Have you been considering the deep litter method as a means to promote health in your chicken coop? Cleaning out the coop can be a lot of work. It may not even be necessary if you choose to utilize the deep litter method.
To determine if the deep litter method is right for you, here’s everything you need to know about it.
What is the Deep Litter Method?
When you buy chickens and place them in the coop, you’re going to find that the bottom of the coop becomes messy–and fast. Chicken manure, feathers, feed, dirt, and other debris litter the floor. Most owners choose to sweep and clean out the coop from time to time.
It’s natural to think that by keeping an area clean, there will be less disease in the coop. However, you may not need to do all of that cleaning after all. Deep litter method is a new way of thinking.
It describes the method of actually letting the coop become dirty. Similar to composting, all of the manure and organic material will start to compost and breakdown together. Microbes will start to develop and live within the compost.
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These microbes can actually be beneficial to the health of the chickens. Like gut microbes in the human body, they can actually help keep the chickens healthy. However, the deep litter method does still require some form of maintenance to keep it healthy rather than just a pigsty.
The goal is to provide a fluffy and soft floor that the chickens can roam in that also helps them keep from developing a disease. Any excess can actually be used for composting to help nurture your own garden.
How to Perform the Deep Litter Method
You begin by sweeping and spreading clean litter across the floor of the coop. This litter should be around three to four inches in volume. You can use different materials for your litter. Dry grass works well. As does leave clippings, wood shavings, and even straw. You can also combine them if you wish.
Each week, as the manure accumulates under the roost, you should add another layer of litter. These layers should be thinner and should also be fresh and clean litter. To really make it easy for yourself, you can toss some feed onto the litter.
Your chickens will do the stirring for you. No need to get in there and sweep it around yourself. If the chickens do the work, all of their stirrings will also add oxygen to the decomposing process.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for caked litter. This is an area where the manure is overpowering the litter. By breaking it up with a rake or pitchfork, you can allow the debris within the clump to return to its decomposing and deteriorating processes. The goal is to redistribute the moisture.
One last aspect to keep in mind is the ventilation of the coop. It should be exposed to the air, so the litter can continue to receive oxygen. It may be tempting to close it off during the winter, but you shouldn’t. Ventilation is key.
Many people worry that they might smell ammonia. For chicken owners who have the coop close to their home, this isn’t a scent that you want wafting into the house let alone to the neighbors. With the deep litter method, that odor shouldn’t arise. If for whatever reason it does smell, you can add another layer of litter.
If there doesn’t seem to be enough moisture helping to absorb the materials, then you can add a little bit of clay. That will help with the absorption.
When Should I Clean Out the Coop?
This process of adding in a layer of litter every week should leave you with a good eight to 12 inches of litter after a year. By then, it’s a good time to clean out the litter. The microbes will have done their work, and your chickens should be just that much hardier.
In order to ensure that the microbes are still there, you shouldn’t clean out the entire coop. Some of the litter should remain so that you don’t have to start over from square one.
A base layer should remain in the coop. This will help inoculate the new material and keep the benefits of the deep litter method going strong.
You can also use the material that you cleaned out for your garden if it’s odorless and completely decomposed. Otherwise, you can place it in your own compost bin or toss it out entirely.
Another reason that you might want to clean out the coop is if one of your chickens becomes seriously ill. While the microbes can help bolster the immunity system of your chickens, it isn’t flawless. Disease can still occur to your chickens, especially if they become infected by another chicken from another coop.
In this case, you might want to clean out the coop to ensure that the rest of your chickens don’t become ill. The manure from the sick chicken could spread through the air, and the virus could infect the rest of the coop. It may also be worth it to simply separate your sick chicken from the others.
If the other chickens don’t become sick, then the problem likely didn’t rise from the deep litter method. More than that, the deep litter method could be what’s keeping them from becoming ill.
If your coop needs to be rebuilt because the wood or material is starting to rot away, then you’ll definitely want to clean out the deep litter. It doesn’t have to be entirely thrown out, however. You can simply move it into a tray or bucket.
Once the coop is repaired or you move your chickens to a new coop, you can then spread the deep litter back across the floor. In this way, you don’t have to start all over again with producing healthy microbes just because your coop needed to be fixed.
When cleaning the coop, the best times to do a thorough clean and start the process over again is either in the fall or the spring season. You’ll want to let the deep litter sit through most of the winter.
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Benefits of the Deep Litter Method
There are quite a few benefits to using the deep litter method in your chicken coop. The first is that it saves you time. You no longer have to spend hours out in the coops cleaning them out each week. During the winter, this is especially a great benefit.
It’s also faster. You’re only sprinkling some fresh litter in the coop and breaking any clumps that have formed. This makes maintaining your coop faster and easier. Your time is also freed up, so you can attend to the other millions of chores that you have.
Because of the presence of healthy microbes, your chickens can also become healthier. The microbes that are given life through composting are said to offer Vitamin B12 and K. Chickens take that in whenever they eat something off of the litter’s floor. It can even offer additional protein which is extremely important for chickens.
- Stimulates appetite
- Oxygenates blood
- Increases alertness
- For poultry
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Besides protein, the microbes also offered key nutrients that are often deficient in chickens.
Finally, you also receive the added benefit of having additional gardening compost when it comes time to clean out the coop. For those who love to recycle anything they can, the deep litter method is a great solution for solving many problems at once.
What Not To Use
One last thing that you should stay away from is DE or diatomaceous earth. This material will actually kill the microbes in the compost. Many people typically use DE in the first place for the coop. Avoid it with the deep litter method.