It’s been a particularly strange winter here in our zone, with fluctuating temperatures that touched new records, some of the wildest wind storms I’ve ever personally experienced, and a mixed flock of ducks and chickens that didn’t quite know what to make of it all. Those wind storms were reason enough for the flock to spend multiple days inside their coop where they could escape the blistering cold and especially the howling gales that knocked out power, downed trees, and created waist-high snow drifts around the pen.
Needless to say, the flock and I are excited at the prospect of spring, and with it will come a deep clean in both the birds’ run and their coop. It’s a chore that I embrace for multiple reasons, all of which I’ll divulge in this article. It’s important to remember that this is actually, at a minimum, a twice-a-year affair. Let’s dive right into the why of it.
As mentioned, we’ve had a lot of up-and-down temperatures that went from freezing cold one week to t-shirt weather the next. We use something called the deep bedding method, which sees no large-scale removal of dirty bedding until the spring thaw arrives. Instead, new bedding is placed on top of the old stuff, and due to the body heat of the birds, the old bedding slowly begins the process of decomposition. By spring, the bedding is ready to hit one of the many raised beds or pallet bins that we grow our pumpkins and squash from.
With fluctuating temperatures comes the possibility of pests finding themselves a nice warm home within the coop itself, and sometimes on the birds in the form of mites. You don’t want this, and your chickens certainly don’t want this, trust me. In our area, it’s simply not possible for our birds to actively dust bath all year, so mites and lice can potentially be a problem, and no matter how secure your coop may be, rodents can always find a way in. Giving a coop a detailed cleaning can eliminate all of the above from occurring, along with a whole lot more.
Right, so spring has arrived, your birds are out foraging and happy, and it’s the perfect day to clean out the coop. The first thing you’re going to want to do, especially if you use the deep bedding method, is to remove all the old bedding. You’ll want a wheelbarrow handy because chances are there will be a whole lot to move. Again, I put every last bit of this where I grow my squash, which feed on the nutrient-dense manure, while the moisture-retaining abilities of the bedding allow the squash to need far less watering from me.
All this bedding can also be burned if you have the means and see fit to do so. While I use mine, I also run the risk of any microscopic pests that have made a home in the old bedding getting a foothold again. The chickens love to root around the compost bins and could potentially come in contact if I’ve not been vigilant with giving them everything they need to maintain their hygiene. This is a personal decision that you’ll have to make for yourself, and I encourage you to weigh the pros and cons.
Spring cleaning doesn’t end with replacing bedding. Once the bedding is removed, allow as much air circulation to pass through the coop as possible for a few hours before adding new bedding in. Ideally, the removal of the old stuff occurs first thing in the morning so the coop can dry out all day long, especially if there’s a nice breeze. While this is happening, I take out all my nesting boxes, which are made out of old milk crates, and bring them inside to clean them with warm soapy water sprayed from a spray bottle. If you’re nesting boxes can’t be brought in, give them a quick spray inside the coop and dry them with a terry cloth. With the coop airing out, it won’t take them very long to dry.
This next part is something I consider to be essential. On the slim chance that mites and lice have overwintered in the coop, now’s the time to give the little buggers a run for their money and a reason to get out of dodge, which will involve spraying the entire inside of your coop.
Luckily there are many great sprays available, some of which are completely organic, and some of which you can make at home. I’ll caution you with the homemade stuff because I’ve found it to have limited effectiveness, while store-bought sprays consistently get the job done for us.
Regardless, you’re going to want to completely spray the entirety of the coop on the inside and give it time to air out. I recommend doing this in conjunction with the rest of the ongoing chores mentioned earlier. Getting this done in one go is a time-consuming project, but getting it out of the way now rather than when your birds start to show signs of stress from being preyed on by microscopic vampires is important for the health of your flock.
One last thing I encourage you to do is that while the coop is empty, take a good long look around for any places that might need a little love and care. Even the best built coops will need some upkeep after a few seasons—roofs might start to leak, drafts start where there were none prior, and mice can chew their way in along the floors and foundations. Giving the entire structure a once-over carefully will often make hidden places in need of repairs all the more visible, and nipping them in the butt while you’re already doing coop maintenance is, as far as I’m concerned, the best time to both find them and fix them.
With all that being said, and as nasty as some of the jobs might sound, they’re not. As the years go on, this is a job that I look forward to because it means that whether I like it or not, spring is here, and there are things to do.