Using the deep litter method in the chicken coop is natural, economical, and healthy. It is a common practice used today by many chicken keepers, usually during the cold Winter months. However, it actually got its start during World War II as a means of saving labor and litter. And, it generally occurred over six months or longer.
Here’s how it works:
The poo droppings are full of nitrogen. Combined with a carbon (such as straw or dried leaves) natural decomposing will occur. It is important to use a litter that will fluff up (not be compacted). Turning the top layer to the bottom frequently, adding new straw to the top, and the natural scratching from chickens make it all work.
Having a well ventilated coop helps to break everything down. It’s the same concept as composting kitchen scraps in a bin that you turn frequently. Come Spring, there should be no foul smell, and you will have a fine, decomposed matter to use in your garden.
According to a study done by the Ohio Agriculture Experiment Station in 1959, using the deep litter method offers many health benefits, if done properly:
- It helps to naturally ‘insulate’ the coop, maintaining a healthy temperature for your flock.
- It can serve as an immunization against coccidiosis.
- It helps to destroy salmonella bacteria.
- It can provide needed vitamins for your chickens.
- It can lessen the need for added protein to your flock.
Here’s what I do:
I start with deep cleaning the chicken coop before Winter settles in. Click HERE to see how I deep clean our coop.
After a good cleaning and air drying, I add a layer of straw to the coop. If your coop has a dirt floor, straw is not a wise choice, because when mixed with a damp ground, it can cause mold. Other options are dried leaves, sawdust, or grass clippings. Just make sure it fluffs.
Every morning I clean the nesting area of any poo or dirt. The few eggs I get during cold snaps are prized possessions. I want a clean landing area for those eggs, so when I collect my prizes they are as clean as possible. I add more straw as needed to the nesting areas. For the rest of the coop, I frequently turn the soiled bedding, using a rake. Every couple of days I add a little more straw to the main coop area. The chickens do a great job of scratching around, which also helps to turn the droppings and straw.
What you don’t want:
If at any time you smell a foul or ammonia like smell coming from the coop, there is probably too much moisture. You should clean the straw and droppings out and start over with a fresh layer of straw. Having excess moisture in the coop can cause many problems for your flock including respiratory illness and frost bite.
Keep in mind that adding heat to the coop can also cause moisture, making the deep litter method not effective. For the warmer seasons I tend to clean the coop out more often because of moisture. I don’t have a cleaning schedule, I just do it as needed, while keeping the nesting areas cleaned daily.
Have you successfully tried the deep litter method in your coop?