Tips to keep the coop healthy and non-toxic?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by NHchicks, Oct 26, 2010.

  1. NHchicks

    NHchicks Songster

    May 13, 2010
    I'm starting to get concerned with coop odors, dust, etc. that naturally come with having chickens. I don't want to end up with lung disease and I don't want the birds coming down with anything either. I just found out from a thread here about histoplasmosis, and it's a little scary.

    Any tips on keeping a coop as uncontaminated as possible?

    We've boarded up for the winter so there isn't as much ventilation as there used to be, when it was half hardware cloth wire. I have been keeping the people door open all day (I don't have a chicken door so the people door is always open during the day) and we left open space at the top walls of the coop for ventilation. Sometimes I also leave the egg doors open for extra ventilation during the day, after everyone is done laying. My 10 chickens free range all day.

    I guess dust masks are a necessity. Are those the kind you buy at Lowes?

    Would leaves on the bottom of the coop floor, over the shavings and raked in, help with dust issues?

    Would hay added to the shavings help at all?

    Would less shavings on the floor of the coop help?

    Do I need to totally clean the poop out every day? I've only been spot cleaning, maybe that's not enough.

    Up until now, I've only obsessed over the design and size of my chicken coop. But now I'm starting to obsess over its cleanliness. I really want it to be odor free, and I don't want to feel like my lungs are getting filled with bacteria just by walking into the coop.

    Any thoughts on keeping a coop clean, healthy, non-toxic, and eco-friendly?

  2. BigPeep

    BigPeep Songster

    May 27, 2009
    I have asthma and allergies so I designed my coop to minimize my exposure to the inside. I have a foyer in the center of the coop where I keep the feed and it has flaps on either side so I can retrieve the eggs without going inside with the chickens. I did try food grade DE but stopped using it due to concerns about lung issues and haven't noticed any problems with the birds.

    I use a deep litter method involving wood mulch that I get from local landscapers. I just keep piling it on (actually I have someone else do that) and leave it there all winter. The coop will freeze so everything on the ground will end up frozen and not create dust. In the Spring I have it all cleaned out an put on the compost pile for later use with the tomatoes.

    The door to the foyer area is glass so it allows light in the Winter and helps heat up the inside. There is a hardware cloth in front of that for warm weather which provides the ventilation. There are high windows across the front and on both ends for ventilation. Right now everything is closed up as we are having high winds.

    The next coop I build will have the egg doors directly from the outside so I will only need to reach in to change the water.

    I do have to wear a mask from time to time but not too much as the time I spend in the coop is limited to getting the feed and collecting the eggs. The nest boxes are lined with wood shavings. I use absolutely no straw.
  3. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I do not think you can avoid histoplasmosis other than avoiding breathing dust. Truly I do not think there is any way to 'decontaminate' it out of a coop, if the germs are there (which is not really under your control).

    Adding large-fiber stuff to your shavings, like leaves or hay or straw, is not going to help one bit with dust and will make things hard to clean. I wouldn't do it. Neither IME will less shavings (unless you clean it out every day, almost, which is exhausting and wasteful and probably *greater* overall exposure to dust). And I don't know where you live (dunno whether NH in your username is your state of residence, or your chickens' breed [​IMG]) but if you live somewhere with cold winters you'll want MORE not less bedding on the ground during the winter. Some brands of shavings (or some lots, within a brand) are dustier than others, so if you find some that is really objectionable try buying something else next time. But IME most bagged shavings sold at feedstores for horse bedding is pretty acceptably low-dust, as these things go; and dust from bales of shavings isn't going to give you histoplasmosis anyhow, just irritate your lungs and make a mess.

    There is no reason to clean out all poop every day, unless you happen to feel like it. Although in terms of cleanliness, there is IMHO a whole lot to be said for a droppings board (not pit) that you scrape off every morning into a bucket to dispose of, takes literally like 10 seconds and removes a LOT of poo from the coop before it has much chance to create ammonia or humidity problems. Also it makes the coop look tidier, if you are the kind of person who is easily wigged out by seeing poo lying around.

