How To Train A Chicken To Use A Litter Box: A Step-By-Step Guide


If you’re thinking about inviting your chickens into your home, then you’re probably wondering how to stop them from pooping all over the place? Well, there’s good news – with a little work, you can get your chicken to use a litter box just like any other household pet does.

Our “How to train a chicken to use a litter box: a step-by-step guide” includes a look at whether chickens can hold their poop, how to get them to use a litter box, how to clean that litter box, what to do with chicken poop and what diseases you can get if you don’t handle a chicken’s poop properly.

Can Chickens Hold Their Poop?

Chickens don’t have an anus. This ought not to come as a massive surprise if you own chickens. What they have instead is something called a cloaca.

The name cloaca comes from the Latin and it means “sewer”. It allows for two functions in chickens – the first is to excrete poop through and the other (at least in hens) is to allow a chicken to lay an egg.

There is a sphincter for opening and controlling muscles in the cloaca, but it is higher up inside the bird than it would be on an anus.

This means that it may be or may not be possible for a chicken to hold their poop. However, you don’t need a chicken to hold its poop to use a litter tray. Your objective is to train it to use the tray when it needs a poop, this is much easier than trying to explain how to hold poop in to a chicken.

How To Get Your Chicken To Use A Litter Box

You don’t need to teach a chicken to use a litter box but if they’re going to spend much time in your home, we strongly recommend that you do.

Whilst chickens can be absolutely adorable pets and shouldn’t cause too much trouble in the home – their feces can carry diseases (see later in this article) and they’re unpleasant to find in your slippers even if they’re 100% disease-free.

It’s not a very hard process to litter train a chicken but it is one that requires a lot of patience. There is a good reason that you’ve never heard of a chicken winning a Nobel Prize for physics (or anything else for that matter) and it’s because they’re not very clever. So, to learn anything new, you’re going to need some patience.

Make Sure Your Chicken Is Hand Trained

If a chicken won’t sit in your hand comfortably without fighting you, then litter training is probably a bridge too far for you and your chicken at this stage. You’re going to need to manhandle your chicken a little to get the training done and it would be best if this didn’t result in a human vs chicken brawl.

So, if your chicken isn’t ready, you’re going to need to hand train him or her before you begin with the litter box training, it will save you both some time and discomfort to do so.

Prepare a Litter Box

Your chicken’s litter box should be for chickens only, they can’t share one with cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. the smell of other animals poop will put them right off and worse, if it doesn’t put them off, they might snack on the other animal poop and they’ll pass on that lovely poop goodness on in their eggs. Yuck, right?

Your chicken litter box (or boxes) should basically be a cat litter box filled with cat litter. You’ll need to experiment a little for the perfect depth of litter but about 1.5” to 2” should probably be fine.

Keep An Eye On Your Chickens And Move Before They Do (What Do They Look Like When They Poop?)

You need to work out what your chicken does just before it decides to poop (it can often be something subtle like their tail starting to twitch) and then jump on the chicken before it does and cart it to the litter box (gently).

It can take a few times observing a chicken before you realize what their poop signal is, don’t be disheartened if it’s not immediately obvious – there is a tell, you just have to work out what it is. Though, maybe don’t tell the neighbors why you’re watching your chicken so intently?

Place it on the box and let them go to the toilet. Once they have, give them a treat (praise doesn’t work with chickens, food bribes do, though). You also want to let them see their poop before you le them go, they can then start to work out what they’re supposed to put in the litter tray.

Move From Using A Treat, To Using A Clicker

Once your chicken starts to use the box on a regular basis, you’re going to need to cut down on the treats or your chicken is going to end up enormous and permanently glued to the chicken litter trying to dispose of those treats.

The best way to do this is to buy a clicker from a pet store and then start using it when you hand the chicken a treat. Then eventually, the chicken will hear the clicker, assume a treat is in the offing and go and use the litter tray without needing to be cajoled into doing so.

At this point, you can then stop feeding the chicken treats for using the litter tray (or at least cut down dramatically on them).

Repeat (Potentially Many Times)

Remember at the start of this we said that your chicken is probably not a genius? Well, that means you need to repeat this process over and over again with them. It’s a little frustrating but the pay off is very much worth the effort. Nobody likes to have chicken poop all over their house and you can avoid it by using this litter training method regularly and consistently.

Tips For Cleaning A Chicken Litter Box

Cleaning a chicken’s litter box isn’t very difficult and as long as you follow a fairly sensible and regular routine – it’s not going to take too long or be too unpleasant. You just need to do some basic tasks every day and then a big clean at least once a week.

Daily Cleaning Tasks For A Chicken’s Litter Box

These are the tasks you should do every day to keep a chicken’s litter box clean and healthy:

  • Keep a trash can close at hand. You don’t want to be running across a room or space with chicken poop, get the trash can and move it close to the litter box.
  • Put on some disposable gloves and a mask. Seriously, chicken poop can carry some fairly serious diseases for humans (as you’ll see a bit later in this article) you don’t want to breathe it in or have it on your fingers.
  • Scoop out any large amounts of feces and add them to your composting bin. Scoop any bits of contaminated litter into the trash can.
  • Replace any lost litter. If you don’t want your chickens to run out of litter (and you don’t because otherwise they will stop using the litter box and will also get covered in their own poop and trek that everywhere), you have to top it up every time that you remove some from the tray.
  • Spray a little air freshener if the litter try is getting a bit “choice” but it might be better to move on to a proper clean if it really stinks.

