The pens were built atop old sand piles that the kids weren’t playing in any more. That first year with chickens I found myself constantly raking out the pens because the droppings just seemed to sit on top and make a huge mess. After some serious thought on the subject—mostly that I didn’t want to do so much cleaning—I came up with using leaves as a flooring. It didn’t make much sense economically to use shavings, and I couldn’t keep up with raking the pen clean every day. But dumping huge piles of leaves in their pens did the trick. The chickens simply love to jump in the leaves, almost as much as the kids! I never worry about spreading them out, just leave it in a huge pile. Before long, the scratching and digging of the hens has the pile completely flat and spread out.
Recently, I discovered the most excellent reason to keep up the piles—compost. When I was a kid, my father spent a lot of time fussing over his pile of compost. All that layering and turning, and more turning, seemed too complicated and too much effort in my hectic world. So, I never really took a shine to keeping a compost pile. I have instead used leaves in a variety of ways. One way is to use the leaves as mulch for my blueberry bushes. I also have never bagged a leaf, preferring to rake them into the “way back” and leave them in a heap to decay on their own. I never, ever, used that pile for compost though, because we had always added tree limbs and branches to the pile too.
I still like to use the leaves to keep their feet clean and I love to watch them dig, but that compost is surely the best payoff. Even though my garden just went to bed a few weeks ago, I’m already dreaming of waking it up to start the another season and see how that rich, black compost will make my garden grow.