Is It Smelly to Keep Chickens? (What You Need to Know)

When someone first comes to my backyard to see all of our animals, one of the first things they usually mention is that they’re surprised by the lack of animal smell. “But aren’t chickens usually stinky?”

Keeping chickens should have a neutral smell. Lousy smells are indicative of a systemic problem with ventilation, drainage, hygiene, cleaning, or a combination of several issues. Fixing the systemic issues can be done quickly, and cheaply, and will remove the smell and prevent future complications.

Ready to go from being overwhelmed by the chicken smell – to wowing your neighbors by the total lack of chicken smells? Keep reading – and we’ll go over exactly what you need to know and do to have a stinky-free backyard chicken flock.

An image of Starr's chickens in a coop run and pasture while free-ranging.
Our chickens are in the smaller coop at the Starr backyard homestead.

Are Chickens Smelly?

Chickens themselves have a neutral smell. They take dust baths, which means they’re quite a clean animal. I know – it’s weird to think that dust cleans them. But it does – and it keeps them smelling like, well, nothing.

Their poop, however, is chock-full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – and it smells like ammonia (which is nitrogen and hydrogen). A single dropping doesn’t have enough ammonia smell to detect it unless you get right up next to it for a whiff. But if you’ve got a large pile of chicken manure? You’ll be able to smell it quite easily.

To get a large enough pile of poop to accumulate a super-gross smell, though, you’ve got to really try – and to prevent any natural airflow so that you can keep all that bad smell handy. Oh – and if you get it wet, it’ll help bacteria grow and make it smell even worse.

In other words, a bad chicken smell requires a breakdown in your overall chicken-keeping systems. Here are the five main points where those breakdowns can occur – and some easy fixes.

Systemic IssueCommon ProblemsEasy Fixes
VentilationThe coop doesn’t have enough airflow and smells of ammonia (chicken poop).Add a window (screen it with chicken wire) to improve airflow and get rid of the dangerous-for-all-creatures smell.
DrainageWet coops, runs, and chickens smell due to the molds and fungi that grow.Keep your coops, runs, and chickens dry by improving the drainage.
HygieneChickens need access to dry dust in order to take a dust bath. They also need to not walk in wet/manure on a regular basis.Keeping things dry will let the manure break down. And having a dust bath area will keep the chickens clean and free from parasites like mites.
CleaningOver-cleaning of a coop means you’ll need to clean it out at least once a week to stay on top of the smell.Consider learning about deep litter methods to minimize cleaning by using natural composting to your benefit. More on this in a moment.
Multiple ProblemsWatch your chickens to see if they can keep dry, and clean, or if things get too stinky.Fix the individual issues as they arise and are noticed. Be vigilant and proactive.

As an experienced chicken owner, I can see where these usually happen – mostly because I learned by research and experience why these particular points are so commonly triggered.

So if you’re a new chicken owner (or an aspiring one), don’t let the fear of making a mistake in one of these areas deter you. They’ll be a great learning experience – as long as you use them as such to improve your flock’s health and quality of life.

But let’s go into more detail now about how to get rid of the chicken poop smell.

How to Get Rid of Chicken Poop Smell

Depending on your exact chicken setup, the main places you’ll notice a chicken smell are in the coop and in the run.

Here’s how to get rid of the chicken poop smell in your coop.

1. Evaluate and improve your coop’s ventilation.

Most prefabricated coops have decent airflow, but it may only be effective for part of the coop. Our coop has two awesome windows at the peaks – but no dedicated ventilation at the bottom. We got around this by always leaving the exit door open – and never closing it. This then meant we had to better secure the run, though, so that predators aren’t a problem.

Every prefabricated coop is different – so take a look at where they’ve got windows. I loved the brooder coop we had – it had an extra ventilation window on the back that could be opened (or closed) as needed.

An image of the Starr family's chicken coop and chain link run with the door open and a wheelbarrow full of dirt next to it. A pallet wood animal shelter for goats is next to it.
Our main coop.

Airflow is a big deal because your coop’s going to be the biggest spot where chicken manure accumulates. And all of that ammonia smell can be toxic even to chickens. Having proper ventilation will prevent things from being an issue – no matter how you clean the coop or address other systemic issues.

2. Fix any drainage issues – and get rid of the mud.

Next, make sure that water isn’t an issue. Chickens who have to walk around in mud and manure will be far more likely to develop health issues like bumble foot (an abscess in their feet) or stinky chicken syndrome.

