Friday, November 17, 2017

How the deep litter method works for chicken coops

I only clean my chicken coop once a year. Yes, you read that right. ONCE a YEAR. The best part though, is that my coop doesn't smell. At all! In fact, by the time I clean my coop all the bedding and chicken poop are so broken down, it's like shoveling dust.

When I first got my chickens, I cleaned the coop every 2 weeks. It wasn't exactly my favorite chore, but I chalked it up to one of those things I had to do and handled it. Then I discovered the deep litter method in a chicken forum discussion. Game changer. I've been using the deep litter method in my chicken coops for about 7 years now and it's the best thing that's happened to coop cleaning ... like, ever! 

deep litter method

The deep litter method is exactly what it sounds like ... letting the coop litter get deep. In order to do that you don't clean it out from summer to spring. Just keep adding more every few weeks and stirring it up so it drys out and breaks down faster. Every week, add a little more litter and mix again. The chickens dig around in it and mix it too, so that helps the whole process. 

Just like in a compost heap you have brown and green (pine shavings and chicken manure) materials. The natural microbes and bacteria combine with oxygen to break down the litter. Composting manure creates heat, and stops smelling after a short while. By the time your ready to scoop it all out in the spring it's ready for a short stint in the compost pile, then off to the garden. It will be fine and powdery and mostly odorless.

As the litter and chicken waste breaks down it composts right in the coop. As you know composting material creates heat. This can help keep the coop warmer in the winter. This is also why I start it at the beginning of summer. It takes a little while to really get going so right as fall hits, the composting litter is just starting to warm up.

When I first started using the deep litter method I made some mistakes. Moisture is enemy #1 of the deep litter method and I found out real quickly that it didn't work when I had ducks! As long as you can keep things fairly dry though, it'll work just fine.

The deep litter method for chicken coops

To start the deep litter method you need to put a nice think layer of pine shavings on the coop floor. About 4-6".  I put down a sprinkling of DE first. DE= food grade diatomaceous earth

Every day I throw a handful of scratch into the coop litter when I lock the chickens up at night. In the morning they have a grand ole time scratching around for their treat, and turning the litter for me.

About every 2 weeks I go in with a hay fork and flip the litter to mix it up. This keeps the poop from clumping up. Flipping it allows air to get to all the shavings, drying out the damp spots. After flipping the litter add another inch or two of shavings to the coop.

Most of the time I find that instead of really flipping the litter, I'm just moving it around. They tend to clear the middle of the coop floor by scratching around, and I'm basically dragging the litter back to the middle so they can scratch around in it again.

In Autumn I rake up leaves and add them to the coop litter instead of adding more shavings. You can stick with shavings if you prefer. You could even add straw as I've done quite a few times.

If you see any damp spots add extra shavings to that area and mix thoroughly. If you see any really wet spots, shovel that part out and dump in the compost pile. 

If you notice any ammonia smell add extra litter and mix. Make sure your coop has adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup. I also add a little bit of DE to help dry things out. When I first learned about this method, the common advice was to use DE with it. Not a lot, but a little bit helps. 7 years later not everybody agrees with that anymore, but I keep using it because it's always worked for me. Obviously only use it if it works for you.

Continue doing this till spring when you clean the whole thing out and start again. You can read about my yearly deep litter clean up.

It helps to have poop boards under the roosts. I scrape the poop boards into a bucket weekly. It only takes a minute and removes a lot of excess moisture from the coop. 

The deep litter method works best if you have an appropriate amount of chickens for your coop size. If your chickens are overcrowded they will quickly create more waste then the litter can handle. You might have to stick with frequent cleanings until you get your population number down. Otherwise the deep litter method is a great way to cut down your cleaning chores while making amazing compost for your garden.

~L

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2 comments:

  1. If I were you I'd leave out the DE as it can destroy or at least deplete the good bugs in the litter that help in the breaking down and composting of the litter

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  2. Just wondering if putting scratch in the deep litter worries you that they are searching through poop/pee infested shavings at all?
    Carol L

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