Deep litter method for chickens step-by-step

Updated: 23 August 2022

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

So, how often should you clean your chicken coop? Well, that depends on your litter, the number of birds you have, and the design of your chicken house and run. 

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?

“Isn’t that unsafe or unsanitary?” Actually, this system can improve your flock's health if managed well.

Welcome to the Deep Litter Method, otherwise known as a Deep Litter System.

Starting a 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?

Who deep litter systems are suited to

The deep litter method or deep litter system is best suited to walk-in chicken houses and to larger areas that are covered over and don't get wet. 

It’s ideal for poultry that can't free-range. 

If you've got a small coop or house that's raised off the ground, a deep litter system will not work for you. The litter needs to be deep, as in around 30cm deep to actually work.

It's also not suited to flocks with diseases. Instead, disinfect all housing and change the litter regularly. Do not start a deep litter system until your birds are all healthy because it will take some time to get to the point where your deep litter system generates heat and manages pathogens for you. 

Benefits of a deep litter system

  1. It’s a great boredom buster for the birds
  2. It keeps birds physically fit as they work and turn the litter into compost for your garden
  3. Perfect for owners who are time poor
  4. Easy to manage (once you get the hang of it)
  5. Absorbs smell
  6. As the litter ferments and composts, it attracts fly predators, so it actually reduces fly populations 
  7. Helps to control coop temperatures
  8. Decomposing litter is rich in Vitamin B12 and supports poultry health 

How to start a deep litter system for chickens

How to construct a deep litter system

 

The best time of year to start the Deep Litter Method in cool climates is spring to mid-summer. The warmer months accelerate the composting process. 

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

Materials high in carbon are best for the deep litter method. 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 for them 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, dusty, or treated materials

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

Leaving areas compacted, 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 litter from water leaks or spills.

Inadequate drainage

Ensure there is a proper drainage system or consider covering outdoor areas in the winter months. Or consider covering high-traffic areas such as the dust bath and where their feeder is. It helps keep the litter dry and friable. 

Low-lying drinkers and feeders

You don't want bedding getting into the feeder or your chickens’ drinker.

Deep litter method for chickens step-by-step using the seasons

Seasonal options for deep litter method

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.

How to clean a chicken coop when you have a deep litter system

 

I’d love to hear your success stories with deep litter and what your favourite bedding materials are. Drop a comment below, 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 workshopsonline programsphone 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.

Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now! 

 

 

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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