The Great Ammonia Battle

As temperatures keep falling and snow levels increase I find myself struggling to keep my coop ammonia levels at bay.  It’s not always possible to keep the walk-in door open and I had hoped between the roof vent and the chicken hatch the moisture would be under control.  Ventilation is key but obviously something was amiss with what I was currently doing.

Previous research warned against keeping water founts inside the coop in order to reduce added moisture to the floor litter.    However, my set up keeps water off the floor while allowing me to not water my birds outside.  Watering outside has resulted in massive ice buildups so it was no longer a feasible option for me.  

The only other moisture source besides respiration was the introduction of fecal matter from the flock.  Early on I was cleaning my coop once a week and had no issues with smell.  Warmer temperatures also helped dry the litter adequately.

As winter progressed and snow amounts increased it became an impossible task to clean my coop weekly.  Now I understood why so many flock keepers employ the deep litter method.  Thusly the deep litter method became my plan B by default.  Still, I didn’t have a good understanding of the proper deep litter foundation requirements.

With a little more research I realized my ammonia issue was most likely my overuse of straw in my litter material.  Not only does it decompose (albeit slowly), it holds moisture and also supports the production of ammonia when mixed with chicken and duck poop.  I was setting my coop up to produce the very environment I didn’t want to have!

A good deep litter foundation starts with pine shavings.  I’m not just talking about a couple inches of the stuff, but a good 6-12 inches!  This material is slow to decompose and it is easy to fluff which allows it to dry quickly.  

To start, I removed all the straw from my coop except for the duck bedding area.  This area I chose to keep the straw because I can clean and replace it as needed while retaining an insulated area for them to sleep.  The rest of the coop was shoveled out and dusted with a nice layer of diatomaceous earth and pine shavings.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have nearly enough shavings on hand for a proper base but it’s a start and it took care of my immediate ammonia issue.

Under the roosting bars I wanted to create an area where poo could easily be removed instead of settling into the floor litter.  By adding a few flower pots and a couple boards I was able to make a flat surface that could be scraped into a bucket each morning.  There is room for improvement but with our cold temps I was trying to make it quick.

With these changes I’m hoping my coop air quality improves immensely.  I wasn’t too thrilled with many of the ammonia reducing products I found on the market.  Many of them must be mixed with water or they are in a liquid state which basically goes against everything I’ve been reading about reducing air humidity during the winter months.  Using vinegar would have been a good option but once again, the added moisture is my foe.

For now, I’ll just have to add pine shavings to my shopping list!


  1. We been using straw and tried to switch to pine chips but our hens didnt seem to like it they stayed out of the coop to will changed it back to straw
    Is there a way to get them used to the pine chips


    1. We only use pine chips in the nesting boxes nowadays. Over the years since this post we’ve found it much easier to keep the floor cleared. In the summer it’s bare cement floors cleaned weekly along with poop slings for the higher up roosting bars. During the winter we utilize alfalfa for the flooring which does two things – acts as supplemental feeding and insulates the floors a bit. Not only is alfalfa digestible and full of vitamins & minerals, it’s much safer than using straw (and it smells good). As far as getting used to new nesting material or flooring, it just takes time. Keep introducing them to new things or perhaps use a mixture, slowly reducing the straw ratio. I wish you luck!


  2. Thanks, I learned a lot from you! I have been using straw! I will switch to pine shavings! I also like the way you have your coup set up!the baby pig feeder is a great idea! Thanks Janey G!


    1. Thank you! I’m so glad someone could learn from my mistakes! This year has been a breeze utilizing pine shavings and a poo catchment system. By simply scraping my “poo boards” daily into totes (see the article on Top 10 Poultry & Chicken Care Items) and layering with the same pine shavings – I’ve had zero issues! Also, check out my article on making a large volume poultry drinker…using auto-filling cups eliminates additional coop moisture. No more sloppy water fountain inside the coop during the winter. Yay!


  3. We are just about to set up our coop for a few chickens on our small, hobby farm. Although I have raised ducks, rabbits, peacocks, and had bees before, chickens are a new venture.

    We live in Southern California, so snow is rarely an issue. We’ve had snow only once in the three years we’ve lived in Wildomar. It was a few inches and stayed only a few days.

    Heat is more an issue with us. Temperatures can spike to 110 and higher in the summer. So tips on keeping the girls cool would be extremely welcome.

    Thanks for the tip on the boards over flower pots to catch a lot of the night poop. Pretty sure we are going to try that.

    Liked by 1 person

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