Are Chickens Unsanitary?

Young white rooster

Most urban farmers will sooner or later decide to keep chickens in their yard. Beyond the convenience of getting fresh eggs daily, there’s a certain joy to watching chickens move about on your property.

However, often some questions arise regarding chicken habits, with general complaints like smell and dirt being on the top of the list of concerns. This has earned the chickens an unpleasant reputation for being unsanitary. But are chickens truly unsanitary animals?

Chickens are generally sanitary animals in the sense that they are very keen on keeping themselves clean. Their main sanitary issue is that they defecate wherever it suits them, and they may even eat their own poop. However, this is generally not a big issue if their living area is kept clean.

In this article, we’ll explore more on chickens’ habits to better understand if they should be considered unsanitary and what it takes to keep a flock of clean chickens.

Understanding Chicken Hygiene

So, how did chickens get a reputation for being dirty birds? Unsurprisingly, this is mainly due to the smell and dirt that some people associate with chickens. However, much of the smell and dirt have to do with how we keep them rather than their habits.

In fact, chickens are quite clean animals as they will take occasional “baths” to remove dirt from their feathers. Chickens will also molt during designated seasons, giving themselves a fresh body of feathers for the seasons to come.

However, many people may still deem chickens unsanitary because there is a lack of understanding of a chicken’s living habits. Here are some explanations of a chicken’s lifestyle to help you determine if they’re as unsanitary as their reputation precedes them to be.

Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Poop? Isn’t That Unsanitary?

One of the biggest issues with rearing chickens is how they relate to their own excrements. Chicken poop is known to create a horrible odor – especially as it dries, and the smell of the ammonia gets unbearable. This is mainly due to the chickens’ diet (rather than dirty habits) and can change depending on what they eat.

However, it’s also no secret that some chickens will tend to eat their own poop. While this is disgusting to us humans, and it does carry a fairly small health risk to your chickens, there are certain nutrients like probiotics in the poop. In addition, it can help them to maintain flock immunities.

As such, you may say that this is a habit that has developed more for the health and betterment of your chickens than an unsanitary habit that you need to curb.

Do Chickens Defecate Everywhere?

Unlike household pets like cats and dogs, chickens cannot be trained to poop where you want them to. As such, you’ll often find chicken poop strewn in most places.

Unfortunately, this is a natural chicken habit that would be difficult to curb. But you can manage where they poop by keeping them confined to selected areas, such as the coop, run, and sectioned-off areas of your property.

Do Chickens Take Baths?

This may sound weird, but did you know that chickens do take baths? While we’re not going to see a chicken jump into a pond of water anytime soon, chickens do clean themselves by ruffling their feathers to remove any dirt, hay, or dried poop that is stuck on their body.

Chickens will also draw themselves a “bath.” They do this by digging a shallow ditch in dry dirt or sand and then cover their bodies with the dust. This is known as dust bathing and is regularly done to remove excess oils on their feathers. Dust baths also help chickens remove any possible lice, mites, or other parasites from sticking to them.

Subsequently, chickens will also molt their feathers during designated molting seasons. This helps your flock remove any old or damaged feathers and replace them with new ones after. Molting seasons usually leads to a drop in egg production and can take between 2 to 3 months before your chickens can regrow all their feathers.

How to Maintain a Sanitary Chicken Flock

As you can see, chickens are not necessarily unsanitary. Instead, the perception that they are unsanitary is likely to have stemmed from their living conditions. Here are some tips on how you can maintain a flock of clean chickens if you’re looking to keep the chickens in an urban neighborhood.

Keep Their Coop Clean

Of course, it should go without saying that the best way to keep a flock of chickens healthy and sanitary is by keeping their coop clean. It’s best to clean out their poop often if you’re not keen on having them step on their poop or feed on it.

Keeping the chicken coop clean is also a great way to keep any unpleasant odor at bay. You’ll want to change out the bedding every few days and try your best to keep the coop dry. Consider which type of bedding is right for your chickens. Having proper air ventilation is also key in keeping the coop from smelling bad.

Watch Your Chickens’ Diet

Separately, you may also consider what your chickens are eating. Generally, a chicken’s diet may contain regular nutrients that they require, but chickens that lay eggs may need more protein. Unfortunately, a high protein diet for chickens may result in bad smelling poop.

Eating pests like insects and maggots may also result in terrible smelling poop. Of course, you could try to keep the number of pests in the chicken run down, but many smaller pests are nutrient-rich and a great addition to their diet. So instead of spending your time and energy fighting pests (of otherwise harmless), you could just clean out the coop more often.

Too Many Chickens May Cause Unsanitary Conditions

Wild and free-ranging chickens have virtually unlimited space, and they will separate into smaller flocks or move on if the sanitary conditions decline. But if they live in an enclosed area, they can’t follow that instinct.

If you have limited time to clean or a relatively small coop and run, you’ll want to restrict the number of chickens. While having more chickens means you’ll have more fresh eggs to go about, time and space limitations make it difficult to maintain good living conditions for a large flock.

This not only results in making it difficult for you to clean the coop and your flock, but it could cause your chickens to become ill and spread unwanted diseases around your area. Remember that moderation is key for everything – including chicken keeping.

Let Your Chickens Out

As mentioned, one of the primary reasons why backyard chickens can be smelly, dirty, or otherwise unhygienic is that they get crammed into too little space. Chickens will poop wherever and whenever they want, and so a relatively small area will concentrate the mess much more than on a larger plot of land.

So, let them out in your yard as much as possible and only keep them locked up during the night and when you’re not at home.

Perhaps you’re hesitant to let your chickens roam free. I mean, we don’t want them to damage the garden, and we may also want to avoid chicken poop on the lawn where we hang out.

A deer fence or fencing mesh is easy to set set up and move according to changing needs. Perhaps you dislike fencing for aesthetic reasons, in which case there are other options. In this article, I present four ways to keep your chickens contained without fencing.

If letting your chickens roam free is out of the question, consider building a much larger run than what would seem necessary.


Hi, My name is Rasmus. I am a hobby "polytarian" and a backyard farmer. Ever since I was a baby, I have been surrounded by poultry of all kinds. This blog is my way of sharing what I have learned from my bird-crazy family, books, and my personal experience.

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