How deep litter method works in 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. 

deep litter method

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!

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 dries 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.

How to use the deep litter method

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 dry leaves and add them to the coop litter instead of adding more shavings. You can stick with shavings if you prefer. In summer I add dried grass clippings to the coop litter. You could even add straw as I've done quite a few times. Or shredded newspaper. Really, almost any litter at all will work. Except sand, but that's another story.

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.


Want information on raising chickens sent right to your email weekly? Click right here to join my list and get new posts sent directly to you the day they're published ... plus, you'll also get the free download '25 Ways to save money raising chickens'.

This post contains affiliate links. If you chose to purchase something through the link, I will get a small payment from Amazon. It will not affect your purchase price. Click for full disclosure.


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

    1. Not really. They pick out what they want with their beaks and get into much worse when out free ranging!


    2. I have been using shredded paper and light cardboard ( cracker, cereal, and pizza boxes). I lined the coop with linoleum that big box stores sell in a roll. Just put it down with a few stones or bricks until it lies flat, then remove the weights. I have heavy cardboard (flattened boxes about 3' x 4') under the roost that I remove weekly and put in the compost. I have been shredding financial records from the last ten years, so its good stiff paper, not newspaper. I add shredded paper about every two weeks. Laying boxes get fresh paper every few days. I use a fine rake to remove any wet clumps (rare). The chickens like it and they seem to snuggle in it in Winter to stay warm. I scoop out the coop twice a year and add the paper and poop directly into the garden where it gets tilled under periodically. The paper improves the clay soil over time. All junk mail gets shredded, not newspaper ads. Free litter, cheapest 10 page shredder from Staples-use coupons, cheap trash bage to transport shredded paper to coop, reuse the bags.

    3. Sounds good. I think my coop was overcrowded so once a year never worked. It was well ventilated but mid winter I had take a pitchfork to break up and remove and replace frozen lumps of litter which was mostly shavings. May it would have worked better with occasional additional shredded paper. I did throw in leaves from time to time from fall raking. Most of the leaves ended up to be shredded by the hens in the chicken yard!

    4. An over crowded coop or one with too much moisture inside can be a struggle with deep litter! My silkie coop is a plastic playhouse that's cracking a little from age and letting rain in so I sometimes have to scoop wet areas! Ugh! It may help to scoop the poop under the roost to remove some of the overwhelm in a crowded coop.

  2. My coop is elevated off of the ground and there's not much to keep litter from falling out of the door so I usually have a not super thick layer. Do you think this would still work?

    1. One of my coops is like this and I place a 2X4 inside the doorway to keep the bedding from being kicked out. It works pretty well.