Deep litter and chicken coops

Since the chickens started living in their coop back in May 2009, we have never cleaned it out. Now, this wasn’t because we were lazy, but because Lee wanted to try out the deep litter approach. I must admit that I had some reservations about it. I was afraid that is was going to stink and be really gross, but that was never the case. The chicken coop rarely smelled. Whenever it did get a little bit smelly, I would just add a new layer of wood shavings on the top of the litter layer and fluff everything up. Fluffing is accomplished either with a pitchfork or by throwing a few handfuls of crack corn across the floor and letting the chickens go nuts. That would take care of any smell instantly.

Besides the time savings, deep litter is reported to help control coccidiosis, reduces aggression, and supports chicken health by producing vitamin B12. Deep litter is best used in conjunction with open-air housing so excess ammonia is ventilated. The concept is very similar to operating a compost pile. You can find a complete guide to the whys and wherefores here. We didn’t use any lime in our management of the litter, because although it would help the texture it must be manually mixed to avoid hurting the chicken’s feet.

Since the girls got moved out to the garden I decided that I was going to clean out the coop so I could use their litter to make compost for the garden later. It was also getting quite built up in the coop which made it difficult to close the door.

I left a little bit of the old litter in the coop so all the microbes would start the new batch of litter cooking.

Then I added a whole bag of new pine wood shavings to the floor.

During the past 9 months of using the deep litter approach I probably should have lofted the litter more regularly then what I did, but it still seemed to work out fine. Another problem that we had in the coop was that the litter would get a little too wet from our waterer. We have a hanging waterer that, once it gets low, tilts and spills water onto the shavings below it. Sometime soon we are going to try to solve this problem.

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15 Responses to Deep litter and chicken coops

  1. Linda says:

    We set our water on a plastic box. Works all the time without spilling.


  2. Lynn says:

    We clean our coop weekly. It’s a pain, but I cannot stand it smelling. I cannot imagine letting it go for almost a year!!! Our waterer gets bedding and straw in it all the time. We have been considering what to put it on to raise it up off the floor. The deep litter approach is interesting…I will have to look ino it.

  3. Leigh says:

    I’m very interested in this and have in fact started with the idea of deep litter right off the bat. The chicks absolutely love it when I stir up their litter, they go nuts scratching, looking, and digging. I first read about the idea at the Modern Homestead site – When Life Gives You Lemons [part 1], [part 2] & [part 3].

    I’m having trouble with the water too, but I’m thinking it’s because they’re getting big enough to tip over the chick waterer. Linda’s suggestion of a plastic box is good, will have to get a bigger waterer and try her idea.

  4. lee says:

    Linda – All our equipment is hanging or wall mounted. I’m going to get an automatic waterer soon, and I’m leaning strongly toward one like this. I would mount it off the wall in a hanging position, setting up the hoses so they couldn’t roost on them. Seems like it would greatly reduce our midnight water hauling and wet litter. The advantage of the hanging models seems to be in minimizing litter in the food/water.

    Lynn – I can’t imagine cleaning it out every week! That would be a lot of work. My homestead philosophy is oriented around minimizing regular chores, and this deep litter system definitely meets that criteria and works well! I think there’s an initial hump you have to get over–the litter needs to be deep to start with (4 to 5 inches), and the composting reaction has to kick into gear. Also, if it starts getting crustied over or soggy, it needs to get stirred or removed. Minimizing spilled water is definitely important.

    Another factor in this is that our chickens get to spend their most active 8 hours of the day outside. If they were inside all the time, I think deeper litter would still work, but you’d have to be a lot more proactive in monitoring it.

    Leigh – Nice to hear that you are starting them out on this method. The one article I read said that deep little for chicks helps them more quickly build up resistance to coccidia. I didn’t know about that three part article in Backyard Poultry Magazine you mentioned, but I fixed your link and I will be sure to read it. Thanks!

    Our chicks loved to tip over their waterers and feeders. We were very thankful when we could move them to larger hanging models that couldn’t get spilled. We made little paper dunce caps for the jars to discourage the chicks from trying to roost on them and knock them over. It worked, but the chicks sometimes pecked them off and stood on them anyway.

