Deep Litter Method

One question I always get asked from new chicken owners is what to use in the coop on the floor. We use, and have always used, the Deep Litter Method.

The Deep Litter Method is where you allow your coop litter to build up over a period of time. As the chicken manure and litter of choice compost (we use pine shavings), it helps to heat the coop, which in turn helps keep the chickens warmer and helps with fly control. We started out by adding 4 – 6 inches of pine shavings to the coop floor. When it seems like it needs it (lots of poop on top of the shavings), we give it a good turn with a pitchfork and add more shavings to the top. We generally do this about once a month. The poop will start to break down and compost. This might seem like a very unsanitary and stinky method to use, but it’s not. People are always surprised how unsmelly our coops are and are even more surprised when I say we rarely change the litter.

Some tips for using the Deep Litter Method:

~ Adding some food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) to the top layer will help the poop dry faster and is great for mite and lice control.

~ Make sure you have good ventilation in your coop. I can’t stress enough how important ventilation is in a coop. Without it, the birds can develop respiratory problems and a whole host of other problems. We use playhouses for our coops and all have windows that are left open year-round. We also have vents near the roof line in all the coops and have drilled small ventilation holes randomly on the walls. The Deep Litter Method can increase the humidity of your coop so good ventilation is important. We also leave our pop doors open all day and night despite the weather. Just make sure the chickens have a place to avoid drafts.

~ We added a kick board inside our door openings. This tall board helps keep the litter in the coop and not falling out every time you open the door. Learned that one the hard way!

~ It’s extremely important that the litter stays dry! If you see wet litter, figure out where it’s coming from and patch it up. Wet litter is harmful to your chickens and can cause respiratory problems. If you smell ammonia in your coop, take it as a warning sign that there is wet litter and fix it immediately. Excess moisture in the litter increases the incidence of breast blisters, skin burns, scabby areas, and bruising. Prolonged exposure to ammonia can even cause blindness in birds.

~ Your chickens can help keep the litter turned over. If they don’t do it on their own, sprinkle a little scratch or some other treat (stale bread works great too) in your coop. They will dig for it and start turning the litter in the process. I have found that most of my chickens like to dig holes in the litter and that really helps keep it turned.

~ Composted chicken poop makes a great fertilizer! We usually completely clean out the coops in the Spring and Fall and use the litter on our garden beds. Free and easy! The only other times we completely change the litter is if we find a bad mite infestation or if the litter has gotten very wet for some reason. Then it’s best to start fresh.

~ A good rule of thumb in estimating litter moisture content is to squeeze a handful of litter. If it adheres tightly and remains in a ball, it is too wet. If it adheres slightly, it has the proper moisture content. If it will not adhere at all, it may be too dry.

~ Because our chickens have access to their outside runs at all times, we keep the food and water in the run and not in the coop. If you keep the water in the coop, make sure it is not spilling down into the litter. This happened with one of my nursery coops (where the babies are kept with no outside access). I didn’t realize how much water was spilling out until one day I opened the door and ammonia flew out at me. Yuck! We had to completely change all the litter in that coop and let the floor dry out. It’s much easier to keep the water outside and it stays neater. Chickens love to kick shavings in their water! Silly birds.

The Deep Litter Method has worked very well for us. We only use pine shavings but there are other materials you can try such as leaves, sand, hay or straw. Find what works best for you and give it a try!

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