There are a lot of fixes you can do for drainage. The main ones include putting a roof over your run or seeing what’s causing mud to be an issue. If a muddy coop or run is an issue for you, I’ve got a whole article for you on fixes right here.

3. Let your chickens clean themselves with a dust bath.

Chickens need baths – but not with soap and water. They need a dust bath. Clean chickens will have fewer issues with things like parasites (especially mites) and smell.

My chickens love their dust baths – and it’s fun to watch them take their dust bath. So make sure they’ve got access to bare dirt or fine sand. My chickens have access to both. They use the dirt and sand for both baths and just hang out when it’s hot.

4. Consider how you clean your chicken coop.

You’ll also want to consider how you clean your chicken coop and run. When we first got chicks, I made sure to clean their brooder every day. And since they needed multiple checks each day, I was fine with that.

However, once they grew and moved into their coop, then the daily cleaning got exhausting. So I found a way to transition to weekly cleaning. But guess what? Even weekly cleaning of a large coop and run gets old quickly. And you go through a ton of bedding – so make sure you’ve got a way to deal with all of that. We built a composter.

Even so, as my large composter kept filling up, I started looking for a more efficient way to do things. That’s when I fell into the totally backward way to do things – which seems like it should totally backfire, but it actually works better. We’ll go over that in just a moment.

5. Work through each system and make improvements.

If you’ve got problems with multiple systems, please don’t be overwhelmed. Do the best you can to work through each problem in order. And if you can’t quite work through them in the order I’ve suggested? That’s okay. Work through them in the order that makes the most sense for your situation.

I’ve suggested them in this order because I’m a (people) nurse – and after teaching CPR and various forms of life-saving techniques, I’ve had the ABCs of health drilled into me. Going through the systems in this order aligned with that – and made sense to me.

But if mud is your biggest problem (and you aren’t sure if ventilation is an issue), then work on that first. You can always check the airflow later to see if it’s a problem.

And really, going through these on a regular basis is important – to make sure that you’re always improving things for health and efficiency.

The Paradoxical Fix to Stinky Chicken Smell

Once you’ve fixed every other system (so that all you’re left working on is how frequently you’re cleaning the coop and run), it’s time to rethink how often you’re cleaning everything. Well, unless you like cleaning everything weekly. Then, just stick with that method.

But if you’d like a more efficient way to do things? Then it’s time to do the thing that seems backward – but actually works really well. It’s time to stop cleaning the coop – and use natural composting techniques to your advantage.

This is known as the “deep litter” technique. At its core, it’s this: you let the bedding build up really deep while keeping it dry and well-ventilated. The chickens will turn it over by themselves, naturally composting it and keeping it stink-free. Plus, it has some other health benefits like building up a natural immunity in your chickens to certain germs.

Then, cleaning out the coop (and running) becomes a much-less frequent event. If you have a large enough coop, you only have to clean it out once a year – as this gentleman in Sweden shows via this YouTube video.

An image of different flowering plants with mulch.

Given that we have a large but still prefabricated coop, we don’t have room for a foot or more of bedding. There wouldn’t be room for our chickens! So we do a modified-deep litter technique. But still – only having to clean the coop and run once a month is far better and more efficient for our backyard homestead – and we get plenty of great compost for our garden.

And we’re working on our system to make it longer between cleanings – because the chickens always look offended while I’m cleaning things out.

Final Thoughts

If your chickens, coop, or run are stinky… there’s a problem. They shouldn’t be smelly. In fact, your friends and neighbors who come see your coop should be amazed that it doesn’t smell bad – and, in fact, it smells like good garden soil. Because that’s what your chickens are making for you is good compost that will help your garden.

So go fix that stinky coop. Your neighbors will appreciate it – and so will your back. Quit working so hard – and make things run far more efficiently.

Speaking of efficiency, go check out my YouTube channel. I’m sharing all sorts of great tricks and techniques to help your backyard homestead run more efficiently. Go check it out and give it a subscription here.

Related Questions

Does Chicken Poop Smell Bad? Fresh chicken poop does have an ammonia smell to it. However, due to the small quantity of chicken manure, it’s generally hard to smell unless you’re either quite close to it or there’s a larger quantity of it all in one place.

Are Chickens Noisy? Chickens, like any bird, aren’t silent. They do make normal noises like clucking, squawking, and proudly announcing themselves when they’ve laid an egg.

Why Do Chickens Smell Bad? A foul-smelling chicken is abnormal. Chickens should have no identifiable smell to them, as dust baths keep them pretty clean.

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