How do you keep your chicken run clean? This chicken hygiene question gets asked all the time via email, or whenever I post a chicken story on my Facebook page.
Even more surprising are things that people say to me when they visit and check out Cluckingham Palace. Usually the first response is “Hey, it doesn’t smell!” Quite true, because I ensure that with regular animal husbandry, they keep clean (but not tidy).
The tips below are some of the things I have learnt in since we have had our own hens and are only learnings from September 2008 until now.
I find that chicken hygiene is quite simple to keep on top of. All you have to do is ensure that their run and house don’t get very messy and that you use a bit of preventative medicine to help them along. It only take a little of your time to make sure your girls remain healthy and strong.
I use a deep litter methodology in my chook run. Every 2 weeks to a month, and more often if it has been raining heavily, I clean out the litter from their house and either compost it, bag it up for later, or throw it into a resting garden bed to improve the soil. This takes me about 45 – 60 minutes simply because there is a lot of it. Then I spread a few handfuls of dolomite lime on the ground to stop acid build up and to sweeten the soil. I find this necessary to stop the build up of earth borne pests from getting hold in their permanently fixed run.
After everything is limed, I get a bale of straw (not hay, too many moulds/pollen that may make them sick) and spread about half of it all over the bottom of the run. Now because they only have a small run this makes the depth of the straw about 30cm (1 ft) deep.
The chickens are very funny when they go back into their run after you have cleaned it out. Because the new straw is so spongy, they tread very lightly until they get used to is again. Here are a couple of views of the run showing the depth of the straw which I changed out last weekend.
The other half bale in the corner is used during the month to replace the bedding in their house every week. Because they defecate quite a bit when roosting at night, I find that a weekly clean out keeps their house from getting smelly and deters mites and lice from setting up camp.
Don’t forget to make sure there is clean water available each day. This is essential in their digestion and helps them to break up their food. They are just like us, water is a necessity. If they don’t have enough available, you many find they develop digestion problems and food will begin to get stuck in their crop (first stomach).
Also don’t forget to give them some shell grit. This also helps them break up their food in the crop and adds necessary calcium for egg-shell development. If they do not have enough calcium in their diet, their bodies draw it from their bones, which may lead to other problems later on.
The other things I do is let them free range each day for most of the day. They have a very small row of grass (next to the run) that they mow for me, and a couple of garden beds that they like to dust bath in. By dust bathing daily the chickens manage well in keeping any mites or lice at bay.
I also add a teaspoon of crushed garlic to their water once a fortnight, which is also a bug deterrent. Another thing that helps with intestinal worms is nasturtiums. I offer them some of the leaves, sometimes they eat a bit, some times they don’t. I leave the choice up to them.
They are very clean girls, and usually preen themselves after their dust bath. They take the oils from around their tail feather area with their beaks and rub it on the base of their other feathers. It is very interesting to watch their behaviours, and it is a relaxing pass time.
The main thing is to keep the area that they live in clean. This will minimise any potential health problems right from the start. An ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure.
If you have any poultry hygiene tips of your own, I would love to hear from you via a comment. The more the merrier. Anything to help keep these wonderful additions to a permaculture garden fit and healthy!
If I have whet your appetite and curiosity with this post, check out my eBook on the subject of chickens titled “Way of The Chicken – A Guide to Keeping Backyard Chickens”.