Keeping backyard chickens does not have to be complicated or difficult. If you're able to let your chickens out in a run or to free-range, it's even easier. An important part of having chickens is to provide them with a shelter that is safe, draft-free and clean in order to keep them healthy and productive.
We designed our hen house with a "poop pit" under the roost where the chickens sleep at night, and we use a deep litter straw bedding on the floor. Add to those two features that our chickens are outdoors most of the time, and we only have to clean the house twice a year. You can see more photos and read all about our hen house design.
We have an access door on the back of the house to make it easy to clean out the poop pit. That's where 90% of their droppings are, keeping the floor of the house cleaner and drier.
We simply rake the straw and droppings out of the pit into a wheel barrow and add it to our compost pile. You would think that six months of droppings would smell bad, but because it is dry, it doesn't. When manure is wet, that is when the ammonia is released. The pit is wrapped with 2"x4" chicken fencing which keeps the chickens from walking in their droppings.
Once we have raked out the pit, its floor board slides out, as does the frame itself. We scrape and scrub the pit frame and the perch ladder and allow them to dry thoroughly. The perch ladder is hinged to the wall. We lift it up and hook it to the ceiling to make it easier to rake the straw from the house floor out through the access opening into the wheel barrow. We also empty and clean out the nesting boxes.
Then the whole house is swept out from top to bottom. It is a good idea to wear safety glasses and a face mask when cleaning the house as raking and sweeping the litter stirs up a lot of dust that you don't want to breathe in.
Next we spray the walls, floor and nesting boxes with a natural disinfectant that we make ourselves with citrus peelings and distilled vinegar. Simply save your citrus peels in a one-gallon glass jar of distilled vinegar. Store it for three months or more before using. We pour some into a spray bottle for application.
When the house has dried out completely, we put the poop pit back in place. We sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth on the floor of the house and in the pit and the nesting boxes before adding fresh straw. This provides a safe and natural protection against mites, lice, fleas and ticks. Finally we put a deep layer of fresh, dry straw on the floor of the house. Then we give everything another sprinkle of the DE.
While the house is airing out, we thoroughly clean and dry the feeders. We have a narrow feeder attached to the wall that we fill with crushed oyster shells so that the chickens can have a supplement of calcium if they need it.
The hen house, which we call Cluckingham Palace, is now ready for the next six months. There is good ventilation at roof level, and we check to make sure there are no drafts. We don't use a heat source. The deep straw serves as an insulator, a window on each wall provides some solar heat, and the manure pile in the pit also adds some warmth to the house. Read more about Keeping Chickens in Winter.
The chickens always seem to be happy when their house is clean and fresh and has a new deep layer of straw. They actually purr like kittens when they discover it. They scratch in the straw which turns it over, but we also occasionally give it a turn with a pitch fork and add some fresh straw. A board attached across the bottom of the door opening helps to keep the straw inside.
What you'll need to clean your coop: