We here at Backyard Chicken Project have been encouraging people to use the deep litter method in their chicken coop for years. This method is clean, healthy for your flock, and a lot less work for you. There’s really no reason not to do it!
After writing our last post on the topic, we found we were getting lots of questions about how to implement it in specific conditions. Rather than answering each question in the comments, we thought it would be a good idea to put together an FAQ for you all right here!
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What is the Deep Litter Method?
This method consists of starting with a few inches of litter on the floor of the coop. As the chickens poop into it, the litter is stirred up and more litter is added on top. The chickens naturally turn the litter by rooting through it. Sometimes they might need a bit of help from you, in which case you’ll turn the litter by pitchfork every few weeks.Turning the litter results in the nitrogen rich waste getting buried in the carbon rich litter, turning it into compost. Read all the important details on our post: Inside the Deep Litter Method
Litter? Like Cat Litter?
No, not like cat litter. Never put cat litter in your chicken coop, sillies! The word litter in this sense refers to any organic material that is laid down in the bottom of the coop or run. Many people also refer to it as bedding.
How often do you turn it? Do you turn all of it or only the top?
We turn our deep litter once a week, but we have a 18 chickens who happen to be shitting machines. If you have a small flock you can get away with turning it only every few weeks.
We turn all the litter, flipping it upside down so the soiled stuff goes underneath and the fresh stuff comes up to the top.
What do you mean it turns into compost?
The nitrogen rich chicken poop mixes with whatever organic material you choose to use for litter in the coop and break down into a wonderful compost for the garden.
How long does the deep litter method take?
This all depends on how many chickens you have, how moist it is in the coop, and how often you turn the litter. We tend to do it for four months at a time and end up with great compost in that time.
Does this work in dry climates? In wet climates?
Deep litter can work in dry climates but if the litter isn’t breaking down you may need to moisten it a bit with water. It does work great in wet climates, but to keep a good balance, you may need to add more litter than those in dry climates. You ideally want the litter to have a sort of spongey feel to it, not too wet and not too dry.
What do you do in the winter? Does the litter freeze?
We continue doing deep litter in the winter, in fact it only gets better in the winter! The deep litter method is great for us in winter because it means we have to spend less time freezing our buns off while cleaning the coop.
It’s also great for the chickens because the breaking down of the litter into compost naturally releases heat into the coop, helping to keep the birds warm. The thick layer of litter on the floor also adds insulation to the coop.
How does deep litter work in the summer? Does it make the coop hotter?
We haven’t found that doing deep litter in the summer makes the coop any hotter. The litter does break down faster in the summer due to the heat, but it has no ill effects.
How often do you clean out the coop?
We do a total coop clean out three times per year. We do it in the early spring, mid summer, and right before winter hits.
Can my chickens take dust baths in the litter?
Yes, they can and they will! It’s still a good idea to have a separate dusting area available to them at all times, but it’s likely your birds will bathe in the litter as it breaks down.
What can I use for bedding/litter?
The very best bedding/litter for the deep litter method is pine shavings. They break down quickly and are inexpensive. We’ve also had good luck with mulched leaves and straw.
Can I use deep litter with my ducks?
We don’t suggest using deep litter with ducks. Ducks tend to splash around a lot in the water, which will get their litter way too wet. When the litter is too wet it tends to cause mold and fungus, and can lead to respiratory issues for your flock.
Can I do deep litter in a small coop? What about in a big coop?
You can do deep litter in any size coop, but if you have a very large coop or a barn it may not be worthwhile. You’ll need a thick layer of litter coating the whole floor for the system to work, and if your coop is very large, it may not be economically feasible for you. If you have a small coop, on the other hand, deep litter works great as long as your flock is small as well.
Can I do deep litter if I have a concrete floor? What about a dirt floor or a wood floor?
Deep litter works great on concrete and dirt floors. If you have a wood floor in your coop, you may want to first cover it with a Tarp or a layer of vinyl tile. Due to the wet nature of the deep litter system, it will slowly rot away wood floor boards, so definitely cover the floor if you’re dealing with wood.
Do you do deep litter in the coop or the run, or both?
We do deep litter in the coop only. The run gets so much rain and activity from the chickens that we couldn’t possibly keep up with adding more litter out there several times a week. We use wood chip mulch in the run, it tends to last longer than straw or shavings.
I have a plastic coop, can I still do the deep litter method?
Yes, you can do deep litter in a plastic coop!
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
If you’re doing the deep litter method correctly, you’ll see the litter slowly turning to compost over time. If it’s done correctly it shouldn’t ever smell like ammonia or poop, but rather have a nice earthy smell. If you consistently have at least a foot deep layer of litter on the floor, and have fresh litter on the top layer, then you’re doing it right.
How do I know if I’m doing it wrong?
If your litter stinks, or it isn’t breaking down into compost then you’re doing it wrong. The litter should never smell bad, if you’re smelling ammonia or poop, you should be adding more litter and turning more frequently. If your litter isn’t breaking down at all, then it’s likely not wet enough or not getting turned frequently enough.
I hope this post has given you all a clearer idea of how to implement the deep litter method in your chicken coop. If you still have questions, or just want to say hey, feel free to leave a comment below, I love to hear from you!