By Liesl Clark
Sometimes what you need is simply hiding in plain sight. For 3 years we’ve had chickens, 14 girls a-layin’ in a coop my resourceful husband, Pete, made of salvaged materials. For bedding, on the floor of the coop to absorb their droppings, we’ve used pine chips, sold in bales wrapped in plastic. It’s clean and dry and when the bedding becomes soiled with excessive droppings, we shovel it out of the coop, into the compost pile and lay down new chips … Until we discovered the shredded paper method.
Through Freecycle, I procure shredded paper for use as chicken bedding and it works beautifully in both the coop and the compost, breaking down even faster than the pine chips in the heat of the composter. It’s free and we make sure we only get shredded paper, no plastic bits in it.
The nest boxes require straw for soft egg-laying. Again, for years we’ve used straw sweepings we get for a few dollars at our local feed store. And then I saw what looked like straw laying on the side of our road. Two or 3 times a summer, our island road maintenance crew cuts the tall grass on the roadsides, leaving the “hay” to dry in the sun. It remains there until the next batch of grass is cut and laid on top of it. Last week, we took a basket down the road and filled it with the beautifully dried hay and brought it home for the chickens: Free, freshly cut and dried nest box material!
My dear friend, Yangin Sherpa, is my inspiration. She’s been visiting us for the past month and tells me she spends long summer days in her region of Nepal, Solu Khumbu, hiking up mountainsides in the jungle, searching for tall grasses to cut and then take home to dry in the sun. She later sells the grass to yak and dzopkyo owners for winter feed. She sells 40 kilos of hay (carried on her back) for about $60. Not a bad price for rural Nepal.
For Yangin, seeing the free cut dried grass here by the road, no one collecting it for their animals, is a waste of a great resource. It’s just a few hundred yards off our property, so we’ve collected 2 loads of hay for the coop that should last us through the winter.
We lay it out on our lawn to dry further in the sun and when it’s dry, Yangin separates the hay and knots it into easy-to-grab bundles. We hang it up in our carport in an old hammock (destined for the landfill because it had a hole in it) for easy retrieval.
The knotted bundles are genius: They prevent the loss of hay scraps in an armload of the dried stuff. Once again, an age-old technique that has served cultures well for thousands of years, so simple and practical, brings us closer to the rhythms of the natural world around us. Yet we’ve somehow lost this connection and knowledge over the years, no longer utilizing the resources in our midst hiding in plain sight.