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I love the deep litter method! What is the deep litter method, you ask? It is a way of turning old chicken litter into deep, rich compost. It controls odors, keeps bad bacteria at bay (while using the good bacteria), and even heats the chicken coop slightly, all while lessening your work load with your chickens. Talk about a win-win!
The deep litter method (DLM) is just as it sounds – deep – from about 6 to 12 inches. It should really only be used in the winter time, since the break-down of the materials adds about 10 degrees of heat. And coops using the deep litter method properly don’t stink, at all!
The deep litter method focuses on using carbon-based material (the pine shavings that is the base for your chicken litter), and nitrogen-based material (the manure and urine from the chickens). These are the essential items for regular compost, and the DLM effectively breaks these down into rich compost. Chicken manure is too “hot” to use on gardens alone, unless it is aged and composted. By using the deep litter method throughout the winter, the manure is aged and breaks down with the bedding. Then in the spring it is ready to add to your garden soil.
The beautiful thing about the deep litter method – besides the lovely compost – is that you only have to clean out the coop once in the spring. About once a week, I use a pitchfork or a rake and turn over the litter. If it smells at all or is too wet, I add more litter. I buy a bag of pine shavings from Tractor Supply Company about every two weeks. It’s only about $5/bag, so it is very economical. As a side note, cedar shavings should not be used, as it can be harmful to the chickens’ respiratory system.
I’m not an expert yet, so I’d like to share a great article on the deep litter method. You can check it out here. It goes really in-depth on the subject, with case studies on how it even makes your chickens healthier. He also talks about using hydrated lime with the bedding for moisture control. Hydrated lime has other uses as well – check out “water glassing” as a way of preserving eggs.
Before we built our coop, the chickens were in a dog run that is permanently attached to a shed, with a concrete floor. I had the hubby build “roosting boxes” that we put inside the shed. The chickens could get into the boxes through a “doggy-door” that had already been cut into the side of the shed. I put down a lot of straw, because that’s what I had at the time, and I hadn’t discovered the pine shavings from Tractor Supply. Straw is ok for bedding, but definitely not the best choice. It tends to get wet and slippery. I actually wouldn’t recommend straw unless it is in a covered building.
About once a week, I would have to clean out the straw and put fresh litter down. The ammonia smell was pretty bad, and that’s not good for the chickens or for us! This resulted in a stinky coop and piles of wasted litter. Then, of course, to try to do anything with those piles, they had to be turned as well. Lots and lots of work, with little return.
I used the DLM for about a month before we built our new chicken coop. We had an old 2-story playhouse-type structure that wasn’t being used for anything. It was even insulated, although a lot of the insulation was exposed. The hubby covered the walls with particle board to make sure the chickens didn’t get to the insulation. We then built a chicken run, about 16’X16′ square, that we lined with chicken wire. We haven’t had issues with aerial predators, so we left the top bare. The “roosting boxes” were mounted to the outside of the playhouse-turned-coop, and we cut holes into two walls for the doors to the roosting boxes. The roosting boxes are perfect, they sleep in one of them and lay eggs (mostly) in the other one. And with the hinged lids on them, it makes it easy to gather eggs and to clean.
When the building was done, I got to work on the interior design. We built a couple of roost bars out of wood that we had on the property, and those went into the coop. I threw down lots of new pine shavings, and I even took some of the deep litter from the old coop to start the new litter “brewing”.
The chickens are very happy with their new home, and I will be cleaning out the coop in about a month. The litter will be incorporated into my compost pile and will be tilled into my garden soil before planting time. Have you ever used the deep litter method? Please let me know in the comments if you have any other labor-saving tricks!