Cleaning The Coop Gives Chickens A Healthy Home

Ready to ditch the deep litter method? Cleaning the coop regularly is essential for protecting the health of your chickens. Check out these tips to do the job right!

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by Erin SnyderOctober 25, 2023
PHOTO: Konstantin Aksenov/Adobe Stock

Cleaning is the one thing we all dislike doing. As flock owners, we don’t just need to clean our houses. We also have to clean our chickens’ “house” too. The good news? Cleaning the coop for our chickens doesn’t have to be a drag or require much time. Just as you wash the dishes or dust the living room regularly, routinely cleaning the coop will help prevent common health concerns in your flock.

Knowing some cleaning tips can save you time cleaning your coop. So, grab a pitchfork, a bottle brush and a broom, and let’s start cleaning!

Essential Cleaning Tools

Cleaning the coop for our chickens starts with having the proper tools to do the job quickly and efficiently. To do that, you will need the following:

  • Pitchfork to fork out soiled bedding
  • Trash can or wheelbarrow for hauling away old straw, wood shavings, etc.
  • Broom and dustpan for sweeping out dust and removing cobwebs
  • Trowel to scoop out nesting box material
  • Ice scraper to scrape dried manure off the coop floor
  • Bottle brush to scrub waterers and feeders
  • Facemask to protect against dust and other particles that can irritate your respiratory tract

Say Goodbye to Deep Litter

The deep litter method has been practiced in backyard flocks for centuries. This method of cleaning the coop consists of removing the bedding soiled by chickens once or twice a year. Instead of removing the manure, chicken keepers place more straw or wood shavings on top.

The manure will break down throughout the year and become a perfect fertilizer, ready for the garden. The old bedding is often placed in the garden to overwinter and break down to provide nutrient-rich soil for next year’s vegetables.

Yes, this may sound ideal for the gardener and flock owner. But the deep litter method can also cause some health issues for the flock.

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Chicken manure breaks down into particles of dust. These particles can irritate the respiratory tract, so experts advise wearing a mask over your nose and mouth when handling chicken manure. Not only is this dust harmful to you, but it is also harmful to your chickens. And the dust from manure breakdown can cause respiratory issues in the flock as they scratch through the bedding, causing illness and even death in chickens.

The deep litter method is also known for harboring bacteria, fungi and diseases such as coccidiosis, as well as external and internal parasites. Never use the deep litter method housing hens five years or older, as these aging ladies’ immune systems may no longer be able to handle the bacteria often found in deep litter.

So what should you do instead? Remove all the bedding from the coop floor and nesting boxes weekly to keep your coop clean and chickens healthy. Depending on the size of your enclosure, this will only take a couple of minutes. Trust me, the rewards of a clean coop are worth the time it takes to clean it.

cleaning coop chickens
Erin Snyder

Choosing the Correct Bedding

Selecting a bedding can be tricky as there are many options. Chicken keepers have many preferences, from straw and hay to sand or wood shavings.

There are some pros and cons to each bedding type. In my experience, straw has been the best option for my flock, as it is easy to fork out, while other beddings (wood shavings and sand) can be difficult and more time-consuming. Straw is less likely to cause a crop impaction than sand or shavings and will provide hens with hours of fun and foraging as they search for remaining seed heads to snack on.

Hay is generally considered not the best bedding option for backyard flocks. Unlike straw, hay is expensive to purchase, is more likely to grow mold, and carries a greater risk of combustion.

Because of these safety concerns, avoid using hay as bedding whenever possible.

Cleaning the Waterers

cleaning coop chickens
Erin Snyder

Cleaning waterers should be a part of your daily routine. Waterers should be emptied, rinsed and refilled with fresh drinking water twice daily.

But I also like to clean mine more thoroughly once a week as my hens enjoy filling them up with dirt as they happily scratch or dust bathe nearby. I use a drop of dish detergent, hot water and a bottle brush (that I only use on my chicken waterers) to clean them quickly and efficiently.

Always be sure to rinse thoroughly before refilling.

Cleaning Feeders

cleaning coop chickens
Erin Snyder

Cleaning traditional chicken feeders can be a complex process. So, several years ago, I switched from a hanging poultry feeder to rubber feed pans. These feed pans are easy to clean, and you can add or remove the number of pans as your flock dwindles or grows.

Fill feeders twice daily with as much food as your chickens will eat in 20 minutes. Empty remaining food and rinse feeders at least once (preferably twice) daily. Wash feeders weekly in hot, sudsy water and thoroughly rinse before returning them to the flock. Always be sure feeders have dried before refilling them by placing in a well-ventilated dry area or on a porch in the sun.

Cleaning the Run

Cleaning the run is an oft-overlooked daily task. Check the run and remove spilled food, freshly laid eggs or leftover table scraps to deter predators and rodents from trying to enter the coop or run.

You can also use this time to check for any signs (holes in wire mesh or digging) of predators trying to gain access.

Regularly cleaning the coop, run, waterers and feeders may seem like a lot of work, but it is one of the best ways to keep your chickens healthy and happy.