Most of us have a certain smell that comes to mind when we think of a chicken farm.
But chickens themselves should not have an overwhelming bad odor.
Most of the unpleasant smell comes from chicken manure.
Chickens, including Silkie chickens, should not have a strong or unpleasant odor in and of themselves. However, chicken manure contains smelly compounds, namely ammonia. Most of the time someone says a chicken smells, it’s because the coop isn’t clean.
Keep reading to learn what makes your chicken manure smell bad and the possible methods to help decrease ammonia levels in your chicken coop.
The Myth About Smelly Chickens
There is a common misconception that paints chickens as smelly creatures.
Even the classic dance move, the funky chicken, reflects this belief.
All animals typically have some degree of a smell, partially because they do not bathe daily as we do.
But chickens should not have a significant or unpleasant odor as long as they are healthy.
This applies to all chickens, including Silkie chickens.
Silkie chickens should not smell any worse than other breeds of chicken.
Most of us have an idea of what a farm smells like.
But a big part of the stereotypical “barnyard smell” comes from the animals’ waste products rather than the animals themselves.
This foul chicken coop smell largely came from the decomposition of their manure and spilled food.
As birds, chickens do not produce separate feces and urine.
Instead, they produce manure and expel their waste through a single opening called the cloaca.
Manure has a lot of organic material, and it develops an odor when it decomposes.
Chicken manure contains a whopping 150 compounds!
Some of the compounds which give a chicken poop pile a bothersome odor include ammonia, sulfur compounds, amines, volatile fatty acids, and more.
Is Ammonia Making Your Chicken Coop Smell?
Ammonia is the main compound in chicken manure that gives it its unpleasant odor.
Ammonia is a volatile, colorless gas with a strong smell which many of us are familiar with because it is found in many cleaning products.
Poultry farming is one of the biggest contributors to ammonia production.
This is because chickens eat food containing nitrogen and eliminate it in their manure.
Microorganisms decompose the nitrogen in the manure and create the natural byproduct known as ammonia.
Methods to Decrease Ammonia and Its Smell
To minimize the odor associated with your chicken’s manure, we need to decrease the amount of ammonia.
The amount of ammonia emissions generated depends on several factors.
More specifically, manure’s temperature, moisture level, and pH affect how much ammonia is produced.
Diet as a Tool to Decrease Ammonia Levels
Ammonia comes from nitrogen in chicken manure.
One way we can alter the amount of nitrogen in chicken waste is by decreasing the amount of nitrogen intake in their diet.
For example, Yucca schidigera is an herbal plant that may be used to supplement chicken food.
Yucca schidigera lowers the amount of nitrogen excreted by chickens, resulting in less ammonia.
Another way to reduce ammonia production is to feed a diet with lower protein content.
Further Reading: Diet, Home, and Care Guide For Silkie Roosters and Hens
Moisture Exacerbates Ammonia Release
Moisture and higher temperatures exacerbate ammonia levels.
Thus, keeping your chickens’ housing and bedding clean and dry is essential in avoiding any harsh chicken coop smell.
Cleaning your chickens’ coop regularly is necessary to remove wet or soiled bedding as soon as possible.
Poultry need a deep litter of about 8-10″ inches.
Chicken coop cleanings should occur at least once weekly to maintain a dry litter floor.
Furthermore, extra chicken feed should be removed since rotting food will worsen your chickens’ housing smell.
Good airflow is crucial in decreasing ammonia gas emissions.
Ventilation may be natural or mechanical.
Natural ventilation relies on the layout of the buildings and trees on and around the farm.
In contrast, fans are an example of mechanical ventilation and prevent still air above your chickens’ manure.
For example, this Solar Panel Exhaust Fan on Amazon will not dehumidify your chicken coop, but it will improve airflow.
However, please avoid positioning fans at your chickens’ body level because a direct draft will stress them out.
It is important to inspect your chickens’ housing for causes of unwanted moisture.
For instance, the roof needs to be free of any leaks.
Additionally, your chickens’ watering system is a potential source of excess water.
Setting your chickens’ watering system to an appropriate height will minimize splashing.
Automatic chicken feeders like this automatic nipple drinker feeder on Amazon may be a helpful way to prevent water from spilling into your chickens’ housing.
Lowering pH and Ammonia Using Litter Treatments
Another factor poultry farmers can manipulate is the pH of their chickens’ litter.
There is less ammonia release in more acidic conditions with a lower pH.
There are a couple of products you may use as litter treatment to lower the pH.
One of those options is sodium bisulfate.
Sodium bisulfate converts ammonia into ammonium sulfate and lowers the pH, thereby reducing overall ammonia levels.
Another possible litter treatment is aluminum sulfate.
Like sodium bisulfate, aluminum sulfate converts ammonia into ammonium sulfate.
This option has the added environmental benefit of reducing phosphorus runoff from the litter.
Ammonia Is Harmful to Your Chickens’ Health
In addition to making your nose wrinkle, ammonia is also a threat to your chickens’ health.
High ammonia levels weaken chickens’ immune systems and make them more prone to contracting infectious diseases.
Furthermore, ammonia is an irritant and can cause inflammation.
Ultimately, overexposure to ammonia can decrease production.
Measuring Ammonia Levels
Health guidelines for poultry recommend ammonia levels not exceed 25 ppm in poultry housing. But levels as low as 20 ppm may be detrimental.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for us to detect ammonia unless it is above a certain level.
Compounding the matter, chicken farmers around ammonia more frequently may be desensitized to its smell.
Thankfully, there are instruments available to help poultry farmers monitor ammonia levels.
One such instrument is a colorimetric tube, also known as a detector tube.
Alternatively, there are electrochemical instruments like this basic Ammonia Meter on Amazon.