You know it’s time. As the weather starts to warm after the chill of winter, the chicken house once again becomes a presence for your olfactory senses. Plus, your children are restless to get outside and have some fun. It’s the season for coop cleaning with kids.
These tips will work for cleaning your chicken house even if you don’t have children but they’re particularly helpful if you do. Not all children are excited to wade through the chicken poop of winter (go figure) and it’s helpful to have an order, assign everyone a job and have a little fun at the same time. Let me know if I forget something or you have a great tip you think I should include.
Chicken House: Coop Cleaning with Kids
- Give everyone their own shovel, appropriate for their size. There’s going to be a lot of scraping of poo and your children will get bored if they don’t have a tool that’s a good fit. This may take some forethought and preparation but, truthfully, your kiddo is going to need their own shovel for lots of jobs around the homestead so you may as well acquire one now.
- Consider face masks if you’re concerned with poo dust or live in a really windy place. I’ll be honest, I’ve tried them before and the kids just rip them off about five minutes into the chicken house endeavors. So, couple your sanitation efforts with a verbal reminder about being cautious with dust and flying poo particles. You may have more luck with safety glasses than a face mask, fyi.
- Give the littlest kid her assignment first and then move quickly to help the others. Your youngest will need the most direction but she will also be the most impatient to start – unless she’s off looking for spring bulbs. Looking for spring bulbs is also a form of work and you may want to just let her do that for awhile. However, if she’s ready to work, give her a useful chore commensurate with her age. For example, my six year old usually gets the task of cleaning out the nest boxes. I remove them from the coop and she scoops out the shavings, putting them in the compost pile. After which, the eight year old joins her in a good scrubbing down of the boxes. While the boxes dry in the sunshine, the girls snuggle chickens and then return to the put the boxes back into the chicken house, filling them with new shavings. Equally useful would be pulling early spring weeds around the property and feeding them to the chickens who are highly affronted at all this disturbance of their peace. Or, the youngest could be in charge of washing down coop windows or cleaning out the water bucket. Or, simply playing with the baby in the sunshine.
- As soon as you can, get the older kids scraping poo. Ah, the dream of every homestead kid. To make this job easier come spring, in the fall we put down heavy cardboard, plastic board (like the campaign signs are made of) or thin plywood. We use pieces that are small enough for the kids to haul out in the spring – around three feet wide and tall. We cover the coop floor with them, leaving other areas of the coop open during the winter for ventilation. (FYI, our coop floor is raised off the ground about three feet and is made of punched tin – love that chicken house floor!) The children get into the coop for spring cleaning and use their shovels to bust up the poo and break the mats apart. Then, they haul out each mat and knock the poo off further, making a nice pile for the compost. Because we also put down straw (carbon), this manure (nitrogen) is a great mix for the garden beds in spring.
- Use heavy duty scrapers to get pernicious poo off the roost and anywhere else it has congregated over winter. Using a hose can help loosen up stubborn bits and the kids love taking turns blasting the chicken house with bursts of water when they’re needed. You can use a non-toxic, biodegradable soap as well. Have them clean their shovels and any other equipment while you finish up the walls and floor – this is a great signal that you’re almost done!
- Finally, make sure that the feeders, waterers and boxes have all been cleaned to your satisfaction. Make sure the children know they are expected to go back and clean some more if the coop isn’t clean enough. Accountability is so, so important. If you want them to take these chores seriously and be an asset on the homestead, keep them accountable to do their very best work. Explaining how hygiene is important for chickens, too, can go a long way towards motivating them to be thorough. If we want eggs and meat, these birds must be healthy. If we want chicks to stay strong, we have to do a good job. I like to play the “it’s all for the good of the chicks” card as often as I can and spring is a typically time to have chicks on hand for the coming season.
- If they want to, I’ll let the kids decorate with magazine pictures on the walls of the chicken house. Sometimes they like to line favorite dusting holes with whatever treasures they can find in the yard – pinecones, straw, green weeds and certainly dandelions, if they’re in bloom.
- Leave the coop open to dry during the day and go down together later on to close it up and visit with your birds. Talk about your love and appreciation for your chickens and how grateful you are that they have a nice chicken house to live in. Be sure to convey how much you appreciate your children and their help on the homestead. Even my reluctant chicken house cleaners are not immune to my praise – they want to hear they’ve done a good job and that I rely on their help to accomplish all that needs to be done on the homestead. Be generous with your approbation.
The children are actively engaged with our poultry all year long – from chick care to egg gathering to harvesting the meat birds. This spring ritual of cleaning the chicken house, though, is one that we always do together and it always feels so good once it’s done. Some people will be uncomfortable involving their children quite so much in the poo and the muck and that’s fine, BUT I encourage you to find some task for your children to do with the chickens. Children need to feel important and useful, just like you do. They need to have ownership in their homesteading lifestyle and accountability to do their best work because learning to always do our best makes us happy.
If you need more ideas on what to do with chores and homestead kids, or ANY kids, please visit this link to our editorial blog for farm kids at Hobby Farms called Farm Sprouts – we ditched the chore chart and so can you.
Chicken Hot Topics
If having children handle chicken poo seems controversial to you (or even it it’s something they do all the time), you should check out The 104 Homestead’s Hot Chicken Topics book. Jessica Lane, the author, tackles all those taboo chicken topics over which people get their knickers in a twist. Chicken people can be passionate. Want to know about using sand on the coop floor? What about humane euthanasia and supplemental lighting in the winter? Did you know those were hot button topics? Jess’s book can help you make informed decisions about your backyard birds; decisions based on research and personal experience and not solely the cutest trends on Pinterest. Raise those chickens right and get this book!
For your chicken adventures, you may also need these fine products: