Spring Cleaning – Chicken Edition

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Pretty much no matter where you are, it’s now fully spring (and if you’re in Kentucky, Derby Day generally is when you know to set your plant starts outside). The air is warming up and your tender crops are usually safe by now from any polar vortex coming through. This is a time when I think back to Chaucer and the beginning of his epic tales:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye

Your own little birds are ‘maken melodye’ right about now, aren’t they? I know mine are. The happy little clucks and purrs of my birds as they scratch around in the new grass is a wonderful thing to hear after such a brutal winter. It really struck me this year that this is probably how folks in past centuries felt in the spring; a huge sense of relief and almost giddiness now that the hardest part of the year was over. There’s a reason why spring is immortalized down through the millennia as an almost magical time of year.

Paris in April. May Day. Twitterpated. It’s hard not to get lost in all the joy of this new season. Especially knowing that summer is coming in (you folks out there who are middle English literature nerds like me are probably laughing loudly at this point) with trips to the beach and lazy days splashing in lakes. Fireworks. I’m seriously excited here!

But before all the play days and fun time, there’s a whole heck of a lot of work to do.

Every time the season changes there is work to be done. By the time spring comes around your coops are probably a dirty mess, possibly damaged by the winter weather, and the honey do list gets longer and longer.

  • Get inside the coops and scrub every available surface with a mixture of white vinegar and hot water. About half and half usually does it. And if you happen to be making lemonade or something similar, my wife usually tosses the used lemon halves in the hot water to soak overnight before adding vinegar and straining them out so you have a solution that is cheap, effective, and anti-bacterial. Use this to wash and scrub EVERY inch of your coop, inside and out. I usually make and use about a gallon of this stuff. The vinegar smell evaporates after a few hours and leaves just a clean coop. While you do this, it’s good to have your hens sunning themselves somewhere in the run. Make a point to scrub the walls as well as the nesting boxes.
  • Check over the coop for any repairs that need to be made or items that need to be replaced. Are the sticks you used for perches beyond a good scrubbing? Did the wind blow off part of your coop roof? Did the chickens scratch holes through anything? How about their feeding and watering equipment? Does it need to be replaced or will it survive another season?
  • Is the temperature above 35 degrees fahrenheit at night yet? If so then it’s time to retire the heat lamp until late fall.

Now that you have the spring cleaning done, it’s time to take a look at your chickens and make sure that they came through the winter healthily.

  • Look at their legs and nails. Do their legs look scaly and dry? How about their nails? If they’re always in the grass they won’t grind down naturally so if the nails look too long then you may need to take care of it.
  • Feathers? Do you need to clip their wings again? What about the appearance of the feathers themselves? Are they still smooth and glossy? Have they lost feathers anywhere? Check at this time for parasites like fleas and lice as well.
  • Do any of the chickens have watery eyes or a crust around them? A normal chicken’s eyes should be bright, shiny, and curious.
  • Are they acting funny? Kind of laying around or changed behavior suddenly?

Follow up on any and all concerns about your chicken’s health with a vet (or an old farmer who knows chickens works well, too).

Taking one day out to accomplish all of this is very much worth the investment. Generally, unless your flock is very large, it’ll only take you an afternoon to clean, repair, and check the health of your birds. You will save time and money in the long run and your chickens will thank you.