Ask the Expert: Coops

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Deep Litter or Cement?

What are the pros and cons of a dirt floor vs. a cement floor? Also, do wooden walls need some kind of protection when using deep litter?

Ann Schrag

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Good choice on the deep litter; however, a concrete floor is quite preferable for several reasons. Concrete resists burrowing animals, so there is added security to the coop, but also concrete is cleanable — you can’t clean dirt.

The bonus to a dirt floor is, well … it’s dirt cheap. Treating of wood inside the coop, in contact with litter or not, is best sealed with regular exterior grade latex paint. Painting surfaces closes pores in the wood that would have allowed mites and infectious organisms to hide. Painted surfaces are also far easier to clean.

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A Wet Coop

We have had serious rain in my area and the chicken coop is very wet. What can I use to help dry the ground? Mulch? Straw? Wood chips or wood over the ground?

I just started raising chickens and I am enjoying having them. The city allows us to have eight hens and no roosters.

Gloria Largel

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Hi Gloria,

Ugh! A wet chicken coop is the worst. Not only is it gross, but it’s bad for the birds. I’m not sure what part of your coop is wet. But if the inside is wet, I would clean out the soiled litter and let everything dry out as best as possible. Hopefully it’s dry before evening, then you can add new bedding and you’re back in business! If it’s the run, then I’ve been known to muck out a lot of the wet litter and try to let things dry out. Then I replace it with fresh litter.

One caution. You are in an area with a lot of mosquitoes and recently we’ve seen some pretty severe cases of fowl pox. It’s transmitted by mosquitoes (and can’t be transferred to humans). But it can be very serious for your chickens. So I think you’re right to try to remove as much water as possible. That just becomes a breeding ground for pests.

Good luck with your flock!

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Coop Advice 

Is it better to construct a coop on grass or in a spare wooded area where leaves are the base? 

Sue Ballhorst 

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Hi Sue, 

Will the chickens be walking on the leaves/grass? If so, I’ve found that the base doesn’t matter because they will scratch up either. They will eat the grass for nutrition, but if they don’t free-range, that grass will soon die from all the droppings. Chickens will scratch in the leaves for bugs … but again, after a while, it will be covered in poo. 

Overall, I find that the best coop location is in a sheltered area, away from too much wind, in a sunny area if your location is cold and in a shaded area if your location is hot. Be sure it sits on soil or root systems that are not toxic. So, if your location is hot, the wooded area may be the best. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa

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Wood Ash for Chicken Dust Baths 

Hi, 

I enjoy your articles. I live in Mexico now and have seven chickens. I want to do the dust bath, but I don’t have the wood ash. Can you buy it or a substitute?   

Thanks,  

Jean 

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It is possible to buy wood ash; just searching the internet, I found someone who sells hardwood ash on Etsy, specifically for gardeners and soapmakers. Though wood ash can be the most common and easiest to acquire (depending on where you live), it isn’t the only mite-controlling option for dust baths. Our story on our Backyard Poultry website mentions adding wood ash AND diatomaceous earth, but I’ve found it’s just as effective to use one or the other. Some companies sell kaolin clay (aluminum silicate) as dust bath material. Some flock owners also add lime but this can be risky, as not all “lime” is equal, and some types are very caustic when they get wet. Each of these additives brings up different concerns, from the sustainability and possible contamination of ash to lung damage from breathing DE to the caustic properties of lime. This is where personal choice comes in, for your own flock. 

Also, here is an important note on wood ash: be sure you acquire it from 100% wood or natural charcoal with no additives or fuel accelerants. It’s easy to collect ash from summer BBQ briquettes, but the chemicals on those aren’t good for chickens. 

Good luck with your chickens! 

Marissa 

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Dear Marissa, 

That was so kind of you to take the time to answer regarding my chickens. If you think I can use either wood or diatomaceous earth, I have the diatomaceous earth and will put it in with the sand, and I thought of adding rose, juniper, lavender, etc. Would that would be okay? I have a big garden and they eat different herbs. 

