by Kathy Shea Mormino
It’s that time of year when I do a major coop cleaning and this year, it’s an easier task than ever before due to a few simple modifications that were made in our coops. Not only is it faster to complete the semi-annual ‘deep cleanings,’ but I find that I am able to keep the coops cleaner in between deep cleanings by employing these five elements: droppings boards, removable roosts, a dedicated coop duster, sand and apple cider vinegar.
Droppings boards are essentially shelves designed to collect chicken poop deposited overnight. Backyard chickens spend most of their waking hours outside the coop, either ranging freely outside the run or wandering around inside an enclosed run, which means that droppings inside the coop accumulate primarily overnight underneath the roosts. Utilizing droppings boards to collect those droppings is a simple and effective method for keeping the coop largely poop-free.
Each morning, I take my trusty beach pail and scrape the droppings into it with a taping knife. The droppings are then added directly to my compost pile. Droppings boards keep the litter/bedding cleaner, which means less frequent litter changes and less frequent litter changes result in time and money savings.
Beyond coop sanitation, droppings boards provide a daily opportunity to assess the health and well-being of the flock. I am able to see plainly whether a chicken has been injured in a scuffle overnight, has contracted coccidiosis, worms or diarrhea. Without droppings boards, most of that evidence would be hidden in the bedding, denying the chicken-keeper the opportunity to detect and treat certain health problems as early as possible.
When we purchased our first coop, it came with roosts permanently affixed to the walls. When we decided to install droppings boards, the roosts needed to be raised in order for the droppings boards to fit underneath. When reinstalling the roosts, my husband affixed brackets for the 2-by-4s to fit into, which made the roosts removable for cleaning. I find that removable roosts are much easier to scrub vigorously and thoroughly if they are on the ground outside the coop. It is also much easier to access the areas behind and underneath the roosts when they are out of the way. I tend to clean the removable roosts more frequently than I would stationary roosts because the task is so much easier.
SAND – THE LITTER SUPERSTAR
I had always used pine shavings as litter/bedding inside my coops until this spring, when I was persuaded to try sand. I was dubious about sand’s ability to perform as well as pine shavings, but I had a pile of sand in the backyard for use in the run, so I figured I’d give it a shot. After eight months of testing, I can report that sand has allowed me to keep my coops the cleanest they have ever been for a fraction of the price of any other bedding material.
Like the droppings boards, sand is attended to once daily. I sift the sand using a compost/mulch fork that I have converted into the world’s biggest kitty litter scoop, with fine mesh hardware cloth and zip ties. It takes less than five minutes to sift the sand and doing so keeps the coop clean and augments my compost pile with primarily nitrogen-rich droppings, not pine shavings, straw or hay.
For more about the benefits of using sand as chicken coop litter, please visit my blog post here.
The harsh reality of housekeeping in chicken coops is that they are perpetually dusty. Regardless of the litter choice, it generates dust. In fact, chickens themselves are especially dusty. If you have ever raised baby chicks inside the house in a brooder, you know this to be true.
To keep the dust to a manageable level, I keep a duster inside the chicken coop. Whenever I have a moment to spare, I give the walls, nest box curtains, window dressings and feedbag artwork a quick dusting, which makes the semi-annual cleaning a much less tedious undertaking.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
The fifth tip for keeping a cleaner coop is to use raw, apple cider vinegar (ACV) to clean the coop, not only for seasonal deep cleanings, but for spot-cleanings as needed. I would never suggest paying upwards of six dollars for 8 ounces of brand-name ACV for coop cleaning; rather, I make my own raw apple cider vinegar. I use ACV in my flock’s drinking water, which is why I began making it initially this spring and for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I now have enough ACV to clean the White House from top to bottom.
For cleaning purposes, I pour the vinegar into a small bucket and use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub down the walls of the coop. For spot-cleaning other surfaces such as the PVC feeders, I simply pour some ACV onto a rag and wipe.
The acidity cuts through dirt, droppings and blood (yes, it happens) much more effectively than any other cleaning product I have tried. There is no rinsing required and interestingly, it does not leave the coop smelling like a salad bar. There is no need to dilute it or mask it with some other scent; the vinegar smell dissipates very quickly, leaving the coop sparkling clean … at least until the chickens return.