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We have seven heritage breed hens living in the main coop at 1840 Farm. They eat, sleep, and lay eggs there. They spend their days outside soaking up the fresh air and sunshine. They stretch their legs, take dust baths, and enjoy picking through the vegetation that grows nearby. Every evening, they return to the coop and take their place on the roost until the next morning.
I’m a farmer. I expect a little mess and aroma to come with the job. I’m not afraid of getting dirty; in fact, I find it to be a badge of honor on the farm. If I don’t end the day with dirt beneath my fingernails, I must not have been working very hard. If I’m not working very hard, then there will be less homegrown food on our farmhouse table. Bring on the dirt.
During the summer, our coop and barn are open and ventilated all day. I’ve already discussed how important I believe cross ventilation is to the health of a flock. Our front facing window and rear facing vents and access doors help to keep fresh air flowing into the coop. The side screen door is also kept open during warm weather, allowing even more fresh air to enter the coop.
We follow the same method of keeping air circulating in our circa 1840 barn. Each morning, I slide open the south facing front door and unlatch the screen. Then the back door is opened and secured to keep it open and allow a breeze to flow through the main aisle. Keeping a coop smelling fresh is a big goal and a breeze can only do so much on a hot, humid day. Regular mucking and cleaning is the most laborious and also most successful way to keep a coop or barn smelling fresh. Even with our drop down cleanout door, a total coop cleaning takes a sizable time commitment, not to mention the need to have a large quantity of replacement bedding on hand.
While I don’t want to disinfect our coop on a weekly basis, I have developed a Sunday routine that enables me to freshen the coop in between deep cleanings. My weekly coop freshening takes only minutes and uses supplies that I always have on hand. Even better, it leaves our coop smelling fresh and clean even on the warmest summer day.
I chose the components for my spray carefully. I use Dawn lavender dishwashing liquid soap both because of its lavender scent and its known gentleness and effectiveness to clean birds in the wild. If it can be trusted to be used during the crisis of an oil spill, then I feel like it is safe to invite into our coop. You could certainly substitute another brand of soap when making your spray, but I can only attest to the effectiveness of Dawn as it is the only brand that I have used.
Lavender Dawn has a lovely, light lavender scent, but I wanted to up the ante. I also wanted to boost the power of this spray to both lightly disinfect the coop and help to deter pests. I always have grapefruit seed extract on hand for making household cleaners and knew that it had incredible, natural powers to help disinfect yet it was safe enough to be taken internally. I don’t have any plans to feed my chickens grapefruit seed extract, but I feel safe adding it to our spray. Then I add tea tree oil and peppermint oil for their insect repelling qualities. Lastly, I add a bit of lavender to help boost the calming properties of the freshening spray.
I simply combine the ingredients in a clean spray bottle, replace the cap and shake the bottle gently to mix the liquid. The resulting spray has a light, fresh scent without being overpowering. One bottle of spray lasts me several weeks and has worked effectively in both our main coop and garden coop.
Herbal Coop Freshening Spray
4 ounces Dawn lavender dish soap
12 ounces water
10 drops grapefruit seed extract
10 drops tea tree oil
10 drops peppermint oil
10 drops lavender oil
Every Sunday, I enter the coop after completing my morning farm chores ready to freshen the coop for the week. I come armed with my homemade coop freshening spray and a small bucket of herbs gathered right outside the coop door. Mint grows directly outside of our barn and coop and we seem to have an unending supply. Using it to freshen our coop and barn seems like a great way to use it to its full advantage.
I spray each nest box with the herbal spray several times. Then I lightly spray the bedding on the floor of the coop and also the two roosts. I place a handful of fresh mint on top of each nest box. If the nest boxes need a little bit of nesting material, I add it after spraying the boxes with the herbal spray and before adding the fresh herbs.
Even on a hot day, the coop immediately smells fresh and clean. Over the period of the next few days, the herbs I have left behind in the nest boxes continue to perfume the air in the coop. Occasionally, I add a handful of mint to each nest box during the week as I am collecting the day’s eggs.
Both our adult laying hens and adolescent pullets seem to enjoy their freshly smelling coops. They immediately come in to investigate their freshened surroundings. While they sometimes take a closer look at the mint, I have yet to see one ingest any. Instead, they seem content to nest on top of them and enjoy the aroma of mint in their coops.
While I felt as though our hens appreciated my efforts, I wanted to test my theory. One week, I only freshened a single nest box. I left the remaining boxes untouched and didn’t spray the floor or roost. I placed a handful of mint on top of the lone freshened box and exited the coop.
Later that afternoon, I went out to the coop to retrieve the day’s eggs. Every egg that had been laid was in the same nest box. They were sitting on top of the fresh mint leaves as if I had placed them there for effect.
Clearly, our hens did appreciate my weekly freshening services. The fact that they decided to lay their eggs in the only nest box that I had freshened confirmed that. As a chicken keeper, there was no bigger affirmation the hens could give me. Collecting enough fresh eggs to feed my family was all the encouragement I needed to keep me coming back to freshen the coop every Sunday.
How do you keep your coop fresh? Do you add herbs to your nest boxes to encourage your hens to spend more time there?