Are you tired of cleaning your chicken coop week after week? Sick of buying litter by the boatload? Looking for ways to make your life simpler, easier, and less work? Then the deep litter method is for you!
Farmers and homesteaders all over the world use the deep litter method on their chicken coop floor because it makes everything easier and cheaper.
Read on to find out why deep litter bedding might be the best choice for your chicken’s coop!
The Deep Litter Method in a Nutshell
What is Deep Litter Bedding?
This method consists of starting with a few inches of litter on the chicken coop floor. As the chickens deposit their waste into it, the litter is stirred up and more litter is added on top. The litter is naturally turned by the chickens rooting through it, and if they need a little help with the turning, it can be flipped by a pitchfork.
Turning the litter combined with the work of the good microbes already found there, results in the nitrogen rich waste getting buried in the carbon rich litter, turning it into a great compost.
The deep litter method is the easy way to raise chickens, and you’ll find this sustainable method saves you money at the feed store too as you don’t have to blow every weekly paycheck on coop bedding.
Why Use the Deep Litter Method?
The number one reason why people like the deep litter method is simplicity and cost savings. Using deep litter means you only have to clean out the coop and replace the litter a few times per year.
If you buy the litter for your chickens, this method will save you money. The other major perk is saving time and energy. We like to call it ‘the lazy farmer’s way,’ because it drastically cuts down on the time and work required when keeping chickens.
10 Other Great Reasons to Try The Deep Litter Method:
- It’s clean and sanitary
- It’s remarkably un-smelly
- Deep litter bedding results in healthier chickens that are less likely to get coccidiosis
- It helps to insulate the coop making it warmer in the winter
- It saves time
- The deep litter method is much less work
- You will get amazing compost for the garden
- Scratching through it gives the chickens something to do when they’re contained
- The microbes in deep litter prevent parasites and illnesses
- It’s completely natural
How to Use the Deep Litter Method for an Easy Care Coop
We’ve been using the deep litter method for about 10 years. These are the steps we follow to get it going and keep it going!
Start with a super clean coop. It’s always a good idea to deep clean and scrub your coop before you start, that way you know there are no insect pests, mold, or bad microbes in there that could mess up your system.
After your coop is super clean and dry, lay down about five inches of litter onto the bare floor of the coop.
The best material we’ve found to use for the deep litter method is wood shavings. Some people like to use straw for their deep litter bedding, we have personally found it doesn’t work that well.
Straw becomes matted easily and takes a very long time to break down. Plus, it’s more prone to mold, so it’s not an ideal litter material for this method.
Hay will not work for the deep litter method, hay is really meant to be used as food for livestock, not bedding, so avoid it for this project!
We’ve found wood shavings to be the most economical and best bedding material for deep litter. You can buy huge bags of pine shavings at most feed stores, you may need to ask for it at the counter because many stores don’t keep these big bags out on the floor.
When the first layer of shavings becomes soiled, stir it up and turn it over so the chicken manure is buried. This is easily done with a pitchfork, just scoop it up and flip it upside down.
If you have a small flock, you may only need to do this once every few weeks, if your flock is large or you have a small coop, you may need to turn the bedding more frequently. We have 15 chickens and flip our bedding once a week.
We like to scatter scratch grains onto the bedding a few times per week to encourage the chickens to turn the bedding for us.
After you flip the litter and bury the manure, add another inch or two of fresh bedding on top of the base layer. This new layer will be nice and clean for your chickens feet. The flock should never be walking around on chicken waste, so make sure the top layer is always clean.
When that new layer becomes soiled, turn it again and add another layer. The turning of the litter helps the composting process, so make sure you’re flipping and stirring the litter before you add fresh litter on top.
Continue on adding new layers and stirring until it’s time to clean out the coop. Check every week to make sure there’s no strong odors coming from the litter, and make sure your chickens still have clean feet and are comfortable.
Your coop should never smell and your chickens should never look dirty, if they do, you need to add more bedding and turn more frequently.
Do a big clean out of the coop. We clean our coop out 3-4 times per year, usually in the late fall, early spring, and twice in the winter. Our chickens are confined to the coop and run for much of the winter so they soil it more quickly during those cold months.