  5. Matthew says:

    thinking of using the deep litter method. Wondering if you could tell me if I can keep the feeder and waterer in the coop. Not wanting to attract rats, wanted to mount the feeder inside, but not sure if that would mess up the deep litter method. Any help appreciated.

  6. lee says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Yes, we have feeders and waterers in the chicken coop and it doesn’t adversely affect the deep litter. The chickens dig out any food they drop, so this is actually mildly helpful in that it stirs the litter regularly (at least in the high traffic areas). The waterer leaks a little too much (we did have a bit of mold growing on the floor under the litter when we last cleaned it), but if we eventually replace that waterer with a better design we should eliminate that issue. I don’t think there’s really a big connection between deep litter and rats, especially if you ensure it stays stirred enough. Some people use deep litter on dirt floor coops (which works a little better because the soil moisture encourages composting) and don’t have any problems with rats, we have wood floors on a raised coop and similarly no problem. Hanging/wall-mounted feeders probably help a lot as it eliminates a tempting food source.

  7. Danelle says:

    Hello 🙂 I’m not familiar with how to leave a message on something like this, but I’ll try 🙂 Just wanted to pass on the answer I found to the problem of the watererss – dirty water, had to go inside the coop to fill, freezing in the winter. I got the heated, 5-gallon flat-back bucket from Henspa, who builds coops. There are two watering nipples coming out of the bottom of the bucket. You can mount them outside a coop. They don’t heat unless the temperature drops. There is never litter in the water. I think they’re well worth it 🙂

  8. Lesley says:

    I am new to Chickens and just setting up my coop now. I was told by the local poultry man to keep my chickens on gravel. He told me that the poop just gets rained thorugh the gravel and keeps the smell down. He also said it was good for the chickens to turn over the gravel to get bugs etc out of the ground.
    Have any of you tried gravel ?

    • lee says:

      Hi Lesley,

      I think I’ve heard of the gravel idea before, but I don’t know anyone who’s tried it. It would probably depend greatly on your local weather. We have very dry summers here, and the manure would definitely pile up.

      It might work, but it’s kind of a “septic tank” strategy vs. “composting toilet.” Litter provides the substrate and carbon supply for bacterial colonies that will breakdown the manure aerobically.

  9. Lesley says:

    Hi Lee,
    After reading your comments and then talking with a local Poultry breeder I have decided to try the deep litter method instead. I have dug all the gravel out and changed to Bark chippings. It seems to make more sense.
    Thanks for your advice.

  10. Marion says:

    I live in a ver high area and with all this rain the run is waterlogged. I have been using bark chippings, but now it is a soggy mess. It hasn’t been a problem till now, and I have just changed it at intervals as needed to keep it clean. I was wondering about using gravel and if it might prevent it being so wet. The bark seems to be holding the water.

    • lee says:

      I’m hopelessly late in responding to this, but deep litter is best suited for the coop itself. If you have a small fixed run for the chickens which is exposed to rain, I would expect problems with it. Much like a compost pile, it only works correctly when it is lofted and only slightly damp. Could you partially cover the run or perhaps install drain tile to remove the water?

  11. Kevin says:

    Would anyone know how a ‘wet egg’ every several days plays into this plan? We have four layers. At least one of them is squirting out an egg minus it’s shell in it’s sleep. Sometimes I catch it and sometimes I don’t which I think means that someone might be eating it. Also would a sheet of hardware cloth under the litter help keep critters out?

    • lee says:

      We’ve never had wet eggs (as far as I know). When the liter is lofted, I would expect that the egg would just soak up in the liter. Wet eggs should be a temporary condition while the hens are first starting to lay.

      Hardware cloth seems to be commonly used to prevent varmint tunneling. Our coop has a raised wood floor on concrete piers. Rodents have not been a problem for us.

  12. lee says:

    This post has been locked because I’m tired of all the spam hitting it. If you have a real comment about chickens, please leave it on a more current post.