Chicken Coop Updates: Improving Ventilation, Controlling Pests and Looking Cute

Jun 10, 2024Healing Moon Farm and Ranch

How I updated our chicken coop to control pests, improve ventilation, and look cute for $370. Psst - you can do it a lot cheaper if you remove some of the unnecessaries and have a normal size smaller coop, check out my materials and cost list further down. 

Why Update the Coop?

We inherited our chicken coop when we purchased our property in 2020. It was put together with scrap materials, but well fortified by the previous owners for predator protection. So far, the coop has served us well for 4 years. However, we've recently noticed a ventilation issue in the coop. 

Chickens have very sensitive respiratory systems, so keeping the coop well ventilated is pretty important. We've been using pelletized pine bedding, also called horse bedding, for the past 4 years with a composting method for chicken litter. That's worked great for the virtually eliminating the smell and need to remove waste daily, however, it's also led to increased pine dust floating in the air and when the pelletized pine composts down, it forms these hard chunks that trap moisture and make way for mold to grow. 

We also notice mites come back every year as it warms up outside. The use of diatomaceous earth doesn't seem to cut it for our pest control needs. Not to mention, with our ventilation issue, the DE just adds particulates to the air of the coop. To read more on the dangers of airborne DE to both human and our feathered friends, check out this blog by the Exotic Pet Clinic of Santa Cruz

Aside from the lacking adequate ventilation and the need to prevent mold and pests, it's also really dark inside the coop! The chickens don't seem to mind, but it makes egg gathering rather difficult on cloudy days. This set me on a mission to make some much needed updates for our chickens comfort and my own. 

Pros and Cons of Pelletized Pine vs Sand

As I said previously, we have been using pelletized pine for 4 years and its served our needs well. However, when we noticed it trapping moisture and the beginnings of mold growth, we decided to try something new. Enter, sand. 

From my personal experience there are pros and cons to both sand and pelletized pine. Here's my personal opinion on those:

Pelletized Pine

 Pros Cons
Virtually eliminates waste smell Contributes to dust in the air
Easily breaks down with use Traps in moisture
Lasts a long time Can provide room for mold to grow
Makes the coop smell slightly like a saw mill Can compost down into hard blocks
Needs to be shoveled out occasionally for cleaning

Construction/Bedding Sand

 Pros Cons
Looks nice in the coop Does little to cover up waste smell, but with frequent scooping, smell doesn't build up like it does with the pine
Allows moisture to more easily permeate instead of accumulate You need to scoop waste frequently*
Doesn't stay airborne like pine dust
Less room for bacterial and fungal growth
Keeps eggs cleaner
You can scoop out waste and not have to shovel out entire coop

*I scoop daily for my 25 birds

If you want to learn more about sand in comparison to other chicken coop litters, check out this blog by The Chicken Chick. She does a great job of breaking down the science behind it, even citing research from Poultry Scientists. 

First Saturday Lime & Amish Whitewash

While on the search for a better, natural, and OMRI listed (we are organic) pest control for our chicken coop, I came across First Saturday Lime. While its not recommended to inhale large amounts of lime, it doesn't become airborne in the same way DE does. It's easier to spread in and around the coop and works to control all pests with exoskeletons! That means ants, mites, fleas, flies, lice, etc. 

There are a lot of ways to use lime. It can be added to chicken water to prevent algae growth and give them a boost of calcium, added to litter and bedding for pest control, added to their dust baths, and even painted on the coop's interior walls! That's right, using a technique called Amish Whitewash, you can make your coop's interior look adorable while the whitewash is also functional for pest control. 

I decided to sprinkle the lime in litter, bedding, around the coop and pasture, and to do the amish whitewash inside. I really wanted to ensure mites leave my feathered friends alone. First Saturday Lime has a great How-To article for all different chicken related uses, including a recipe to make the limewash, here


Materials and Cost with totals

 Materials Cost
First Saturday Lime (20lb bag, extra leftover) $33
Litter Rake $36
Sand (18 bags)* $108
Chicken Toys $30
14" Ventilation Exhaust Fan $99
Mini Chandelier $32
Outdoor solar light $32
Total $370

*Each bag covers ~4-6 sq ft. A smaller coop won't need so many. Our coop is ~100 sq ft. 

My Step by Step

  1. Shoveled out all old pelletized pine litter/bedding and any waste
  2. Knocked down spider webs
  3. Sprayed the coop with a bleach/water mix to kill off mold*. Rinsed with water. 
  4. Installed an extra perch for more roosting space
  5. Added 18 bags of sand (each bag covers 4-6sq ft at 1" deep)
  6. Purchased a litter rake for daily waste removal from the sand
  7. Applied 2 coats of Amish whitewash to the interior walls and perches
  8. Spread powdered lime throughout the sand floor inside the coop, in their dust bath area in the pasture, and around the outside perimeter of the coop
  9. Installed the 14" ventilation exhaust fan
  10. Hung a plug-in mini chandelier for light inside the coop and set it on a timer
  11. Added a solar light to the outside of the coop by the door to illuminate the entrance at night
  12. Added a music studio for the birds, a climbing ladder, and a new swing

*Do not do this with your chickens inside! Always wear protective gear. 

You can watch my short video series of this project on our Youtube channel.

Was it Worth It? 

Honestly, heck yes! I've already noticed a difference in pests after a week. My chickens seem happy with the changes, and they are even playing their chicken tambourine and xylophone. I'd say they are happier. 

Scooping waste daily is an added farm chore, but it only adds a few minutes to my morning egg collecting routine. The whitewash looks really cute on the wood framing and perches too. I also love being able to see inside the coop on cloudy days or night time without the need of a flashlight, thanks to the chandelier. 

I haven't noticed any mold coming back, but only time will tell. I think mold is something you always need to keep an eye on with outdoor structures. 

I can visually see a difference in coop air quality. The exhaust fan is really doing its job. Since replacing the pine with sand, I've noticed there isn't nearly as much for the fan to exhaust in the first place. A win-win! 

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