Chickens and The Deep Litter System

Chickens and The Deep Litter System

By Erin Huffstetler | 04/04/2014 | 9 Comments
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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?

    Deep Litter System - 10 months in

    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.

    Curious Chicken

    And I’m betting a curious chicken will want to know what I’m up to then, too.

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    • Yep. We’re still following the deep litter system, and it’s working beautifully. Once the weather stays above freezing we’ll do our first coop clean out. I’ll be sure to do an update when we do. It honestly looks just as clean as it did when I took the original photos, and it doesn’t smell any more than any other coop.

  1. We have 20 chickens and I love this idea (in theory). I started this last spring and all went well…until…winter set in. Sadly in northern WI, we have had below freezing temps for 5 months. And I mean the high temps!!! Even with the solid start, the chickens could no longer scratch and dig in the litter. Darn.

    • Hey Tina,

      We also made them a door out of heavy plastic strips. You can read about our complete winter set up here.

    • Yep, hay is fine. I don’t use it just because I don’t want it to seed in our yard. You just wouldn’t want to use cedar shavings. It can cause respiratory and skin irritation in chickens and a lot of other animals.

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