Other than a fluke blizzard-like snowstorm way back in October, we haven’t had a stitch of snow here in southern New Hampshire. With temperatures hitting the near-50° mark, it’s the perfect time to take care of some business out in the coops.
Maybe it’s because the coop is kept closed more often, or maybe the hens go into the coop earlier everyday, but whatever the reason, I end up cleaning the coops more in the winter than any other time of the year. This stretch of unseasonably warm, dry weather is just the time to get coop cleaning chores done.
(Pictured: Catalog ad from 1921, showing a bird being applied with Pratts Poultry Disinfectant. The ad claims: “It has a ‘clean smell,’ is inexpensive, but wonderfully efficient.” Being from 1921, no ingredients for the powder are given.)
In anticipation of having a slew of big, giant Jersey Giants in our midst, some years ago we built a two-level roost in our main coop. The bottom rungs were lower so the big hens wouldn’t be as susceptible to bumblefoot and injured legs when they jumped off in the mornings. Unfortunately, our group of Giants all died before they reached a year old and we’ve since chosen other breeds to occupy our coop. But the double roosts remain, allowing our current flock of 21 to spread out on the roosts if they feel the need.
Coop cleaning starts with removing the wire mesh-covered boards under the roosts and scraping them off before putting them back under the roosting boards. I also use a paint scraper to scrape down the roosts to bare wood.
This winter I chose to use leaves as the floor bedding instead of the more expensive wood shavings. We raked the leaves back in the fall and saved them in enormous bags to keep them dry. I dumped and spread out a good layer of leaves and pine needles about 8-10 inches thick onto the coop floor. Using this homegrown litter, I save a bit of money on bagged shavings.
I try hard to keep the nesting boxes clean and dry so our eggs will be as clean as possible everyday. Occasionally, a hen or two will try to sleep in the nests, which means they end up soiling the shavings. It is easy enough to scoop out the mess daily when we gather eggs, but every so often it’s good to just completely clean out the nests and start over. This time I just put the shavings on the floor to mix in with leaves and needles that make up the litter. I added new shavings and mixed in a handful of diatomaceous earth into each nest.
I also decided that this was a good time to dust the birds for mites. I’d never actually done it before. I guess I felt that I didn’t have a big enough flock to worry about mites. Pretty ignorant on my part, I know. Anyway, my kids and I dragged out the picnic table, a bag of organic diatomaceous earth and an old nylon sock. We put the table right next to the coop so we could easily catch each bird to do our duty and return them to the pen quickly.
The kids held the birds and I did the dusting. It was a very messy job. I filled a nylon sock with a handful or two of the diatomaceous earth. Holding the small pouch of dust, the kids held each wing open for me to gently pat the dust into the wing area. Next came the vent area, and a quick flip over on their backs for belly dusting before each birds was released back into the pen. Of course, it would have gone much smoother had we closed the birds up in the coop and plucked them out one at a time, but since we didn’t get started until the heat of the day in the afternoon, the birds were already roaming the outside pens. Although catching them did get us some exercise! It was pretty easy to tell who had already been dusted, as their usually glistening feathers were dull and overcast with a slight white haze!
Oh, and before departing for the pens I applied some oil to their shanks and toes to help keep leg mites at bay. It’s a eucalyptus oil blend that I got online from McMurray. But I guess you can use cooking oil too. I’m a bit too nervous to use cooking oil (to me it seems too slippery), and I really worry about my large Orpingtons and the other breeds hopping down from the tall roosts with slippery, oily feet.
I’ll probably try to squeeze in dusting of the birds once a month or so. Having a covered pen area and lots of leaves in the pens means my birds can dust bathe all year long, which goes a long way toward keeping lice and mites away. The covering over the pen keeps out the rain and snow and the leaves keep the dirt underneath from completely freezing. On any given sunny day, warm or not, I find my whole crew out there squished into deep holes. Except for the occasional flip of a wing full of dirt, it sometimes looks like the whole flock is lying out there dead!
It’s a good thing I picked that day to clean and preen, because as I write this, snow is coming down to beat the band!