with pics about our bathroom brooder. It's working great! I too wasn't sure about the shavings at first--even just for the mess of them in the house. We decided to go with a suggestion from someone online and start with non-skid shelf liner over a wire bottom with shavings underneath to absorb anything that falls through. It worked *awesome*. We got two rolls of liner, and put one down on the bottom of the brooder. When it got poopy at the end of the day, I pulled it out and put it straight into the bathtub. A swoosh around with hot water and vinegar and all the poop slipped right off! The second liner went down and the wet one got hung to dry, ready to swap at the next clean. After 2 weeks, though, I felt like the chicks would like something to scratch in, and my schedule got too busy to do a full clean-out twice a day. So I've now added a layer of pine shavings on top of the liner. Everyone's happy!

Paula said...

Thanks, Click Clack!

I'll go take a look, Backyardfeast- thanks for the idea!