The Cottage Smallholder

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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. Elizabeth Parker

    Can you use 7 dust around chickens to kill mites w/o harming them

  2. well hey nonny nonny! what a splendid article – i didn’t know that about straw versus hay and mite breeding – thank you very much 🙂
    i have six chooks in a palatial shed and humungous run in my backyard in suburban New Zealand. I have just been reading about the benefits of various natural things to help avoid the dreaded mites, etc. peppermint, garlic, vinegar etc are our hens friends.

  3. To add to Ali’s comments, my speckled hen regularly goes broody. I place her in a small dog cage with food and water. I stand the crate on some bricks to raise it from the floor and I find that she only needs to spend one day and one night in the crate and she soon forgets her broodiness…I place the crate in the garage overnight.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Emma

      That’s what I do too although I made my cage 🙂

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