Chickens like to poop everywhere and their poop contains ammonia. As you can imagine, that makes their poop bad for them and for you as well, although the nitrogen-rich poop (called guano) is very good for your garden. No wonder learning how to clean a chicken coop is so important.
The ammonia in chicken waste can irritate your respiratory system, but it is even worse for the birds which are more sensitive to it. When it accumulates and dries up, chicken poop tends to stick to exposed wood and harden into a tough mass that can take forever to remove.
Cleaning the chicken coop may not be fun, but it is absolutely necessary. It’s just part of the strangely rewarding journey of rearing your own chicken. When you finally get down to the task of cleaning your chicken coop, you need to follow the right procedure to ensure that you do it safely and effectively.
You cleaning schedule should have daily, weekly, and annual cleaning sessions for your chicken coop to keep it clean, especially if you have many of them. A single chicken can produce about ⅓ lbs of poop a day, most of it during the night. That’s why the area below their roosting bars tends to be the nastiest place in the whole coop.
However, the frequency of cleaning your chicken coop is determined by what chicken litter management method you use. You can use the deep litter method, in which case cleaning the coop once or twice a year is sufficient. If you have don’t lay any litter, cleaning out the coop at least once every week is necessary in addition to sweeping out the droppings daily.
Remember that having a good chicken coop is the first step towards giving birds a sanitary and comfortable home. One of the best coops is the Best Choice 80” outdoor henhouse, which is a multi-level coop with wire fencing for ventilation and a sliding bottom for easy cleaning. This particular coop houses 3-5 chickens and comes with a nesting box and sturdy metal wire fencing.
Once you have the right henhouse, you need to choose whether to use litter or not.
If you have only a few chickens in a free-range yard, then you probably don’t really need chicken litter. They can lay their droppings out in the yard during the day and only get into the coop at sundown.
However, if you prefer not to use chicken litter, you can sweep out the floor of the chicken coop a few times each week to remove the droppings.To make management of the droppings easier, you will need to have a chicken dropping board underneath the roost bars to collect the droppings.
The poop board makes it easy to clean after them every day and also prevents any remains from drying up hardening into the wooden floor.
Chicken guano is literally black gold, given how nutritious it is for the soil. You can make some of it yourself at home, but first pick up a good compost bin to get started.
Just like cat litter, chicken litter goes on the coop floor and helps with managing the chicken droppings. Since chicken poop is mostly water, the litter needs to be absorbent to dry it out quickly. After that, the chicken themselves will help with the aeration as they peck and scratch at it.
You can use a lot of stuff as chicken litter, but sand and pine shavings remain among the favorite options. Pine shavings are especially good because they also contribute to the nutritional content of the composted droppings.
Some backyard farmers also use hay or straw, but it isn’t as absorbent and holds onto the moisture for too long. Instead, hay and straw work better in the nesting boxes.
When you use chicken litter such as wood shavings, you only have to clean out the coop once or twice a year. This means scooping out the old litter, washing out the coop, and laying new litter.
When the time comes for the annual chicken coop clean-out, you will need some few cleaning supplies, equipment, and an hour or two of free time to get this done the right way.
The best time to clean out the chicken coop is in the spring. At this time, you can let the birds roam free in the yard as you do the spring cleaning.
Before you start cleaning, remember to have a look around to inspect the coop. Watch for signs of parasites such as mites and fleas, and also observe the chicken droppings.
Droppings of healthy chicken should be some shade of brown, somewhat solid, and have a fluffy topping consisting of chicken “urine.” If your chickens eat a lot of green matter, the poop might also be green as well.
However, runny chicken droppings, traces of blood, excessive foam, yellow color, and greasy-looking poop can be a sign of anything from internal parasites to deadly infections such as coccidiosis.
The top layer of the chicken litter will be loose and easy to scoop out. The litter scoop will help you reach into corners and tight spaces, although large chicken coops might do better with a shovel to help speed up the work.
Removing the chicken litter can cause fine dust to billow up. This dust is caustic and can irritate the respiratory system, so make sure that you’re wearing your nose and ear protection at this stage.
The easiest way to manage the litter coming from the coop is to lay a plastic sheet at the door of the coop. This way, it will fall right onto the plastic sheet for easier collection. You can also put it directly into a trash can or wheelbarrow using the scoop or shovel.
