I started my spring break vacation just over a week ago, which coincided with the declaration of a state of emergency around the Covid 19 virus. I had only planned a staycation so thankfully didn’t have to cancel anything. I live on a small island so my life is pretty contained and revolves around home, but the spectre of a pandemic has been hanging over me: it feels a bit otherworldly waiting for the monster to reach our shores.
I have to say I’d been feeling a bit antsy, so I decided to tackle the to-do list to take my mind off the bigger picture. I’d already gotten through cleaning the house, hauling branches from the woods to the burn pile and weeding the garden, so I decided to do a deep clean of the coop.
I spend a lot of time with my birds and clean often: I scoop poop daily, clean out shavings weekly and regularly sweep away cobwebs, so you wouldn’t think there would be much to do, but let’s face it, chickens are dirty. If it’s not poop, it’s dust – both of them in large quantities and everywhere.
Wednesday was sunny and mild so I resolved to get up the following morning and get right to it. So what does deep cleaning involve? My coop is 13’x 8’, divided in half by wire mesh: coop on one side and supplies on the other. I’ve got four windows, which stay open, to some degree, all year round. Chickens dust bath, shake and shed dander, so over the winter months everything gets covered in a thick layer of black dust. There were cobwebs hanging from the ceiling that would rival a horror movie set.
The first thing I did was to shovel out four full wheelbarrows of bedding. I like to dispose of the shavings away from my flock in case there are any external parasites lurking in them. I found a nice accessible spot in the woods that I’ve been using for a couple of years. I’ve been lucky enough that mushrooms are now growing there, including the fantastic edible Chicken Of The Woods (yes, that’s what it’s called).
First hour down, then it was on to removing everything from the coop that wasn’t attached: feed bins and bags, PVC feeders, dog crates, heat lamps and bulbs, containers of oyster shell and shavings, shovels and supplies. I pulled all the liners and bedding out of the nest boxes.
I wanted to get the next stage finished or I knew the girls would be bitchin’ that their nest boxes weren’t ready. I have a hose bib a few feet from the coop so I hauled the long hose across the driveway and blasted the whole interior starting with the ceiling, then the walls, roost bars, nest boxes and floor. By the time that was done I was thoroughly sprayed and standing in a couple of inches of water. The coop foundation is concrete – it doesn’t have a drain, but does have three pop doors that I opened to sweep out all the dirty water.
My friend, Tracy, installed new roost bars and a droppings board for me last spring break. I love them and thank her (silently) every time I clean my coop. The bars are all hinged and clip up to the walls for days like this. I removed all the sand and sawdust from the drooping board, hosed it all down and decided to replace it only with sawdust as it’s light and easy to scoop daily.
The girls were in and out complaining so I hurried to clean out the nest boxes, add clean liners and fill them with fresh shavings. When that was done there was a line up to use them.
I didn’t want to give them the opportunity to find a secret spot to hide their eggs in the shed. That’s happened in the past and it is a hard habit to break. Last spring, one of my pullets – unbeknownst to me – had a stash of eggs she’d hidden in the shed. On the first night Pixie set out to incubate them, she missed night time lock up and was killed by a raccoon.
Accomplishing that much took the whole morning: 3 hours! I was soaked from the knees down, so I stripped my pants off at the front door, took a lunch break and then headed back out.
I have nine dog crates that I use for transport, broody hens or sick birds. All of them were covered with dust and required hosing – as did everything else that went back inside: food bins, shovels, containers of herbs and oyster shells, disinfectants and poop scoops.
I opened the glass fronted cabinet: the doors don’t quite fit so dust gets inside. Everything came out – vitamins, wormers, heat lamps and bulbs – and was thoroughly cleaned and returned.
My DIY PVC feeders needed washing, drying and filling. They sit on a wooden platform to keep shavings from being kicked inside. A couple of years ago when I did the big clean I was grossed out to discover that mites had colonized the underside of the box. I blasted them all with the hose, but that was a good reminder that just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I was more than pleased when I found zero evidence of lice or mites anywhere in the coop.
I was, however, a bit dismayed to discover how long the deep clean took. I recalled in previous years it hadn’t seemed so arduous. Maybe it’s my age. I’m pushing 59 with chronic back and feet issues, but both of them held out. Back in February, I had a chicken-related injury: in my 6:30 am attempt to knock newly fallen snow off the tarp over my back coop I tripped in the dark and pulled the ligament in my thumb. All these weeks later, I am still wearing a thumb support and by the end of the day I could feel my hand had still not healed.
Day One: 5 hours and still not finished. Prescribed: hot bath and Epsom salts.
Day Two: Another sunny day: 17c/ 63f. I cleaned the last of the things going back into the coop and washed the grime off the sliding glass door and four windows. They aren’t perfect, but neither are the ones in my house. By the time I put away the wheelbarrow, hose, shovels and broom, tossed stuff into the garbage and recycling I’d been at it for another hour and a half.
Just like any cleaning, and perhaps even more so because the flock isn’t going to help keep it tidy, it will need redoing in a few short months. The sense of satisfaction though, of looking through clean windows and seeing everything polished, makes it worthwhile. It also gave me the opportunity to check out the parasite situation and to reorganize things.
It would have been nice to have some help: the time would have gone faster and the job made easier. But I did have my chickens for company. I don’t pick them up often, but they are incredibly curious and love to follow me around and poke their beaks into what I’m up to.
Folks who feel that roosters are problematic or superfluous should spend some time with my boy, Simon. Like many crested birds, he’s a bit nervous because his peripheral vision is obscured. He doesn’t like being picked up, but he does like being close to me and will grudgingly let me pet him.
When I put the new shavings down he was the first one in fluffing them all up. Then he was inspecting the nest boxes as the girls jumped in to lay. Mercedes was out of sorts and checked out an empty crate as a potential nest box, so Simon joined her to offer his opinion.
Now I’m on the other side of that job I’m glad that it’s done. I have something tangible (even if only for a short time) to show for my labour and it took my mind off of what’s happening in the world beyond my homestead. I’m hoping by the time I do the next deep clean we will be on the other side of what is yet to come.