A chicken walking out of a coop.
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A Simple Guide to the Deep Litter Method for Chickens

If you’ve spent any time researching chickens and their proper upkeep, you might have heard of the deep litter method to manage your coop litter. The deep litter method is a natural, economical way to take care of the dirty work of chicken keeping, turning waste into composted chicken manure and bedding. Later, you can use this composted manure on your garden each spring.

When I first had chickens, I would walk in the cold and clean out my coop every week or two. It was miserable; Ohio has some freezing winters. That was plenty of work to remove the bedding, sprinkle some diatomaceous earth, and replace the bedding.

I froze my butt off every time, and it became a task I dreaded. Then, I learned about the deep litter method, and the rest was history, as they say.

What Is the Deep Litter Method?

This simple method of coop maintenance uses a balance of the beneficial microbes in chicken manure to turn the manure and litter into compost. The bacteria break down the manure and litter over time, creating compost for your garden.

At the same time, if done incorrectly, this method can make your flock sick and make a very smelly coop area. Properly managed deep litter has an earthy, composty smell. If it starts to have an ammonia scent, that means your bedding is out of balance.

The Benefits of the Deep Litter Method

Letting chicken poop accumulate might sound gross, so what’re the advantages of using the deep littler method? Here are a few to consider.

  1. Less Coop Cleaning Time
  2. This first advantage is why so many people love this method of coop maintenance. It takes only a few minutes a week for properly deep litter maintenance, plus one or two big clean outs per year. If you’re busy and don’t find tons of time to clean out the coop, this method works well.

  3. A Healthy Flock
  4. You see a pile of chicken poop in your child coop, but what you don’t see is the thousands of microscopic organisms breaking down the droppings. All of those organisms are doing important work, destroying bacteria that could make your flock sick.

    Encouraging healthy organisms helps in other ways as well. Beneficial microbes can prevent infestations of lice and mites. At the same time, it can protect your flock from coccidiosis, which is a deadly intestinal parasite.

  5. Extra Warmth in the Coop
  6. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen levels, and then you add in pine shavings with carbon. You turn it over, and the microbes break things down. All of these actions produce heat. The inside of a compost pile is always warm!

    Using the deep litter method leads to a coop that is about 10 degrees warmer than others. That’s perfect for chicken keepers who live in colder regions. That’s something you do need to consider if you live in a warmer climate or during warm months. You don’t want your flock to overheat.

  7. Rich Garden
  8. Perhaps one of the best parts of the deep litter method is that you end up with the perfect compost for your garden. The high levels of nitrogen in chicken manure means that you can’t put it directly onto your vegetation. Otherwise, you risk burning your crops.

Since you’ll have some fresh manure when you clean it out, you do need to add everything to your compost pile to age a bit. When you add this to your existing compost pile, you enrich everything.

How to Maintain Deep Litter Properly

All of this sounds great, but how in the world do you properly maintain a deep litter coop. You have to do it correctly to make sure the harmful microbes don’t outnumber the good ones.

What you don’t want to do is just let the droppings build up over months. The bad bacteria would outnumber more than the microbes could handle. All of the droppings would increase the humidity in the coop, and the ammonia levels would be off the charts.

So, let’s take a look at how to maintain the deep litter method properly.

  1. To start, empty and scrub the entire coop down. You want a fresh slate.
  2. Next, lay down a layer of pine shavings that is around 3-4 inches deep. You can use other bedding, but pine shavings are the most popular. They’re cheap, decompose fast, and are available at most farm and fleet stores.
  3. Then, once or twice a week, use a rake or a hoe to stir up the shavings and droppings. Your chickens can help with this task as well if you toss in scratch or treats throughout the coop.

    Even though your chickens are doing some of the work, make sure you turn it yourself at least once a week to help you access the condition of the shavings. The shavings should be dry and absorbent. If they look caked or muddy, that means the balance is off, and it’s time to add more shavings.

  4. Make sure you add at least one inch of shavings each month. How many times you need to add shavings depends on how many birds you have and the size of your coop.
  5. Some chicken owners like to add diatomaceous earth or “Coop N Compost” by MannaPro. Both of these are natural options that can help to neutralize excessive ammonia. This step is optional.
  6. If the shavings build up too much, you can pull layers off of the top and put them into the compost. For most people, this is when the layers are 6-8 inches deep.
  7. Twice a year, completely empty the coop, scrub it down, and start over. Some people who use the deep litter method never empty their coop. Instead, they keep stirring the shavings.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t want to spend too much time on chicken coop maintenance, the deep litter method is an effort-free choice that yields plenty of composted manure for your spring garden. Using the deep litter method will make chicken keeping just a bit easier.

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