Imagine that you live in a small one room apartment without indoor plumbing. Living with you are your closest friends. You dine together in this space. You sleep in this space. You go to the bathroom, when necessary, in this space. It’s not the prettiest of mental pictures, is it? Yet, I’ve just described the state of affairs within the four walls of a chicken coop. Even with access to the outdoors, chickens spend a lot of their time inside the coop together and leave the evidence behind to prove it.
We have two chicken coops and a duck house here at 1840 Farm. The backyard garden coop houses our four bantam hens. The main coop is home to eight heritage breed hens, many of them from the original batch of chicks we added to our farm back in 2010. The duck house is our newest addition and provides shelter for the six ducks we added to our farmyard this spring.
All of our birds have access to the outdoors to stretch their legs, enjoy the fresh air, and nap in the sunshine. We’ve been careful to plan for more than the recommended square footage of indoor space per bird. We do our best to keep their indoor space clean, but any chicken or duck keeper can tell you that it doesn’t take long for them to make a mess of things.
I like to tend to our chickens, ducks, and goats as naturally as possible. I also like to apply that philosophy to our barn, coop, and duck house maintenance. Over the years, I have developed a few strategies to add a little natural freshness into the coop and barn.
On warm days, our coops and barn are open and ventilated all day. I believe strongly that cross ventilation is vital to the health of a flock. Our front facing window and rear facing vents and access doors help to keep fresh air flowing into the coop. The side screen door is also kept open during warm weather, allowing even more fresh air to enter the coop.
We follow the same method of keeping air circulating in our circa 1840 barn. Each morning, I slide open the south facing front door and unlatch the screen. Then the back door is opened and secured to keep it open and allow a breeze to flow through the main aisle.
Keeping a coop or barn smelling fresh is a big goal and a breeze can only do so much on a hot, humid day. Regular mucking and cleaning is the most laborious and also most successful way to keep a coop or barn smelling fresh. Even with our drop down cleanout door, a total coop cleaning takes a sizable time commitment, not to mention the need to have a large quantity of replacement bedding on hand.
During the cold months, we utilize the deep litter method of coop and stall care, adding fresh bedding as the season marches on. That fresh bedding piles up and helps our animals to stay warm even on the most brutal of cold New England days. With long stretches of cold temperatures, that extra warmth is needed.
During the spring, summer, and fall, I like to freshen our coop between deep cleanings. Once a week, I use my homemade spray to do that. In a few minutes, I can treat our flock to a fresh coop that smells clean even on the warmest summer day.
I chose the components for my spray carefully. I use Dawn lavender dishwashing liquid soap both because of its lavender scent and its known gentleness and effectiveness to clean birds in the wild. If it can be trusted to be used during the crisis of an oil spill, then I feel like it is safe to invite into our coop. You could certainly substitute another brand of soap when making your spray, but I can only attest to the effectiveness of Dawn as it is the only brand that I have used.
Lavender Dawn has a lovely, light lavender scent, but I wanted to up the ante. I also wanted to boost the power of this spray to both lightly disinfect the coop and help to deter pests. I add tea tree oil and peppermint oil for their insect repelling qualities. Lastly, I add a bit of lavender to help boost the calming properties of the freshening spray.
Herbal Coop Freshening Spray
2 ounces Dawn lavender dish soap
14 ounces water
10 drops tea tree oil
10 drops peppermint oil
10 drops lavender oil
I simply combine the ingredients in a clean spray bottle, replace the cap and shake the bottle gently to mix the liquid. The resulting spray has a light, fresh scent without being overpowering. One bottle of spray lasts me several weeks and has worked effectively in both our main coop and garden coop.
I remove the bedding from each nest box before lightly spraying the box with the herbal spray. Then I lightly spray the walls of the coop and also the two roosts. I allow the boxes to dry before adding fresh straw and shavings to each nest and sprinkling a bit of Herbs for Hens Coop Confetti™ in each nest. As soon as I finish my work in the coop, our hens come in to investigate their freshened surroundings.
While I felt as though our hens appreciated my efforts, I decided to test my theory. One week, I only freshened a single nest box. I left the remaining boxes untouched and didn’t spray the floor or roost. I placed a handful of herbs on top of the lone freshened box and exited the coop.
Later that afternoon, I went out to the coop to retrieve the day’s eggs. Every egg that had been laid was in the freshened nest box. They were sitting on top of the dried herbs I had placed there.
Clearly, our hens did appreciate my weekly freshening services. The fact that they decided to lay their eggs in the only nest box that I had freshened confirmed that. As a chicken keeper, there was no bigger affirmation the hens could give me. Collecting enough fresh eggs to feed my family was all the encouragement I needed to keep me coming back to freshen the coop every week.