THE OFFICIAL BLOG
After years of navigating methods of maintaining bedding in the chicken coop....
I think I have finally found what really works for us.
First, you need to understand that our chickens free-range so when I say 'coop' I am talking about the secure building where they roost overnight. Some of our older girls do prefer to lounge about in the coop during the day as well - but for the most part this is not a 24/7 coop and run.
Second, it's a pretty large coop. It's actually a pre-fab 10 x 16 lofted cabin that we converted to a coop a few years ago. It can easily and comfortably house quite a number of grown chickens over night. This summer it has been evening home to about 30 chickens, I think... But who's counting?
The problem that I have always had - which I know is common to chicken-owners everywhere - is finding some way to keep the coop clean. I have always prefered the deep-bedding method, especially in winter when the composting manure and bedding keep things cozy. In summer, however, the stench and the flies - OH THE FLIES - are less than ideal.
I experimented with different litter - from hay and straw to sawdust and back to regular old pine shavings. The problem was not the litter. The problem was the poo. Most books suggest using diatomaceous earth mixed with the bedding to reduce moisture, parasites, and odors. I tried that too. I wanted it to work. However, having a large coop meant needing a large amount of DE to get the job done. Also, simply handling the bags of DE sent me into coughing fits for days and the chickens fared no better - I had problems with respiratory illnesses in my birds whenever I did use the DE. Unfortunately, there was another major problem: it did not actually help. DE is pretty much useless once it gets wet... And I ended up with a nasty dirty sludge of wet DE underneath the bedding which I had to scrape up -- adding to my coop cleaning chores. Oh, and did I mention that DE is not actually as cheap as the internet likes to tell you it is? I was shelling out $25 per week just to keep the chicken coop powdered in DE which didn't seem to do anything other than make everyone sneeze. So.. scratch that.
I also tried the 'no litter' method during the hot summer months. What this meant was scraping overnight poo off the coop floor every morning and toting it off to the compost bin. Not only was it something akin to torture to wake up every morning looking forward to scraping chicken poo... but as the days got hotter and longer there was no way to stay ahead of the flies or the smell. And since the clean-up was always wet - and my cleaning methods also required the use of some amount of water to remove the sticky bits.. the coop maintained a level of dampness during the humid summer that was ... not good.
This summer I decided to try something totally new. I was convinced it wouldn't work, of course.. but I had to say I tried. After spring clean-up - I bought 1 ten pound bag of the cheapest all-purpose flour I could find (the store brand flour was $3.98 per bag) and three large boxes of store brand baking soda (at 98 cents each). I mixed it all together in a bucket and then layered it in to a thick layer of pine shavings bedding on the floor of the coop. Then I sat back and waited.
Okay, not really. I still turned over the bedding every morning... but that's a lot more like waiting than scraping up icky poo every morning.
Something amazing happened. There was no fly problem in the coop this summer. There was a fly problem, of course. But not in the coop. And there was no stench. Not that it smelled like one of those trees you put on your rearview mirror in there... but it did not stink to the point of gagging even on the hottest of days... it just smelled like... chickens.
Also... no respiratory issues this year... no mites... and... the final test....
After four extremely hot and humid months - I cleaned out the old bedding in preparation for fall and all of the bedding was perfectly dry. It was light and easy to move. It was not clumped together. It was not even composting.
If you can't tell how clean it was from the tractor picture above, then perhaps this will convince you: Did I mention that we floored our chicken coop with leftover wood laminate planks? You know, the kind of floor that does not hold up well to a lot of moisture? The floor tells it all. After removing the bulk of the bedding I was able to sweep the rest of the coop clean... After four months of heavy use.
The best part? I did not have to use any funky chemicals to get the results I wanted this year. And bonus - it was super cheap and convenient.
I won't be adding flour and baking soda to the new bedding as fall and winter approach as I will be wanting this bedding to compost to keep the coop toasty on cold nights. But you can bet I'll be heading to the baking aisle in the spring.