What Are the Advantages of a Deep Litter System?

Updated: 26 August 2021

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

So, how often do you clean your chicken coop?

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.

Welcome to the Deep Litter System.

What is a deep litter system for chickens? 

It’s a way of managing poultry manure and litter and is an alternative to regular dry litter with regular clean-outs.

So, why is a deep litter system important for you and your backyard chickens?

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 Construct a Deep Litter System

backyard chicken foraging in garden

The deep litter system for chickens is best suited to walk-in and large covered chicken coops. It’s ideal for poultry that can't free-range. 

Your chicken coop must be deep—around 30 cm deep to be effective.

Your flock must be free of disease. Do not use the deep litter method until your birds are healthy. 

Start with 10-15 cm of your chosen chicken coop litter. What is the best chicken coop floor?

The best material for the deep litter method is high in carbon. 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. If you’re still wondering, “is the deep litter method good for chickens?”

Absolutely, because it 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!

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 chickens’ drinker.

Seasonal Options for Deep Litter Method

rooster foraging in the garden

The best time to start is in cool climates, from spring to mid-summer. This accelerates the deep litter 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 -  The deep litter method with wood chips/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. Then, keep topping up litter as needed to absorb the manure until you reach a depth of 30-38 cm.

How often should a chicken coop be cleaned out?

After 12 Months

Thoroughly clean it out one year later and start the process again.

backyard chickens deep litter advice old school tip

I’d love to hear your success stories with deep litter and what you think is the best deep litter for your chicken coop. Tag me on Instagram or Facebook, or send me an email at - elise@chickencoach.com

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. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.

We’ve got more tips for raising backyard chickens beyond the basics. Become an egg-spert and follow my online guide to raising backyard chickens 101

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

Previous article Feeding For Breeding - Tips For Healthy Chicks
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