What is a dropping board? It’s a board you place under the chicken roosts, where it collects manure and smells bad.
Why would use use a dropping board? Well, there are some things in favor of them. But it also seems to be one of those 19th century poultrykeeping ideas that hang on mostly by tradition.
Disadvantages of Dropping Boards
In Fresh-Air Poultry Houses, Dr. Woods wrote the following:
Recently I was in a plaster-finished closed-type poultry house where the dropping boards are scraped clean daily and sprinkled with earth. The house was decidedly smelly, though apparently clean. The manure-saturated wood of the dropping board, which has been treated frequently with disinfectants, contributed largely to the stench. I would not want a house like that and would find it unpleasant to work in one, but it seemed to suit the owner, and as he appeared so well satisfied I made no comment.
Alternatives to Dropping Boards
Now, this was written over 90 years ago, yet dropping boards already seemed burdensome and old-fashioned. So what are the alternatives?
No Dropping Boards at All
Dr. Woods makes the following observations:
Most of my houses are not provided with dropping boards, and such really seem more sanitary to me. In these houses the droppings fall to the floor beneath the roosts where they are quickly covered with sand, earth and litter which the fowls scratch over them. Fowls usually scratch with their heads toward the light and so throw a good deal of absorbent material toward the rear of the house. Under such conditions very frequent cleaning is not necessary.
I know a good many successful, practical poultrymen who do not use dropping boards in their poultry houses. One of these men has about 2000 layers and does all of his own work. He cleans out his poultry houses regularly spring and fall and oftener if the droppings become offensive. He says that he can depend upon his nose to tell him when the houses need cleaning and that he has no use for dropping boards and no time to waste fussing with them. I think he knows what he is talking about for I have visited his plant often and his houses are always in good sanitary condition and free from offensive odors. His fowls are healthy and productive.
Slanted Dropping Boards
But what if space is tight, and you need to park equipment (feeders, nest boxes, etc.) below the roosts? Dr. Woods has an answer to that, too: the slanted dropping board. This allows the droppings to roll downhill and accumulate at the back of the wall. Surprisingly, this is less smelly than a horizontal dropping board, and can be cleaned only at long intervals.
The dropping board extends from the rear sill to the roost supports, fitting snugly to the end wall and partition to form a hopper to collect droppings. The dropping board is not made fast and lifts out for cleaning. With a flock of healthy fowl this dropping hopper can go all winter without need of cleaning out, which saves labor over ordinary dropping boards which must be cleaned daily. The roosts “R,R” are not made fast to the roost supports. They are drilled at ends and in center to fit on spikes which project from roost supports and can be easily lifted off when desired. Kept clean and kerosened now and then, they are practically mite proof. The dropping hopper does not collect mites, as would accumulations of droppings close beneath the roosts.
A later development was the dropping pit. When the chicken house is built rather high up in the air, or for chickens in laying cages, this can work very well, with the roosts over a screened opening that lets the dropping fall to what is essentially a basement level, where they can be allowed to accumulate until they become a nuisance, then shoveled out, as shown in the photo below, from Leslie Card’s Poultry Production, which is more recent that Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and shows additional twists to the poultry game.
The spiffiest is the manure conveyor belt, which removes the droppings from the chicken coop with a maximum of convenience. The photo, also from Poultry Production, shows a manure conveyor disgorging its contents into an old-fashioned manure spreader.
The rise of deep litter for chicken coops during World War II meant that many henhouses had a much greater volume of litter than before, and this dilutes the manure and keeps it from being nasty. In the old days, when Dr. Woods was writing, many poultrykeepers kept a very thin layer of litter on the floor, and replaced it constantly. Such an inadequate volume of litter is easily overwhelmed by manure, which may be where dropping boards came from in the first place.
With deep litter, simply letting the manure fall to the floor seems as good a method as any, provided that the house isn’t too crowded.
See my Deep Litter FAQ.
I have read in multiple sources that sprinkling superphosphate fertilizer reduces odors best, better than lime or dirt, for example.
Final Thoughts by Dr. Woods
I think that every poultry keeper safely can be left to decide for himself how often he will clean poultry houses and dropping boards. It is his business not mine. Of course, where dropping boards are used they should be cleaned sufficiently often to prevent accumulations of droppings becoming offensive. It is difficult to keep the wood of dropping boards in sanitary condition no matter how often they may be cleaned.
And if these ideas gave you food for thought, just imagine how many more are waiting for you in the eight books making up my Norton Creek Classics series! You may have to buy a whole new brain!