Weekly Cleaning Tasks For A Chicken’s Litter Box

Once a week (or maybe more depending on the number of chickens and their propensity to poop) you need to:

  • Throw all the litter away. Hopefully, you’ve got a trash can close by, if not, get one and make sure that you’re pouring it into a lined trash can or soon, you’ll be cleaning the trash can too.
  • Give the box a thorough scrubbing. Make sure your gloves and mask are in place and then give the whole thing a proper clean with soap and water. Don’t use anything harsher in terms of chemicals – you don’t want to hurt your chickens. Rinse the tray properly when you’ve finished.
  • Dry the litter box. If it’s wet when you add new litter, the litter will just clump and be useless for collecting waste.
  • Add a fine dusting of baking soda. They say that this will neutralize any smells and it’s cheap enough.
  • Make sure to use the right litter. Different forms of litter work differently with different types of chicken, you may need to try a few different litters before you find one that works.
  • Add some clean litter to a depth which supports the chickens and their daily leavings.

What Is Chicken Poop Good For?

Chicken poop is incredibly rich in nitrogen and it can make for a wonderful fertilizer, however, it cannot be applied straight to the garden (except in small doses) without causing major burns on lawns, flowers, trees, etc.

In order to make chicken poop safe for your garden you really must turn it into fertilizer and while this is a fairly “big subject”, we’ve got some basic tips to get you started converting your chicken’s poop into a super fertilizer for your backyard, vegetable gardens and flower beds.

How To Make Fertilizer From Chicken Poop?

Making compost requires three basic elements  carbon (usually called browns – that’s the coop bedding), nitrogen (usually called greens – that’s the poop) and water (you also need air but you don’t really have to do much to add that).

Collect The Manure And Their Bedding

You should wear a mask and disposable gloves for these tasks. It’s best to sweep up the bedding and then move it into a composting box using a spade or a pitchfork. You can then add the chicken poop too. It’s important to remove soiled bedding and manure from the chicken’s living spaces as regularly as you can, and many owners do it daily.

Get The Nitrogen to Carbon Ratio Right

For the best manure you want roughly 30 carbon for every 1 nitrogen. This creates the best environment for bacteria and other microbes to get to work on the compost and break it down properly. It may take a little practice to get this mix exactly right, but you should start with 2 parts brown to 1-part green and then vary things until the mixture is right. We’ve found that because chicken manure is incredibly rich in nitrogen that a 1 to 1 ratio often works better than the recommended 2:1.

Hot Composting

If you intend to use a hot composting method – you can, and it will speed up the production of compost, but you must ensure it gets to 130-150 Fahrenheit for at least 3 days to kill any pathogens in the poop. No hotter because at about 160 degrees, you’ll start to kill off them bacteria doing the composting and you don’t want that. It’s best to buy a thermometer and keep an eye on it for hot composting.

Heat Again

Once you’ve finished hot compositing break everything up, and then mix it up and put it back in for another 3 days. You may need to do this once or twice more before you have the perfect compost.

Cure The Compost

Once you’ve done the heat work – it’s time to let the compost cure. This bit is really easy. Just let it sit in a composting bin for 45-60 days. It should be dark, crumbly and look like and smell like soil when it’s ready to use.

Use It On The Garden

You can scatter it over flower beds once it’s ready or the vegetable garden. If you want it to have more of an impact, you can dig it in to the soil.

Can Chicken Poop Spread Disease?

There is a term used about diseases that can jump from one species (say, chickens) to another (say, humans) and while most diseases that chickens get are not zoonotic, some most definitely are. They can all be passed from chicken to person in their poop too, so it’s important to ensure that you’re not exposed to chicken poop on a regular basis.

The four most common of these zoonotic diseases are salmonella, listeria, Campylobacter and E.coli.

Salmonella

Salmonella makes over 1 million people a year sick in the United States and kills around 500 people. Chickens infected with salmonella tend to show absolutely no signs of symptoms. It sits in the gut and then gets forced out in their feces.

If salmonella is identified in your flock you can treat it with antibiotics, there is also a vaccine, but this is not available to non-commercial breeders.

Listeria

Listeria is a much more serious problem than Salmonella. There’s a 20% chance of dying if you get Listeria. Fortunately, it’s also much less common in chickens but once again, a chicken with listeria is quite often completely asymptomatic and the chickens will be just fine in appearance.

If they get a severe form of listeria, your chickens may well die, and you must be very careful not to get any of their poop in your mouth. Listeria can be treated with antibiotics.

Campylobacter

Chickens are the number one cause of campylobacter poisoning in human beings. It is responsible for more than half the cases of human enteritis in the United States. The bacteria make chickens sick as well as humans and an early warning indicator is, in fact, diarrhea.

This problem can be treated with antibiotics and if you are aware of it, young children and the elderly should stay away from the flock until it’s cured as it can be deadly for humans.

E. coli

It’s the best-known form of food poisoning on the planet and yes, chickens can pass E.coli from their gut to you. This is known as opportunistic infection and it won’t help at all to know that if you get E Coli.

You must wash your hands carefully after each time you handle a bird or its poop to reduce the risks of contracting E.Coli.

Conclusion

We hope that you’ve found our “How to train a chicken to use a litter box: a step-by-step guide” useful and that you now understand how to get a chicken to start using a litter box and why it matters that they do.

You should also be aware of how to keep that little box clean and fresh smelling because chicken poop isn’t the best thing to let build up in your home. You ought to be able to turn that poop into compost now and better still, avoid the nasty diseases you can potentially catch from chicken poop too.

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of AnimalKnowhow.com. I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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