Cleaning the Chicken Coop
Contrary to common belief, chicken coops don't have to stink. In fact, a stinky chicken coop should be the exception, not the rule, for backyard flocks. Unless there has been wet weather or you've used a non-absorbent floor litter, your chicken coop is unlikely to smell at all as long as you clean it regularly.
No one loves to do it, but cleaning out the chicken coop is an essential task if you want to keep healthy, happy hens. A dirty chicken coop isn't a nice place to live, and can cause disease. So maintaining a clean chicken coop is as important as diet if you want your hens to lay plenty of fresh eggs.
Why you should clean the chicken coop
No one wants to live near a smelly chicken coop, and your chickens don't want to live in one! Here are the top 5 reasons why you should clean your chicken coop regularly:
- Keep your flock healthy
Wet floor litter and built up droppings produce ammonia. Ammonia not only stinks, it can cause respiratory illness in your chickens!
- Stop the spread of disease
Chicken droppings can spread many chicken diseases between birds. Some deadly illnesses, such as coccidiosis, are spread only through droppings!
The more built-up droppings there are in your coop, the more likely it is that your birds will become ill, because they are being more frequently exposed to whatever illness and disease there is.
- Prevent parasites
Internal parasites, such as worms and coccidia, are spread through chicken droppings. They also thrive in wet, dirty litter. While most chickens can cope with a small worm burden, especially if they are also dewormed regularly, constant exposure to high levels of worms, as in a filthy coop, can cause all sorts of health issues and even death!
Mites and other external parasites often live in the chicken coop. Regular cleaning and the removal of dirty litter from the coop keeps parasite numbers down, helping protect your chickens!
- Deter pests
Dirty litter provides a haven and breeding ground for all types of insect pests, including flies and cockroaches. Not only are these insects unwanted in the chicken coop, they can also spread disease!
Rodents are attracted to chicken coops by the easy source of food. If your coop regularly has spilled feed on the floor, it is dead certain that rodents will move in. The smell produced by spoiling feed and wet litter is enough to attract rats and mice from the whole neighbourhood!
- Keep your neighbours happy
No one wants to live next door to a stinky chicken coop. But what many people don't realise is that chicken coops shouldn't smell!
If you want to take good care of your birds, that includes keeping the coop clean. So clean, that it doesn't even smell!
How often should you clean the chicken coop?
How often your chicken coop needs cleaning will depend on many factors, including:
- How many chickens you have
- How big the coop is
- How much time your birds spend in the coop
- What type of floor litter you use
- Whether the floor litter gets wet at all, e.g. from wet feed, rain blowing in, Drinkers etc.
- Whether you use a droppings board
- Whether you use the deep litter method
- Whether you do spot cleans, and how often
If you do spot cleans, just removing visible droppings or wet litter, every few days, you will probably only need to clean the coop every few weeks.
If you don't remove any droppings between cleans, you will probably need to clean the chicken coop once a week, even if you only have a very small flock.
The exception to this is if you have a droppings board that you clean every day. With a droppings board and chickens that free-range all day, you may only need to clean the coop every month or so!
And a well-managed deep litter system may only need cleaning out twice a year!
As a simple rule of thumb, if the floor litter is wet, you can smell ammonia, or there are visible droppings, you need to clean the coop.
How To: Clean a Chicken Coop Properly
Cleaning a coop properly is mostly common sense! But it also depends on how you managed your chicken coop. The materials you need will depend on the size of your coop.
The chicken coop should get a deep clean, meaning a scrub with soap and water, plus disinfecting, at least once every 6 months and more often in areas with a high disease risk or parasite burden.
The rest of the time, a normal clean will be enough. That means cleaning out all of the litter and bedding, sweeping the coop and replacing the litter.
You will need:
- A face mask
- A shovel or pitch fork, depending on the type of litter
- A bin or wheelbarrow to remove the dirty litter
- A dust pan and brush, or a broom, depending on the size of your coop
- A bucket with soap and warm water, and a cleaning brush
- A disinfectant - veterinary disinfectants such as Virkon S are great, but even vinegar works
- Clean litter
- Optional: nesting herbs and diatomaceous earth (DE) or parasite dust
Inhaling the dust from bird droppings can cause disease. Always wear a face mask when cleaning the chicken coop and consider wetting down the litter and droppings if they are particularly dry or dusty.
- It is best to remove all chickens from the coop before cleaning. If you are using a disinfectant, then it is essential to remove chickens first.
- Remove Feeders and Waterers from the coop before you begin cleaning.
- Remove all of the droppings, litter and bedding material from the chicken coop.
- Sweep the chicken coop and remove any dust. You should also use a broom or brush to sweep the corners of the nesting boxes and any cracks in the sides of the coop.
- If you are doing a deep clean, scrub the coop with warm soapy water. Rinse and allow to dry.
- Spray a disinfectant over the coop, especially on the floor and into any cracks where parasites might hide. Follow instructions for veterinary disinfectants. For vinegar, combine equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Allow the disinfectant to dry completely.
- If using, sprinkle parasite dust or DE around the coop, paying particular attention to any cracks and areas around nesting boxes and roosts.
- Replace the floor litter and nesting materials, adding nesting herbs if desired. Also return the Feeders and Drinkers to the coop.
After cleaning the chicken coop, you should always wash your hands thoroughly before doing anything else. We recommend that you have a shower, wash your hair and wash all of the clothes you wore in the coop as well.
Tips for maintaining a clean chicken coop
There are many ways to keep your chicken coop cleaner. Not only does a cleaner coop mean less work for you, it means healthier chickens too!
Use a droppings board
One of the best possible tips for keeping the coop cleaner is using a droppings board.
A droppings board is a board placed underneath the roosts and cleaned every day. The droppings board collects all of the droppings from your chickens overnight, preventing them from falling into the floor litter. For free-range chickens, this might be 80 % of the droppings that are deposited in the coop, so you can imagine how much cleaning it saves!
The droppings board should be cleaned every day, and the droppings disposed of. Some chicken keepers like a smooth board, because it is easy to scrape. Others fill the board with sand or even kitty litter, and scoop the droppings out!
Choose a suitable floor litter
Some chicken coop litter materials are better than others. The more absorbent the floor litter is, the less often it will need cleaning. For this reason, smaller particle litters are better - wood shavings, sand etc.
Any floor litter that allows you to easily scoop out wet parts and piles of droppings while leaving the clean litter is also handy, as it will make spot cleaning easier. Sand is great for this!
Straw is a notoriously bad chicken coop floor litter because it isn't very absorbent and does not mix easily with droppings, so they pile up and release ammonia. If you are using straw, choose chopped straw as it is much more absorbent.
Keep out the wet
Wet litter and wet droppings make a mess and produce ammonia, which is what makes a chicken coop stinky. Make sure your Drinker doesn't leak and design your coop so rain cannot get inside. If chickens with wet feet are a problem, consider getting a door mat for the coop to help keep the litter dry!
Spot clean regularly
The more often you pick up droppings in the coop, the less often you will need to do a complete clean and replace the floor litter!
Keep feed off the floor
Feed that ends up on the floor will be contaminated with chicken droppings, spreading disease if your chickens eat it. But even more importantly, spoiling food is a main attractant for rats and other unwanted pests. So keeping feed off the floor not only keeps the coop cleaner, it deters pests that make the coop dirtier!
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook