The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How do I keep my chickens clean?

Mrs Squeaky CleanChickens are not naturally clean creatures, unlike the story book ones. Do you remember them? Clean living hens, wearing spotted scarves and venturing out to the market with a basket hooked over a wing and a clutch of chicks close by.

Real life chickens will foul their chicken house and quite often foul the nesting box. The only chicken that I have known to actively ‘clean’ her house was Mrs Boss. When the guinea fowl keets hatched she pulled all the hay from her nest out of their house in the ark. The more clean hay and woodchips I added the more she pushed them into their run. After a couple of weeks, I admitted defeat. The keets slept under Mrs Boss’ wings, on bare boards. I could never understand why she did this.

If chickens are not cleaned out regularly their droppings can harbour and spread disease. Droppings in the nesting box can foul the eggs. Remove any droppings immediately from the nesting box when you see them.

There is also the question of chicken mites. In warmer weather, mites can breed like wildfire in a house that is not treated regularly. They lay their eggs in dark nooks and crannies in the house and are at their most active at night. They bite the chickens and these bites can become infected.

An imaginative Estate Agent might describe our hen house as,
“A Canadian style two storey lodge. Lower floor family room with traditional wooden slatted staircase leading to spacious communal bedroom for 8 plus with half mansard ceiling and door to cosy penthouse nesting box.”

It gets a good cleanout once a week. And a top to toe super valet and repair in the Spring and Autumn.

If you are canny, the weekly cleanout for an average sized house (ours is designed to accommodate 6-8 Maran hens) takes about twenty minutes, often it is completed in ten.

The trick to quick and easy cleaning is to store everything that you might need within a few feet of the chicken house. We keep our chicken consumables in two large barrels in the run. One holds the bedding the other contains sprays, powders, oyster shells, grit and everything that a chicken keeper might need. These storage bins are also popular with the flock as they have another vantage point on which to stand and observe the world.

Our chicken feed is stored in the boot of Danny’s car and in a large aluminium grain store in the garden. Along with the wild bird and Min Pin food.

Generally I pull on my chicken cleaning gloves at midday when the flock are out an about in the run. Initially I spray the inside of the house with a decent anti mite spray. I close the door to the house as I am not sure how safe the spray is for the flock (although it is marked suitable for an aviary with residents). While the spray wafts through the house I collect all the stuff that I need from the barrels. woodchips, fresh hay and mite powder.

The old woodchips, hay and droppings are swept into the chicken run dustpan and go into their bucket (this was sold to me as a nappy bucket and has a lid). This lid is handy as the bucket can sit happily inside the run until it is full.

Once all debris has been removed, I spread wood chips on the floor of the house. These are great as they absorb moisture and make the chicken cleaning process much easier. They are available in enormous chunky packs. and a pack lasts for months. I lay a layer of woodchips in the nesting box topped with a thickish layer of hay. My mum recommended hay for the nests as mites can breed easily in the hollow strands of straw. The hens fashion the hay into nests very quickly, even if they are off lay.

Once fresh chips and hay have been spread, I return to the barrels for oyster shells and grit. I used to put these in a nifty container in the run, now I cast them just before I open the gates to get out. The flock dives for these and before they have discovered that they are not deluxe grain mix I am the other side of the wire. Poultry need grit. Ours find this in the back wall of the run. If yours don’t have access to a wall don’t forget to provide them with grit, if you are feeding them seeds and corn as it essential for breaking down the husks in their gullets.

Chickens are fine on woodchips alone and I have seen many happy hen houses that just have newspaper spread on the floor. Once you find an effective way to keep your chickens clean that suits you, use it on a weekly basis. You and your chickens will bloom.

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  1. Aaaah! Mrs Boss, Super Star, looking very bouffant – is she going to the Oscars?

    Sorry to be picky – but the mites in hen houses are Red Mites – not to be confused with Red Spider Mites which play havoc in greenhouses and do no harm to chickens.