Jean 

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Hi Jean, 

Though I think rose and lavender are a great idea, I would avoid juniper, especially the berries. Of 40 juniper species around, only a small handful have edible fruit and some are even toxic so, unless you know your specific variety, it’s best to stay away from those. Regarding the others, though, we have a great story in the August/September 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry regarding nesting box herbs, and both of those florals are in the mixes used. 

Good luck and I would love to hear how it goes! 

Marissa 

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Coop Ideas

My husband is looking for plans/information for chicken coops. Can you recommend or forward material that might be useful? He is interested in possibly building a new coop for 40 or so chickens. Should it have a concrete floor, wood floor, dirt floor? What is best? He is searching for ideas.

Thank you!

Lynne Hallier

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Hi Lynne,

There are many, many plans and types of chicken coops available, so it’s difficult to suggest just one. A lot depends on your location, the type of coop you desire, and your budget. Regarding flooring, concrete (with bedding on top) is probably best if you can afford it. It will protect against rodents and other things digging in. It will last for a long time and will be pretty easy to clean. Wood would be the second choice. It’s cheaper, still fairly easy to clean, and will help prevent animals getting in (though rodents can still chew through).

Unless you are planning a mobile coop, it’s best not to have a dirt floor. It can get muddy, will increase the chances of having worm concerns, and is fairly open to rodent/predators digging in. If your budget doesn’t allow a floor, however, you can make it work with dirt. It just opens up a few more potential problems.

Again, there are lots of possible plans. Check your local library, and/or your local extension office for books. They may have things that are more suited to your local area. There are many ideas online, too. Backyard Poultry magazine has had quite a few articles over the years, too!

In many cases, the chickens probably don’t care what the coop looks like! You (and your neighbors) likely will. Probably the biggest suggestion is to make it predator-proof. A second suggestion is to make it easy to clean, and easy to manage.

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Is Treated Wood Safe?

I have been wondering for years, is pressure-treated wood exposed to chickens harmful?

Keith Eisenbarth, Sardis, Ohio

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Hi Keith,

There haven’t been reports saying that pressure-treated wood caused “x” problems in chickens. There has been evidence of the chemicals (esp. arsenic) leaching out of the wood into the surrounding soil, which then could be ingested by the chickens, or plants grown in that soil could be ingested by the chickens. The fear is that trace amounts might be transferred to the eggs. It’s hard to find any data showing this (arsenic in the eggs) — it’s more of a theoretical possibility.

Indeed, in the past, some arsenic compounds used to be fed to prevent coccidiosis in meat chickens. It is no longer used for this purpose, but this was mostly due to the concerns about its buildup in the environment after the litter was applied to the fields. There was some research showing very low, but measurable, levels of arsenic in chickens actually fed those diets.

The arsenic treatment (CCA) has not been allowed for use in wood sold for residential or general consumer uses since January 2004, but some older wood could still potentially have had it. (It can still be used for poles, bridge pilings, etc.) The newer pressure treatment (Alkaline copper quaternary or ACQ) doesn’t use arsenic and is considered much less toxic.

The new pressure-treated lumber is most likely not a concern for use with chickens.

One other note — the new treatment can be corrosive to metal fasteners (screws, etc.), so if you’re using it, you may want to check to make sure you’re using the proper hardware.

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Is it bad if there is white splatter around the nesting boxes?

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Yes. The white splatter that you’re finding in the nest boxes is actually a combination of uric acid and urine salts called urates. It often appears as a white, pasty cap on a chicken’s droppings. Sometimes, chickens will expel only the urates leaving just the white color behind. This happens primarily overnight. We would be concerned about the urates being in the nest boxes. Chickens love to sleep and poop in their nest boxes, but it is unsanitary. So we recommend blocking the boxes in the late afternoon to prevent the hens from roosting in them.

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