Deep Litter For Chickens And Mistakes To Avoid

Updated: 8 March 2021

 

Hands up if cleaning the chicken coop's litter is a chore you put off for as long as possible?

What if I told you, you could create a system so efficient that you only need to clean the chicken coop once or twice a year?

“Woah, Woah, Woah!” “Isn’t that unsafe or unsanitary?”

Actually, this system can improve your flocks’ health.

That system is the "Deep Litter Method”.

What is the deep litter method for chicken coops? It’s also known as a Deep Litter System, and s a way of managing poultry manure and litter and is an alternative to regular dry litter with regular clean-outs.

Benefits of a Deep Litter System

  1. It’s a great boredom buster for the birds
  2. Perfect for owners who are time poor
  3. Easy to manage 
  4. Absorbs smell
  5. Reduces fly populations 
  6. Helps to control coop temperatures
  7. Decomposing litter is rich in Vitamin B12 and supports poultry health 

How to Start a Backyard Chickens Deep Litter System

backyard chicken foraging in garden

The chicken coop deep litter method is best suited to walk-in and large covered chicken coops. This system is ideal for poultry that can't free-range. 

Your chicken coop must be deep - as in around 30 cm deep to work.

Your flock must be free of disease. Do not commence a chicken coop deep litter system until your birds are healthy. 

Start with 10-15 cm of your chosen chicken coop litter. What is the best material for a chicken coop floor with the deep litter method?

Materials that are high in carbon work best. Such as:

  • Untreated wood shavings
  • Chopped straw (long strands can become matted)
  • Rice hulls
  • Dried grass clippings
  • Dried leaves (from non-toxic trees)

Keep the litter aerated.

The best way to do this is to sprinkle whole grains (30g per bird max) over it and get the birds to work the litter. This keeps them busy, fit and in excellent show condition. 

If they're not interested in working the litter, or any areas become matted or compacted, you're going to need to turn it with a garden fork or rake! 

How to Work The Seasons 

rooster foraging in the garden

The best time to start a Deep Litter System in cool climates is spring to mid-summer. This accelerates the composting process in the warmer months. 

If you've tried Deep Litter before and failed, try this system: 

Spring to Mid-Summer 

Start with 10-15 cm of litter -  wood shavings are ideal. Top up as necessary to absorb the manure. 

Autumn 

If you have access to fallen oak leaves or any non-toxic tree, add them in!

Winter 

At the start of the season, aim to have a depth of 25 cm. Keep topping up litter as needed to absorb the manure until you reach a depth of 30-38 cm.

After 12 Months

Thoroughly clean out the chicken coop and start the process again. 

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Overcrowding

Overcrowding can cause behavioural issues such as bullying and make manure management a compacted, smelly nightmare. 

Using Mouldy or Dusty Materials

Avoid chicken coop litter material such as hay or any treated timber shavings. 

Leaving Areas Matted or Soiled 

Break them up and stir in with a garden fork or rake as soon as possible.

Inadequate Ventilation

If you can smell ammonia (strong manure smell), you have a problem!

Using Wet or Damp Litter

This promotes the growth of worms, bacteria, viruses, coccidiosis and releases ammonia. Manually remove any wet areas from water leaks or spills.

Inadequate Drainage

Ensure there is a proper drainage system or consider covering it in the winter months. 

Low-Lying Drinkers and Feeders

You don't want bedding getting into the feeder or your chicken's drinker. 

Starting a deep litter system in chicken coops is one of the easiest ways to get the most out of your chicken bedding. Save time and money, keep your flock entertained, and add a powerful boost to your flocks’ health.

 

If you've got more questions about how to deep litter a chicken coop, drop me a line - elise@chickencoach.com or visit our Facebook page. 

Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshops, online programs, phone coaching and in-person support to families, schools and free-range egg farmers. 

Check here for the latest tips and trends all about chooks. Become an expert in Backyard Chickens 101 in just 30 minutes with our new e-book. Order yours now!

Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.

 

Other Resources

Poultry Signals A Practical Guide For Bird Focused Poultry Farming

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

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