    Otherwise excellent advice, especially at the start of the winter months when the hens will be spending long hours inside – resulting in lots more poo to be cleaned out!!!! I have to admit to having a much slicker hen-house cleaning regime than one for doing the house work!

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    Oops! Post updated! I always get in a muddle with these.

  3. anne waller

    i totally agree with regular cleaning out of hen houses. during the winter i do mine every 3/4 days – i have a large house with more chix than is good for me…….
    i was interested to read that you use hay for the nesting boxes coz all of the ‘chicken bibles’ that i own seem to specify that you should use straw. i like the reasoning behind hay usage and can see the logic but am i not right in believing that hay is more expensive to buy than straw?
    i have a ‘free’ supply of straw as well as the gleanings from the farm after baling has finished, so it would take a lot to disuade me from using it.

    the beauty of regular cleaning out is that you can get the job done quickly and can catch the first signs of mite – or rodent – trouble. anyway, would you want to sit in your own poo on a cold, dark day? no….. thought not……………

  4. Interesting to hear about Mrs Boss. Our broody chicken did exactly the same when her seven strong brood arrived- no matter how much bedding we put in for their comfort , she just shoved it out everytime! The idea about newspaper sounds good – less sweeping out of straw involved. This year as novice chicken keepers we had red mite- truly disgusting! We kept them in an old stable which was almost impossible to keep clean. I do not want to repeat the experience of running down our garden with my hair full of mites, shedding most of my clothes outside the back door and running head long into the shower! A bit like having children – no one warns you about these things! I would now definitely recommend a smaller chicken house which is easily swept. We now spray every week.
    While I am on – how old does a chicken need to be before you can tell if it is male or female?

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Anne,

    If you have been infected by chicken mites (as I have been and Jane below, you would toss away anything that could harbour them!
    A bag of pet shop hay is chap and lasts for weeks. If straw works for you, stick with that. If you get mites it would be a good idea to change your bedding!

    Hi Jane,

    I was infested, just before a smart supper party. We arrived very late! No one told me about the mites!

    I am afraid that I can’t answer your last question. I have no idea how many weeks that you have to wait before you can differentiate between male and female fowl. Apologies.



  6. Thanks for that Fiona!!! Now if I ever get any chickens I will know how to take care of them.

  7. anne waller

    believe me, i have had red mite problems in past years and can identify with the ‘running down the garden shedding clothes’ scenario. last winter, following that hot and ‘mitey’ summer, i decided that drastic action was called for. i am licky enough to have 4 chicken houses (all various sizes and not all in use at the same time) so i ‘rationalised’ the girls into 1 house for 48 hours and creosoted the other 3 – absolutely soaking them inside and out. the sight of all those mites making a run for it makes me itch even now. after 48 hours i moved the girls into the largest house and creosoted house number 4. it may be that i’ve just had a lucky year – but i have had no mite this year, not a sign! i am not so daft as to think i can rest on my laurels though. i have a new supply of creosote and will be re-doing the houses this winter.
    throughout the summer i use ‘Raid’ fly spray on the ends of the perches, i have found that this is the best place to discover if a mite problem is in the house. i also smear vaseline around the end of the perches, the mite get stuck in the goo on their way to the birds. again, while it won’t kill all the mite, it does give you an indication that the mite are present.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat,

    I know that you’d love keeping chickens. Perhaps you will, one day.

    Hi Anne,

    Your creosote idea sounds like a great answer to the mite problem.

    Yes, either end of the perch is a good place to see whether you have an infestation of mites. I lift up the perch and spray into the housings. I’ll try the Vaseline – great tip.

  9. farmingfriends

    What an excellent article. Lots of great tips and a good reminder to regularly clean out the hen house. Thanks for the reminder. sara from farmingfriends

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

    Cleaning the hen house is the only sort of cleaning that I really enjoy. I suppose it’s because it is completed in such a short time!

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