Cut farm-chore corners without putting the health of your chickens at risk with one or more of these coop-cleaning techniques.
Although in Florida, where I live, many chicken coops have dirt floors, I like to cover the dirt with barn lime to dry the ground and kill bacteria, then add a layer of hay overtop to minimize health issues. Hay is easier to manage than straw and is clean and dust-free, unlike pine shavings. Plus, hay is economical and easy to obtain. Although you’ll need to change it out weekly, it can be dumped straight into the compost bin.
Diatomaceous earth is often used in coops to keep mites at bay, but I prefer barn lime. Poultry experts recommend against DE because it causes respiratory illness in chickens and is harmful to their lungs. Barn lime, on the other hand, is made of crushed limestone, or calcium carbonate, which aids in the formation of eggshells. Bear in mind, barn lime is different from hydrated lime; hydrated lime should not be used for animals.
To clean the coop, we rake the ground and move the old hay to the composting bin, then rebed with barn lime and fresh hay. We clean the coop every two weeks in hot, dry weather and once a week during the wet season. For a chicken coop of 100 chickens, it takes us about 1 hour to re-bed.
2. Dropping Boards
Chickens naturally head to the coop at night to roost, so you’ll typically find a hefty number of droppings waiting for you in the morning. Minimize your morning work by placing dropping boards under the roosts. Dropping boards are plastic trays or wooden boards that can easily be installed into your chicken coop by nailing, screwing or just placing them on the ground. You’ll need to measure your coop fit the appropriate size dropping boards. As an alternative, some chicken keepers build their coops with dropping pans, wooden boxes under the roost to aid in easy cleanup.
You can find manure scrapers on the market to clean the dropping boards, but a spare taping knife or spatula can be used instead. To clean, use the scraper to pull all the droppings into a bucket. Voila! You’ve cleaned the coop! Compost the manure and use it as a natural fertilizer in the garden.
3. Removable Roosts
Many coops are constructed with built-in roosts, but you can opt for removable ones for easier cleaning and disinfecting. Use undiluted distilled vinegar or Oxine, an animal-safe product effective against bacteria, fungi and viruses, for disinfecting the roosts and inside the coop.
4. Deep Litter Method
For colder climates, the deep litter method is a wonderful way to keep your coop warm and easy to manage. As the name implies, the deep litter method is a way to allow your litter to build up and compost over a period of time, from a couple months to a whole season. As the litter and manure composts in the pen, it provides warmth to the chickens. For the colder states, the litter can build up the entire winter. To start the deep litter method, sprinkle barn lime to help with odor and fly control. Top with 4 to 6 inches of pine shavings or hay. Every few weeks, stir the litter, adding more barn lime and fresh shavings or hay to the mix. For natural mite and lice control, you can mix in ash once a month.
5. Tarp Method
My friend Hope E. Tolda, owner of Fancy Feathers Farm, uses the tarp method on her farm and is able to clean 15 coops in less than 1½ hours. Lay a tarp on the coop floor and top with straw. When the straw needs to be changed, fold the tarp and dump the manure and straw into the compost pile. Pressure wash the tarp and disinfect it with vinegar or Oxine before rebedding the coop.
About the Author: Alexandra Douglas is the owner of Stellar Game Birds, Poultry, and Waterfowl and author of Coturnix Revolution (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013). She graduated from Oregon State University in 2009, majoring in Animal Sciences with a Poultry and Prevet option. She specializes in quail and shares a diversified farm with her partner, Eric.