When it’s time to clear out, you’ll remove most of the litter, leaving a 1-2 inch layer on the bottom of the coop. This thin layer holds beneficial microbes and nematodes that will help the next layer of litter get started composting.
When we clean out the coop, we move most of the chicken droppings and litter out and put them in their own compost pile behind the chicken coop.
The pile ages for a year and then we use this rich compost to help fertilize our garden.
Why do you need to age the chicken compost?
The reason you want to wait a year is because although the deep litter method uses good bacteria to help break down the organic matter, there’s always a little bad bacteria mixed in.
Anytime you’re dealing with poop from omnivores such as chickens, there will be some bacteria in the poop that could be dangerous if ingested.
Allowing the litter to age will make it safe to use around your edible plants like vegetables and fruit.
The other reason you want to let your compost age is because this compost is very rich in nitrogen. Some plants thrive on high nitrogen fertilizer, but many more fragile plants will burn if exposed to it.
It’s safer to give the compost time to age and finish the decomposition process before using it as black gold in your garden.
If you’d like to read more about why you should age chicken manure before using it in the garden, don’t miss this post by The Spruce!
A Few More Tips for Successful Deep Litter Chicken Bedding
When to Implement the Deep Litter Method
Start your deep litter method in the early spring, right after doing a good deep clean of the coop. It’s best to do deep litter on a coop that has a dirt floor, but it can be successfully done on concrete or wood as well.
Make sure you have good ventilation
Before beginning deep litter, make absolutely sure that your coop has good ventilation. This will allow any excess moisture and ammonia smell to flow out of the coop, and fresh air to flow in.
To add ventilation to your coop you can drill holes in the wall where it meets the ceiling, or cut holes and cover them with hardware cloth to keep out rodents.
Timing the coop cleanouts
How often you clean out your coop depends on many factors. If you have a lot of chickens or have a smaller coop, you may need to clean more frequently. If you free range your chickens for many months of the year, you can get away with doing fewer cleanouts because your chickens won’t spend as much time in the coop. As you get going with the deep litter method, you’ll start getting a feel for how often you need to clean out.
What kind of bedding works best
Good bedding: Pine or Aspen shavings are the best, we like to mix them with mulched leaves and grass clippings too. Some homesteaders have great success with hemp bedding too, but we’ve never personally tried it.
Bad bedding: Never use cedar shavings on your chicken coop floor. It can cause respiratory problems in chickens. Hay doesn’t work for the deep litter method. We’ve found straw to be problematic as it doesn’t break down well and tends to mat and mold.
How do you know if you’re doing it wrong?
If you’re doing the deep litter method right, your coop should not have an ammonia odor and shouldn’t look dirty. If it does, you need to increase ventilation and use more litter or turn it more frequently.
Other signs that you’re doing it wrong include dirty chickens. If your chickens have manure on their feet or aren’t looking sleek and clean, you need to adjust your method.
Finding the right balance
Successfully doing deep litter means finding the perfect balance between wet litter and dry litter. The bedding should be the slightest bit damp but never wet.
If you squeeze it and water comes out, or if it’s smelly, it has too much moisture.
If your stir it up and find tons of dust, it’s too dry. The chicken droppings add moisture and adding new bedding makes it dryer. You may need to experiment to find the right balance.
Additions to your deep litter
Try mixing in grass clippings and mulched leaves to your chicken litter. The organic material will introduce more microbes and nematodes to your bedding, and chickens just love hunting for bugs in it!
Encourage the chickens to help you turn the bedding by laying down treats on the coop floor. If your chickens are lazy, they may not do enough turning and you’ll have to fill in once in awhile, but it sure beats cleaning out the coop every week, doesn’t it?
Keep the compost close
Keep your compost bin next to your chicken coop so you don’t have to travel far once it’s time for a coop cleanout.
Do yourself, and your chickens, a favor and give the deep litter method a shot in your chicken coop. You just might love it!
Check out our Deep Litter FAQ page if you have questions about how to implement the deep litter method in your chicken coop.