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. This is 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
- It’s a great boredom buster for the birds
- Perfect for owners who are time poor
- Easy to manage
- Absorbs smell
- Reduces fly populations
- Helps to control coop temperatures
- Decomposing litter is rich in Vitamin B12 and supports poultry health
How to Start a Backyard Chickens Deep Litter System
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
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.
If you have access to fallen oak leaves or any non-toxic tree, add them in!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Become an expert in Backyard Chickens 101 and check here for the latest tips and trends all about chooks.
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.
Poultry Signals A Practical Guide For Bird Focused Poultry Farming
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow