Looking for a better way to manage chicken waste? Let’s talk about your easiest & most affordable option – the Deep Litter Method. This process turns your coop into a composter & creates natural heat for your chickens – making it ideal for colder climates.
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The basic concept of the Deep Litter Method is to use a large amount of bedding combined with chicken droppings to accelerate the breakdown and – in one year’s time – you’ll be left with beautiful dirt for your garden.
All the while, you’ll be…
- Cleaning the coop less often
- Spending less on bedding
- Warming your chickens
As the material breakdowns, it will put off natural heat, just like a compost pile. On those super cold days, you can still expect to see up to a 10-degree increase in temperatures inside your coop.
The Deep Litter Method is also super low maintenance – which is one of the main goals with our chickens. Instead of constantly cleaning the coop, you’ll just be periodically mixing the bedding.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do have some experience, and we’ve learned A LOT in the past year.
Honestly, when we did our annual coop cleaning it was a little disappointing. We were hoping for dirt and instead had slightly broken-down wood chips.
But I see what we did wrong and where we can improve!
So with all that being said, let’s discuss the Do’s & Don’ts of the Deep Litter Method.
These are the steps we’ll be taking with our coop this year.
Do choose a carbon-based bedding
If you know about composting, you know it requires greens & browns. So for this to work properly, the chickens bring the greens (waste) and you need to provide the browns. Choose bedding made from something carbon-based – like pine shavings, dead leaves, or dried grass clippings.
You’ll be able to add different materials once the compost gets established, but wood chips or shavings are a great place to start.
In the beginning, you’ll want a lot of bedding – up to 12 inches – and then maintain roughly 6 inches of bedding, as things start to break down.
Do turn it over regularly
Turning & mixing are the bread and butter of this method. It’s critical to get the chicken droppings on the top mixed into the bottom, so everything decomposes evenly.
Plus composting doesn’t work without oxygen. Mixing air into your bedding will speed up the entire process.
Do make sure you have great ventilation
Chickens have very sensitive respiratory systems. And one of the side-effects of this method – if not managed properly – is a potential buildup of ammonia.
To stop any issues before they begin, make sure your coop has fantastic ventilation.
If at any point you do start to smell ammonia – add more bedding, mix, & open all the windows.
Do clean it each Spring
Spring is the best time to clean your coop, claim your freshly composted reward, and get your chickens set up for the next year.
You want to clean yearly to avoid any nasty buildups or the harboring of parasites, but timing is everything.
If you do a cleanout in summer or fall – that’s when your compost will be gaining the most warmth & you’ll have to start over right before the cold season. But if done at the correct time, your chickens will be toasty all winter long!
Don’t remove any waste
In hindsight, this was our biggest failure. We regularly removed the top layer of soiled bedding, put it in the compost, and added more fresh chips on top of a deep pile of bedding.
But if you remove the waste, there’s nothing to help the wood chips break down.
Instead, at regular intervals – say once a week – go out and mix the droppings into the bedding.
The more time your chickens spend in the coop, the more they’ll help with this process by digging & scratching. You can also encourage this behavior by tossing some seeds or scratch into their coop.
Don’t let it get too wet
Moisture is always the enemy – especially when it comes to chicken coops. Wet environments harbor nasty bugs and can cause bumblefoot for your chickens.
The key is balance. If at any point the compost becomes super wet with waste, add more bedding and mix thoroughly.
Don’t throw out all the bedding
When you do your annual coop cleaning, set a little bedding aside. You can add this to the bottom of your coop to speed up the breakdown of next year’s “batch” – kinda like a mother sourdough.
However, the caveat is…
Don’t reuse bedding after you find disease
If you ever identify any issues with your chickens like mites, lice, or some sort of disease, just throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Reusing any of that bedding could reintroduce the same issues to your chickens a jeopardize their health. Best to clean it top to bottom and start fresh.
Don’t use Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous Earth is designed to destroy organisms on a micro level and it does that so well that it actually impedes the composting process. Adding DE to your coop will kill the good with the bad and you’ll have a hard time getting things cooking.
Want to See More??
– Check Out Our Video Below –
Our annual coop cleaning
What do you think? Are you ready to try the Deep Litter Method for your own coop?
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What’s your preferred coop bedding? Have you tried this method before? Send us an email or leave a comment below! You can also let us know on our Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or Pinterest pages.
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