- Aug 3, 2008
- Reaction score
- mountains of WV
We use mostly pine shavings, though you're inspiring me to try lots of other things in there too. Unlike the chicken litter, which stays loose and dry and basically turns into dust, the sheep litter has stayed pretty moist and quickly becomes packed and dense. When I turn it over with a pitchfork it looks like mud and often has a smell. Are we doing it wrong?
I throw scratch grain in the sheep stall pretty much every day to encourage the chickens to scratch through it, but they can't seem to get below the top layer. Whenever I turn it over, they're all over it, but then it just packs down again in the next day or two. Is this what you're talking about when you say you're composting it? Do you let it stay moist and packed, or are you adding enough carbonaceous material to keep it loose? I feel like it would take a bag of shavings/leaves every day to accomplish that with what we have going on.
Any advice for this newbie??
As mentioned before, one has to create air spaces in the mass with the use of different particle sizes and density, so having the pine shavings make up the bulk of the mix is always going to produce a sodden, packed down mass that smells highly of ammonia.
The chickens can't move it, as you've found, so they can't really help. The packing down is not composting....it takes a long time for pine shavings to break down and they don't bind well to sheep pellets, so you'd have to move all that out to a pile and let it sit for a year or so to get it to compost completely.
I have 4 sheep in a pretty confined space, as far as space goes, but it's not a barn....one side has a cattle panel hoop shelter and the other is part of a lean to that is open to air on all sides, so I have excellent ventilation. That added ventilation helps with the moisture and smells a lot, but it also helps that I started building this mass way back in the fall when I cleaned out the garden, when I added big vines, corn stalks, branches, woody flower stems. As I built onto the layers, I added large pieces of bark, branches, leaves, hay, etc.
For what you have right now if you can throw some small branches down on top of all of that, then layer in leaves, wasted hay, wood chips(not shavings....bark, twigs, chipped branches, etc.), and anything else that will break down but still create spaces in the mass for air. I'd not try to stir it, but rather cap the moist areas with dry material. That's what I do the most. If I have areas that are overly moist and I have a windy day, I'll turn those moist areas up to the sun and wind for a bit, but since we are in the middle of rain, rain and more rain, I just throw dry material onto the wetter areas and just keep things evenly moist with a layer of dry on top.
If you can cap the moisture and poop, you can cap the smells, while also giving the sheep cleaner footing and dry places to rest. If you don't have a lot of air moving through, I'd make sure you do, with good air coming in at the bottom and stale air moving through and out the top...that will help a good deal on keeping things from being overly humid in there.
Next year, see if you can contact some folks you trust who rake up all their leaves and bag them so you can get you some free bedding that didn't cost you anything but picking it up. Don't even have to do the work. There have been years I've picked up over 250 bags of leaves in a season, but you need a place to store them out of the weather and that gets difficult.