So, our chickens have been outside for about six weeks, and you know how many times we’ve cleaned out their coop? Zero. That’s because we decided to use the deep litter system. If all goes well, we’ll only clean out their coop once a year. Here’s how it works:
1. Start with a four to six-inch layer of pine shavings in the coop. Do this in the spring, if you can.
2. Add a new layer of shavings once a month, or any time things start to get messy.
3. Next spring, clean out the coop; add the shavings to your compost pile; and begin again.
The Nitty Gritty of the Deep Litter System
So, only cleaning out the coop once a year probably sounds gross. And adding more pine shavings month after month without taking anything away probably leaves you with an image of litter piled up to the rafters, but I can assure you that the deep litter system is neither gross, nor out of control. Here’s why:
- Chickens love to dig, so they’re constantly turning the litter in their coop. That covers up their poop, and takes care of any odors. Since flies like poop (a gross, but true fact), they find their way to the coop and lay maggots (also gross). Chickens like bugs, so they turn the litter even more to get at the bugs and eat them. So, the chickens get some extra protein; the bug population stays in check; and the litter gets broken down quickly. And that means there’s now plenty of room for those fresh shavings that you add each month.
Leaving the litter in place also means that the composting process starts in the coop, and not your compost pile. And since compost heats up as it breaks down, by the time winter gets here, there’s a nice thick layer of cooking compost in the coop to help keep your chickens warm during the winter. Pretty cool, eh?
Update: It’s been about 10 months since we started using the deep litter system, so I thought I’d show you how things are looking. Is it getting gross and disgusting in there? Is it knock-your-socks-off-stinky?
Not at all. In fact, it’s surprisingly clean.
Weather permitting, we’ll be cleaning out their coop this weekend. I plan to leave a couple inches of last year’s bedding in there to jump start the composting process.
And I’m betting a curious chicken will want to know what I’m up to then, too.