    Honestly, take a deep breath and be calm. It is not a big deal. Wash yer hands after doing things with the chickens or coop. Wear a dust mask (the ones from Lowe's are fine but don't get the cheapest ones, and you may have to shop around for a brand that fits your face well). Have appropriately-ample ventilation. Don't intentionally make your coop bizarrely dusty by using sawdust or very dusty shavings or flinging DE all around the place. You will be FINE.

    People with known existing respiratory or immune-system problems should be further careful, e.g. a coop design that minimizes dust as much as humanly possible (difficult in a northern winter, though); but for normal people, normal sensible precautions are QUITE adequate.

    Good luck, have fun, RELAX [​IMG],

  4. elmo

    elmo Songster

    May 23, 2009
    Here's what I do (and I'm a neat freak):

    I use plastic boot trays under the roost which I empty and hose off each morning. I use sand on the floor so I can scoop out stray droppings with a reptile litter scoop. I have a spray bottle of Poop Off and papertowels in the cabinet for any poop that gets on the roost. The coop is adequately ventilated with 1 square foot of vent space (minimum) per chicken. The coop is not overpopulated, with 9 bantams in 64 square feet....and they stay in there only at night anyway.

    No smell. Clean and tidy. And it takes about 15 minutes of work per day to keep it that way.
  5. NHchicks

    NHchicks Songster

    May 13, 2010
    Those are some really great thoughts. I have an extra poop tray hanging around, it's actually the removable plastic bottom of a large dog crate, I might as well put it to use. Those overnight droppings are the cause of much of my coop "contamination". I'll look into the wood mulch too, not exactly sure what that is.

    BigPeep, your coop sounds really intriguing. Do you have any photos of it?

    I do live in NH. I never even thought of it as standing for NH Reds, even tho I have them. [​IMG]

    Thank you all for your thoughts.

    Edit: Oh, and my current coop is a little tight space-wise for the # of birds I have (3 s.f. per bird). I need a new coop (hopefully by spring). But for now, that's another reason why I need to work harder to keep it clean.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2010
  6. Nostalchic

    Nostalchic Songster

    I use coarse wood shavings (coarser than sawdust, kind of a granular texture, not big fluffy shavings like you get at a pet store) from a local sawmill (all pine around here) in my coop - same thing I use as stall bedding for my horses - and this bedding, itself, is not at all dusty. But the chicken coop gets really dusty, and if you've raised chicks in the house you know how much dust they generate - it is a sort of dander which increases with moulting/feathering and a truly astonishing amount, really. But I scrape the roosts and use a little "junior" manure fork to pick up the night's poop from the bedding first thing in the am, and my coop stays really clean and smells fine. It does eventually get dusty from the chickens, so I usually change out the bedding every 4-6 months or so. But I think MORE bedding is better, if you can find something like this in your area to use, and it insulates the floor, looks nice, smells nice, easy to clean, and takes just a few minutes a day to keep it that way.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2010
  7. NHchicks

    NHchicks Songster

    May 13, 2010
    I'll have to look into coarse wood shavings. My local store only sells the light fluffy pine.

  8. Yay Chicks!

    Yay Chicks! Songster

    Apr 15, 2010
    Forest Grove, OR
    Enough ventilation up high is important, even when it's very cold. I just have a small coop, but I have a poop board which is covered in pine shavings so I can just scoop off the poop daily with a trowel. If there are any big wet clumps on the floor, I spot clean. I use a layer of pine shavings a few inches thick, add to it and stir as it gets matted down. I sprinkle DE in there a lot as it dries things up quickly.
  9. GoChick

    GoChick Songster

    Sep 16, 2010
    Quote:I use pine shavings in the coop, and with only 6 chikens can keep it pretty clean, but it is getting very dusty. I though about spraying with water everyday, but not sure if it would help that much. Should I be concerned all the dust will cause some health issues for my chickens?

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