Coop Odors: The Stinky Truth and How Nutrition can Help

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Sometimes your coop can get a little smelly, which can be a little embarrassing. What’s the scoop on coop odors, and how can you help your hens live their best lives by reducing odors in their home?

Causes of Coop Odors

Although chicken poop can be stinky, the most likely culprit for coop odors is the colorless gas ammonia. A combination of hydrogen and nitrogen, ammonia has a sharp, pungent smell, similar to vinegar.

Chickens that are exposed to this gas can develop permanent damage to lungs and eyes and will avoid the coop if levels are too high. Ammonia can cause damage at very low concentrations, which are below the level that the human nose can detect. So, if your coop smells like ammonia, clean it immediately!

Fixing a Stinky Coop

While cleaning is a quick solution, there are several longer-lasting measures you can take to eliminate odors and make your coop a more pleasant place for you and your birds.

Eliminate Moisture

A dry coop will lead to happy, healthy hens. Moisture in the coop not only can contribute to ammonia odors, but also lead to conditions that favor parasites and bacteria. To keep moisture low, use the following tips: 

Hens on a Henhouse Ladder

  • Every few days check for and replace damp bedding. 
  • If you use the deep litter method, clean out the upper layers several times a year, keeping the lower layer, which contains helpful microbes that break down bedding and waste.
  • Repair any leaks in the roof of your coop immediately.
  • Turn the litter if your chickens don’t do so on their own.
  • Add high-carbon materials that don’t pack easily (e.g., kiln-dried wood shavings), ground dolomitic limestone, or products containing zeolite.
  • Provide good ventilation. An air-tight coop might sound like a good idea, but air circulation will help dry out litter and prevent odors. 

Choose Feed Wisely

Your choice of feed can also reduce coop odors. Odor can be caused by waste protein from undigested feed. You can combat these smells by choosing feeds with the following plant extracts and essential oils:

  • Saponins: Additives called saponins, which include yucca, reduce ammonia production in a chicken’s body. As a result, they can increase the bird’s nutrient absorption and reduce the amount of proteins your chickens excrete.
  • Phytogens: Yucca is also a phytogen, one of a number of plant-based compounds that are increasingly being used in animal feeds. Other phytogens include essential oils, herbs, and spices. These compounds work with yucca to reduce waste protein by increasing digestibility, balancing gut microflora, and reducing gut inflammation, again contributing to better use of feed.
  • Proteins: You can also choose feeds that are more easily digestible, such as processed feeds available in pellets or crumbles, rather than whole grains blends. Feeds that are lower in crude protein can also help reduce odors; however, remember that your laying hens need 16% crude protein to stay healthy.

Choose NatureWise to Help Combat Coop Odors!

Nutrena NatureWise feeds can be part of your efforts to combat coop odors. NatureWise uses all-natural ingredients: essential oils, spices, bitter substances, and saponins that

  • support healthy enzyme production,
  • promote crude protein and nutrient absorption, and 
  • aid in the control of ammonia odor.

Remember that if you make a change to a new feed, switch slowly from your current feed to ease the transition, and help your birds feel more comfortable with the change.

Learn more about NatureWise Feeds

Proper Bedding for Chickens

The most common myth about chickens is that they stink. They certainly do when they 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.