The chickens moved out of our house and into the coop about a year ago. Maybe it’s a little less than a year, but given how time dragged during the building of the coop, I’m going to call it even. Whether you clean out all bedding regularly, or do like I do and use the “deep litter” method and just keep adding more shavings, it’s probably a good idea to clean everything out and wash it down every so often. When I was starting out, I read something that suggested doing this once a year, and so, with it being almost a year, my thoughts turned to the Big Coop Cleanout. I wasn’t terribly excited about this, as cleaning of most kinds gives me anxiety, but at least I only had to clean. I didn’t have to clean and organize, so it could have been worse.
The one thing I knew would help me out was that I had built the coop with this annual event in mind. On the backside of the coop I have a board that is held in place by wing nuts. My idea was that once a year I would remove this board, sweep everything into the wheelbarrow, which I’d park right in back, and everything would be easy. Now it was time for the big test of this plan. I’ll admit that I had worried at first that the bolts I used in conjunction with the wing nuts might rust, but I will also admit that I had forgotten about that worry. So the good news is that I had not worried at all. The bad news is that I was right about the bolts rusting. However, these bolts were too long in the first place, and really only laziness and forgetfulness had kept them intact. So I undid each wing nut to the farthest point it would go before sticking, and then used a hacksaw to cut the bolt before that point. They then came off fine, and I removed my magic board.
I was greeted with a giant wall of pine shavings, visible chicken poops, and many more poops lurking deep in the pile. I girded my loins, picked up a rake, and plunged it into the coop.
I think my loins were the wrong thing to gird, because the rake didn’t work so great. I went back inside and got a shovel and the metal rake we use for the driveway gravel. I have never had good luck using the shovel in the coop, so I don’t know why I even brought that out. I think I just wanted to feel like I had options. The metal rake, flipped over so the non-pointy side was down did the trick. The bedding came right out, more or less into the wheelbarrow. I’m not going to claim I got it all in there, but I got enough in there. The floor of our coop is covered in linoleum that I ripped out of one of our bathrooms, and if you have the chance to put some linoleum in your coop, I highly recommend it. It was the perfect smooth surface for raking the shavings out, and it also protects the wood from the nasty moist things that come out of chickens.
When I originally read about this cleanout process, the instructions I read said to use bleach to clean everything in the coop off. I didn’t remember the ratio of bleach to water, and I didn’t want to overdo it, so I did an internet search to get a recipe. Remember how I’m always saying that people have opinions on the internet? Well, they had opinions about this too. Not only about how much bleach to use, but whether you should use bleach at all, or even if you should ever even clean the coop. Looking at the cobwebs that collected in the corners of the ceiling, I found myself on the side of, “yes, I should clean the coop once in a while.” As far as the bleach went, the internet made a good case about “do you really want to expose your chickens to this?” I don’t even like to use bleach in the house, if I can help it. I tend to use vinegar if I need to disinfect things, you know, because hippies. Why was that good for the house, but not the chickens? There were plenty of people who did do the annual cleanout who used vinegar, and they reported no health issues. The good thing was that if there was a patch of vinegar that didn’t dry before the chickens went back in, it wasn’t going to kill them. And it would smell a whole lot better than bleach, unless you don’t like salad. So I sprayed the whole inside of the coop, the roost, and the nesting buckets with vinegar, and then wiped everything down. I feared that the towel I used might no longer be among the living by the end of the process, but at least it would have died in the service of cleanliness. However, after a trip through the washer, it’s as good as new. It’s a Too Many Chickens! miracle. Anyway, some people say to follow a vinegar wash with peroxide, but I was fine with just doing vinegar. I opened all the vents to air it out and let it dry, and when everything seemed o.k., I threw down more pine shavings. It looked ridiculously empty. I guess when you’re used to a year’s worth of chips, enough to just cover the floor is about 5 inches too few.
The chickens have not registered any sort of complaints about any of this. I think they may be weirded out by how spacious it seems without the extra chips, but we’re all getting used to it.
As I was wiping off the nesting buckets, I wondered if maybe I should take out the one they never use, since they never use it. They are pretty into the other one. I put it back just to not change too much. And of course, since they can read my mind, they have been using the one they never used to use quite a bit now. I guess they needed to change things up, and this cleanout was enough to get them to act on it. The salad smell has subsided, and I think we are getting back to whatever normal is around here. It wasn’t so bad, but I don’t mind waiting another year before I do this again.