Remember to get the area under the roosting bars because this is where the most poop goes. At the same time, clear out the nesting boxes of all the bedding in them.
After removing the layer of chicken litter, another level of semi-hardened litter and poop powder might be left on the floor. Use a broom to sweep this up, raking up any hardened material to loosen it off the floor.
What works even better than a rake in this case is a garden hoe. You can use it to scrape the hardened poop and draw it out more easily that when using a spade or rake.
If you don’t have a good garden hoe lying around, this Truper AL-3M round-eye hoe does the job beautifully. It only weighs about 2lbs, so it won’t tire you out as you continously scrape out the inside of the coop.
If there is too much dust, sprinkle some water before you start sweeping. It’s important to try to get as much of the hardened poop at this stage as possible because water will only make it harder to remove.
Use the brush and steel scraper to get the hardened poop on the rooster bars and ladder. It might take some time and effort to scrape it all off since chicken poop tends to accumulate and solidify in these areas.
Will all the loose material out, it’s time to bring in the water. A pressure washer is especially useful at this stage because you can simply wash the walls, roosting bars, floor, and every other surface of the coop.
If you don’t have a pressure washer, a garden hose with a nozzle will do. Make use of the brushes as well to get into the corners and loosen any remaining material.
If you need a little more help with cleaning the chicken coop, the best cleaning solution to use is vinegar. A 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and water is very effective at disinfecting the coop and breaking up stubborn dirt. You can also create a home-made cleaning solution with vinegar and orange or lemon peels.
For especially tough dirt, soak a rag in the cleaning solution and lay over the area you need to clean for a few hours. When you come back, it should be easy to clean it off with some clean water.
Don’t use any industrial cleaning agents such as detergent or bleach. These chemicals are harsh on the chicken and might not be washed off and dried enough for your birds.
When you’re done, give the coop some time to dry completely. Let the sunlight stream in it to dry out the last traces of vinegar and water, and also to warm up the coop again for the birds. UV rays in the sunlight also act as a disinfectant.
Warming is important because, although chicken are quite resistant to the cold, wetness can cause mould and all kinds of respiratory problems. If you have chicks in your roost, definitely consider installing chicken heaters.
With the litter removed at the coop dry, this is the perfect time to inspect the coop for any damage. Rats can bore holes through the walls to steal eggs and young chicks, and even snakes can get in this way.
You should also look for splintered wood, chewed wood, bent wire, and signs of digging under the coop, which is a sure sign that something has been trying to get in the hard way. Raccoons especially love to get in chicken coops to eat the chicken feed and eggs. You can add automatic doors that allow the chicken in but nothing else to add some security to your coop.
Diatomaceous earth or diatomite is a fine white powder made of silicon dioxide. The powder is especially good for your chicken coop because it kills fleas and mites, as well as absorbing odors.
The magic of diatomaceous earth is that it also works on internal parasites as well. When your chickens peck at the litter, they eat up some of the earth, thus making for natural parasite control. You can even spread some corn onto the floor to encourage pecking for this reason.
You can get the DE10 food-grade diatomaceous earth, which is a healthy and pure alternative that is completely safe for your chickens. This particular brand is a certified supplement and completely organic as as well.
Unless you had a problem with pests such as mites, you can reuse some of the old litter as a base. Then, add 4-6 inches of new litter such as wood shavings or straw on top of this base. You can continue adding more fresh litter as the chickens scratch up the place in the coming weeks.
At the same time, replace the soft bedding in the nesting boxes. Birds love a soft warm place to nest, so straw or grass is the perfect material. If you are out of nesting boxes, you can buy additional ones such as the Brower 410B 10-Hole nest. This poultry nest can serve up to 60 chickes and comes with removable bottoms for easy cleaning.
If your old litter did indeed have pests, it’s best to burn it all and not take it anywhere near the compost heap or garden.
You chicken need and deserve to have a clean and comfortable henhouse to stay in, but chicken poop can quickly make it unsanitary. The biggest problem with chicken waste is that it contains ammonia, which can become a health hazard to your birds if it is left to accumulate unchecked.
While daily and weekly cleaning sessions need no formula, the one or two times a year you get to clean out the coop completely do require some attention to detail. That way, you also get rid of harmful parasites that may be hiding in the old litter.
Chicken love their comfort. When you keep them clean, well-fed, and comfortable, you will see them strutting it around the yard. That’s worth the effort of cleaning after them, right?