“I had almost three acres of land in Beverly Hills. And I had a big atrium of chickens because I love that feeling of being in the country and living from the soil.” ~ Eartha Kitt
My lovely friend was making the most of a typically sunshiny Perth day and hanging her washing on the clothesline.
When suddenly, it hit her.
A waft, carried by the sea breeze, from over the fence and up her nostrils. She almost fainted. Because that smell took the air from her lungs. It was potent, and most foul of fowl stenches. Overipe, ammonia-stenchy chicken poop.
She managed to get the rest of her linen on the line, but knew she must return to retrieve it.
Then, the smell seemed to cling to her freshly laundered bedsheets and followed her inside.
“It’s so bloody awful” she wailed.
“How often does your neighbour clean his coop?” I asked.
She asked him. And his answer shocked us both.
“I never clean it.”
Then I got a bit huffy. Because, part of the reason why I keep so-called “farm” animals in a domestic setting is to feel like the source of my food is well cared for. And it drives me spare when others have so little consideration for their animals, or their neighbours. People like my mate’s lazy neighbour gives fellow feather-lovers like me a bad reputation and put councils on the defensive. While deep-litter coops may work in rural settings with cooler temperatures, you simply can’t get away with it in hot suburban climates.
So, I want to reassure you, that keeping the chicken coop clean is as about as time-consuming as caring for a canary. In other words, it’s not hard at all.
Firstly, like most cleaning tasks, a little done each day, saves you a big smelly job later.
Everyday, when I collect the eggs, I also empty the roost of poop. (I have generously included a photo of one night’s worth of three chicken’s poop above) . We get two community newspapers delivered each week. I bet they end up in the recycle bin in most households, but as it happens, they are the perfect fit for the chicken’s poop tray. I don’t even touch the poop, it’s easy enough to wrap it up in the paper and deliver it the few paces to one of my sealed compost tumblers.
Once in the bin, both the poop and the paper transmute into the garden gold that is compost.
Of course, if the ladies happen to break an egg in the laying box, I take it out straight away and rinse it all clean as soon as possible. I don’t want the chickens to develop a taste for eggs or their shells lest they start helping themselves.
I check everyday to ensure they have plenty of dry feed and clean water. I feed our chickens scraps almost daily and make sure there is not rotting or mouldy food in the run.
Then once a week, I embark into the coop with the hose in tow. I rinse the limestone blocks of the poop, washing it into the sand below, and as a bonus, the rinsing gives the passionfruit vine and wormwoods a good nutritious drink. If you can plant tomatoes or herbs or citrus around your coop, do it. They will lap-up all the nutrients and reward you with amazing produce. The wormwoods and Passionfruit quite literally smother the chicken run. It’s the coolest spot in the whole yard!
I let the chickens out to forage, while keeping an eye out for any visiting neighbourhood cats. I then remove their poop tray and the laying box mats. You’ll notice my laying boxes are lined with plastic doormats. The chickens can’t scratch through them and they are much less messy than straw or other bedding material. The roosts, poop tray, and laying mats all get hosed off (its easy enough to do this so the water falls into the garden bed or compost bin) and then placed into the sun to dry.
I do this first thing in the morning (after coffee!) so the coop has plenty of time to dry. My coop was designed for maximum ventilation, and gets the morning sun, so it usually isn’t long before it is all dry and ready to reassemble. The sandy coop run also drains freely and dries quickly. No muddy, stagnant patches. The bacteria that create the awful stenches love moist, dark, warm, nutrient rich environments. So it’s important to consider this when designing your coop.
Finally I place fresh paper in the roost tray, and fresh paper in the laying boxes. The laying mats are replaced, and I pick a big bunch of wormwood from the bushes planted around the coop and place it in the nesting box. Wormwood is strongly scented and apparently repels all kinds of worms and parasites. My chickens have never had lice or intestinal worms. Even ants seem deterred from the coop.
Once it is all re-assembled, I lure the chickens back into the coop with a leafy treat.
If you stick to these daily and weekly cleaning routines, I assure you, your urban chicken coop will smell like sunshine and rainbows. It takes a total of maybe 15 minutes a week, about the same time to drive to the shop and buy a dozen eggs. Your chickens will also be healthier and happier when they are not having to live in their own muck.
And your neighbours won’t despise you.
How about you? Have you had problems with whiffy coops? How do you keep yours clean and fresh?
PS I read on social media that a few chicken coop deodorizer products exist, that you sprinkle about the coop once a week to overcome any smells. My first thought was, why? But frankly, I feel the same way about domestic air-fresheners. If you have some nasty funk that requires masking, remove the source of the smell! Problem solved.