The most common myth about chickens is that they stink. They certainly do when thousands are crammed into buildings lacking fresh air or when their bedding gets wet – but for a backyard flock just a few simple tips can help minimize odors in your chicken coop.
A key to keeping chickens healthy and odor free is the proper use of coop bedding, or litter as it’s usually called. There are many types of litter but to function well all must be able to absorb some moisture, insulate the floor from cold, and give chickens a chance to dust.
Unlike mammals, chickens don’t produce urine. All excrement leaves their bodies as solid feces, which helps keep litter dry.
By far the most commonly used litter is wood shavings, sold in feed stores, or scrounged from woodworkers. Wood shavings have a pleasant smell, are amazingly absorbent, and don’t pack down. Sawdust also works well but is dusty. Chickens stir it up and dust settles on anything in the coop. Straw is another common bedding. It’s inexpensive but not nearly as absorbent as wood chips. Straw mats down and is harder to shovel out than chips. Dry leaves can be used to make effective litter. They’re free but only available in the fall and tend to break down into dust rather quickly.
Litter must stay dry to remain odor free. Four to six inches of dry wood shavings easily last six months or more before it needs to be changed. Droppings become incorporated into the shavings, as the chickens stir it. About every six months you can scoop the old litter out of the coop with a shovel (a snow shovel works well) and replace it with fresh chips. Used bedding can be either composted or a thin layer can be worked into garden soil to provide nutrients and water absorbency.
When litter gets wet, usually when a waterer leaks or tips over, it’s essential to immediately remove the soggy shavings and replace them with fresh dry ones. Otherwise, they will soon smell.
Chickens love to dust themselves and will readily fluff litter into their feathers. Following a brief dust bath the birds are as fresh as a human emerging from a shower, and as the dust works between their feathers it discourages parasites.
A recent post on our Nutrena Chicken and Poultry Feed Facebook page asked an outstanding question – is it okay to let my chickens out in the pasture to range with my horse? Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:
Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…
A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed seperately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.
Do you wonder why your chickens stop laying eggs in winter? And is there anything you can do about it? Good news, friends! Watch this video from Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart for everything you need to know about lighting your chicken coop to keep the girls laying eggs!
Leave comments below, or questions if you’ve got some!
Everything is better when it’s clean, right? Your hands, your house, your kid’s face…but what about your eggs?
When you buy eggs from the store, you’ll notice they are pristine and clean. If you collect your own eggs, you know they don’t naturally come that way!
It is interesting to note that as a chicken lays an egg, it gets a nearly imperceptible coating that is called “bloom”. Bloom acts as a natural barrier and prevents germs and bacteria from getting to the egg through the shell. By leaving your eggs unwashed, the natural barrier remains intact. Commercial egg producers are regulated and required to wash all eggs before shipment, which is why the eggs you buy in the supermarket are so tidy.
If you are producing your own eggs for your household, you have more control over how your eggs are handled. Wiping eggs off with a dry cloth will knock off the feathers and dirt. And if you get the occasional “messy” egg? Go ahead and wash it – then store it in the refrigerator and try to use it before you use your other, unwashed eggs.
Eggs are most often stored in the refrigerator to slow decomposition and refrigerating your eggs is a common practice in the U.S. In many other countries, however, eggs are stored at room temperature and never refrigerated. Whatever your preference for storage, you may want to consider foregoing absolute cleanliness – at least when it comes to your eggs!
A common question among poultry owners, especially those new to raising birds, is “How much do my birds eat, so I know how much feed to buy?”.
Below are some general guidelines to go by, keeping in mind that a variety of factors, from weather to other available food sources, can influence the exact amount of prepared feed your birds will consume.