The Best Way to Get Rid of the Ammonia Smell in Your Coop
I recently experienced a problem. A big problem. My chicken coop smelled. Not only was it gross, but ammonia fumes can also be dangerous for chickens, because it can irritate and damage their eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory systems. So, me being me, I immediately started to research how to fix it. And that’s when I realized that a lot of the information out there just wasn’t helpful. So, I dug deeper. Finally, I found what worked for me and my girls. And so, in case you’ve struggled with the same issue (and the same lack of helpful advice), let me share what I found with you here.
There are a few steps to making sure that your coop stays ammonia-free; missing any of these pieces can cause a build-up of ammonia and other odors. Most of these are covered in the myriad of advice out there, but I’m going to list them all here so you have a one-stop place to learn how to deal with coop odor. I would suggest skimming them over; if you’re already doing that step, skip it and go on to the next. You may find that you only need to tweak one or two things, or you may find that you need a complete overhaul. Either way, I think you’ll agree that it’s better to have all the information you need so you can make an informed decision about how best to address the issue.
First and foremost, your coop needs adequate ventilation. Ideally, at least 1/5 of your coop should be vents. That allows for an adequate amount of air flow, and can help move dust and stale, humid air out while letting fresh, oxygen-rich air in. Make sure that the majority of the ventilated areas are above your girls’ roosts so they aren’t in a draft. For safety purposes, cover the openings with screens or hardware cloth to keep predators out. It’s important to keep your coop ventilated even in winter; chickens can handle cold pretty well, certainly much better than they can handle a stuffy, smelly coop.
If you want, you can use a fan to help keep the air in your coop circulating. This can be especially useful when it’s very damp or humid outside. If you decide to use a fan, make sure that it’s positioned highly enough that your chickens aren’t stuck in a draft.
Many people subscribe to the deep litter method. You can certainly use that method, but if you notice any ammonia smell, you should completely clean out the coop and start over.
I personally have found that river sand works well for my flock, although as with anything, there are people who swear by it and others who think that it’s a terrible choice of bedding. I like this bedding because it’s very easy to keep clean (I scoop it out daily), and the river sand is all different sizes, so if the hens eat any of the larger stones in it, it acts as natural grit.
You can also use pine shavings (that’s what I started out using), straw, or even shredded paper. No matter what bedding type you use, though (unless you’re using the deep litter method), cleaning the coop out daily by removing wet bedding and droppings will help cut down on ammonia issues. If you use the deep litter method, turn over the litter daily so that the soiled bedding goes to the bottom and a fresh layer is exposed on the top. Again, if you notice an ammonia smell with the deep litter method, completely clean out the coop and start over again.
While I mentioned this in the bedding section, I’ll mention it again here: cleaning your coop daily (or at least every other day) when ammonia is an issue is vital to keeping things under control. When you clean, make sure that you remove all the soiled bedding. If you see any wet spots, remove those too, because moisture will make ammonia much worse. This is especially important in bad weather when your chickens are less likely to be outside in the fresh air.
If, like me, you keep your coop spotless (or as spotless as one can with chickens), have a ton of ventilation, but still have issues with an ammonia smell in the coop, then Zeolite may be the answer you’re looking for.
Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral that is non-toxic, organic, and compostable. It’s also a good source of calcium, which is awesome for laying hens. It works through 2 mechanisms: adsorption and Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC).
Adsorption is the process by which the Zeolite can trap the ammonia gas molecules. As the Zeolite dries out, it releases the ammonia that it caught as nitrogen.
CEC allows the Zeolite to exchange a sodium or potassium cation by turning it to liquid; when that happens, the ammonium is exchanged and becomes part of the Zeolite granule. Don’t worry, though—because this is happening on a molecular level, you won’t notice any dampness in your Zeolite.
I really like the Sweet PDZ brand of Zeolite. I get it in granular form and sprinkle it throughout the chicken coop. Once it’s sprinkled, I use a little hand rake to gently work it into the bedding. I add more as needed, especially before a big rainstorm is expected. It works incredibly well, and since it’s organic and compostable, I feel comfortable using it around my chickens and adding it to the compost for use in our garden.
One quick tip: Sweet PDZ sells 10-lb bags specifically for chicken coops. These are super expensive though, relatively speaking. You can buy Sweet PDZ that’s been packaged for horse stalls for much less; look for 25- or 50-pound bags of it at Tractor Supply, most feed stores, or on Amazon.
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