As I was out burning my own chicken pens I realized that no everyone understands the importance of fire in the relationship to keeping animal pens healthy. Water cleans, fire cleanses. Everything about fire is beneficial The heat, ash, even the time it takes to burn is all relevant to cleansing the earth under it.
Before man learned to work the land and avoid such things as fire, nature used it once a year to do her own spring cleaning. Now it is up to us. Anywhere animals are confined you have a greater chance of illness. Many of those sicknesses come only from being penned. Problems like hoof-rot, chicken diseases like coccidiosis and even ammonia are less common, if ever known at all, in an animal that is allowed to choose his own space.
When cleansing chicken pens and animal pens, remove the animals, then rake up what you can and use it in your garden. We all have trees and we all have leaves. Use these as your burning material. Nothing has better ash then leaves. Use old hay or whatever you have if you must, but leaves are the best. Go to the town dump , if necessary, and get other peoples' bags of leaves if you have to. Make one pile, there is a reason for this, and don't use gas to start it. You want it to burn slowly and naturally. There are no extra points for the largest flames or the fastest start. Actually you get points deducted for that.
As your fire burns you will notice you have to rake further and further from the fire to bring in new burning materials. This is also a good thing, you are clearing the ground so that you can move your pile. As a large amount of ash collects under the pile the fire will start to refuse to burn, so rake your fire over a bit and uncover that pile of hot ash under it.
Add more leaves to your fire and spread that pile of hot ash around. About an inch of hot ash spread around will clean any ground. Keep moving your pile and don't start a new one, you will be less likely to move it as much as you need to if you do. Thus you won't have the amount of hot ash you need to cover the area you need to.
When you are done the entire area the chicken pens and animal pens should be covered with about an inch of hot ash. It won't take long to cool and you can walk on it with shoes on with in a few minutes. This ash is as important as the heat. You will now have a worm-free, disease-free area.
Let the ground rest about a day before putting your stock back in. I do this with my chicken pens about 3 times a year. With my goats, I do it in the spring and fall and before and after kidding. The rest of the year my larger stock is out to pasture so there is no need to be as vigilant as I'm in the chicken pen where they are confined more hours of the day, year round. Your poultry will also benefit with the ash baths they will now take. Lice on your chickens will be gone so if you dip them or Ivomec them before putting them back, you will have healthier birds. The ash, once they bathe in it, will also deter external parasites.
I keep my chickens in an area of the yard that is basically unusable for anything else. I live in an oak forest, and their pen is on a hill that is covered in leaves, gets no sun to speak of so the light allows no grass and only trees to grow. The hill is impossible to mow and the slant adds to the moisture. I know what you are thinking... How can your birds stay healthy in that?
Believe it or not they actually benefit that area. I keep a pair of Muscovy ducks in there to control snakes, as the snakes love the moist cool ground and leaf cover. Another reason to burn a lot. I allow the birds sunshine once a day and they return in the evening to roost. I do this only 3 times a week so they don't find new roosting places and I don't have to go search for my birds after dark. The chickens also take care of the seeds and the ducks the acorns that would allow yet more sapling growth. Worms and insects are also overly abundant in that area.
When building your area for birds you need to consider things like where they can most benefit you. Your animals must be working for you in ways other then just laying eggs or having babies. Let their manure, their eating habits etc., be your friend, not your full time job.
House your sheep and goats on your garden space over the winter, so in spring you have all that crappy hay to put easily between rows of plants, and all that manure you don't have to spread as it's already there for your plants. Colony raise your rabbits so that you can afford to actually have rabbits. They poop in one spot as a general rule so removing the piles to the garden is easy as scooping it into a bucket once a month, or week depending on the size of your pens.
The more you think about where things will live, the less work and more enjoyment you will have. The day it takes to burn off the chicken pens will save you weeks throughout the year treating sick animals.
By Gypsy, our resident homestead blogger from One Sky Ranch
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