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How to get started with deep litter in my new run - assuming it's the best option?

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
Hi again! My run is due to be built next week, for my 5 ex-bats due in 4 weeks. Very excited! It'll be 6 x 1.5 metres, 6 foot high walk in, with a sloped clear corrugated plastic roof, against a fence. The coop will be up against it and the hens will be released into it via a ramp.

So, I have a separate wooden coop for overnight, but by day my hens will be in the run, or free ranging in the garden. At first they'll have to stay in the run til they acclimatise, and of course I want it perfect for them. smile.png

I tend to over-research and over-plan so you can bet I've read loads about different run floors here and elsewhere. I realise that in no way makes me an expert wink.png but I don't need pointing at basic starter descriptions, but would appreciate the benefit of your practical experiences. smile.png

Originally my plan was sand throughout but I'm physically disabled and it looks like deep litter, while maybe harder to establish, would be easier for maintenance in general? I'm not good at bending in particular, picking up my dog's mess sometimes makes me dizzy or causes pain, though I get it done in the end of course. I'm also close to a lot of houses and hoping it will have less of a smell (although if smell ever became an issue I'd just have to clean up more often!)

So I wonder if you can advise? My run will have hardware mesh on ALL sides, and that includes the floor, because we have a lot of urban foxes. The foxes love to play in my garden, say hi to my dog(!), and steal sausages from a nearby shop's shed and bury them in my plant pots. They always leave me surprises... Grr.

The run will be standing on bare earth (that used to be a herb and veggie patch).

The videos and info I've seen on Deep Litter (DL) make it look like a great option. I'm already familiar with composting and the benefit of nematodes too (I use them to kill slugs and deter ants). But... How do I plan for this and get started?

Given the mesh floor, I can't just dig down. I know the bacteria and nematodes will come from the soil below into the litter tho; they do with my compost heap.

So, I've read you start with 2 inches but it doesn't count as DL til it's about 6" deep and ideally up to 12! Eek, that deep? really? Can you advise if that depth is necessary?

I'm thinking the run needs a plank around the bottom of the sides, so it will keep in litter up to 4 or 5 inches, and I'm not majorly bothered if it overflows a bit (I've seen videos where the hardware mesh largely kept it in, at least for an inch or two). Is this sensible / practical? I do have some planks I can use that were formerly enclosing the veggie patch.

Once that's sorted - the way I enclose / make room for the litter - how do I get started? I can see that I regularly would toss nest bedding into it, also leaves, etc, and rake / turn as needed, scatter corn to get the hens to aerate it - all the "once it is established" stuff - but while I'm setting up the run, in advance of my hens' arrival, what should I be aiming for?

I know you guys will be on hand with advice (please?!) but otherwise, here's the initial plan:

Take the mature compost out of my compost bin, scatter it. That way I know the composting nematodes and bacteria are seeded there and ready to get to work. Add an inch of chipped wood (I'm 100 metres from a forest so I'm asking very nicely to see if I can source some for a low price...)

Right now, I don't have a lot else to chuck in. I have a bag of bark but I know that can get mouldy or have spore issues. Given that the run is covered, and bark from the same source has rotted down nicely without issue in my borders, is there any harm in chucking that in for variety, just to mix things up while we get started? I'm tempted. One bag wouldn't even loosely cover the run floor, there'd just be a few bits here and there, especially if mixed in.

What else can I add, or is that enough to begin with? I was planning to put it in the run as soon as it's built, which should be 2 weeks before the hens arrive, partly just to get it done but also so I can then set everything else up in the run once its got a floor.

I have two more questions I'm afraid!

Firstly, I know not to use DE in DL. What about Zeolite (sweet pdz) - I'm planning to put some in the coop but do I need it in the run? Will it help? Hinder? Do nothing at all? I read about adding lime, is that helpful / necessary? If so, could someone kindly point me at an appropriate product online so I know what to look for?

Final question (phew!) Obviously the point of DL is... It is deep! And gets deeper! How does this work with items placed on the ground? I'm thinking mainly of my dustbath (a tyre that I'll fill with sand and wood ash), the metal bucket style drinker, and the treadle feeder.

So presumably it builds up against the tyre, but that's no biggie, right? But what if the litter gets up around the drinker? And might a build-up of litter stop the treadle from functioning properly? Maybe I should put the treadle on a paving slab or similar and keep it brushed clear? Or am I over thinking, and I simply move the feeder and drinker every time I rake, toss or add to the litter?

Well, that's all my questions! Thanks so much to everyone who made it this far! *waves* And my phone only crashed once during this epic!

I will value and appreciate any advice you guys can offer. Thanks so much!
Edited by techiebabe - 2/15/16 at 7:58am
post #2 of 35
Thread Starter 
What about wood ashes? I asked around for some to put in my dust bath, and got several offers including one from a wood-burning pizza place! I would usually add ashes to my compost bin, so I guess it is ok to put excess in the deep litter? Or will it dry things too much?

Can anyone advise? Any comment on any part of my queries here would be very helpful, and appreciated. Thanks!
post #3 of 35

I was reading a thread lately (I can't find it right now) and people were talking about ashes.  A few people said they were bad for chickens and had a "scientific" explanation.  Then there were several people who stated they use them and have had no ill effects.  Ill see if I can find the topic.

post #4 of 35
post #5 of 35
You do not want to use de with the DL be cause DE kills all of the good bacteria, with ashes I would not use them because of how dusty they are and if the hens are scratching around that can hurt their lungs. Hope this helps! Good luck with your new hens, I am glad you are giving them a new start!
post #6 of 35

I guess some folks do make it a bit more work, but honestly I really think you're overthinking this and stressing yourself out :hugs


I do deep bedding (some would argue it's not really deep litter, to me it doesn't matter. Semantics). I use whatever I have on hand. Pine shavings are one of my top choices. I like how they smell, they absorb decently, don't mat down, and they do break down eventually. To that I add hay sweepings from the barn, grass clippings when available, raked leaves when available, things like that. I pile in anything organic/carbon based. I toss corn, scratch, grit, oyster shell and food scraps, whatever on the floor so they scratch around and turn things over. I add more material when I have it. If I notice it getting smelly, I buy another bag of shavings and put in there. When I get a wild hair I'll use a fork and fluff the bedding a little, but honestly I don't to that too often. 


We burn wood for heat and I do put the ashes in the coop for spa time. I've never had issues with external parasites, and never any respiratory issues from doing this. But my coop is plenty large with lots of ventilation. 


I do a full clean out maybe once a year. 



So, don't stress so much about "The System" of this. It's very fluid and very forgiving. And you won't have an up and running compost going right off, you've got lots of time to adjust and tweak as you like. 

Rachel BB

Stem cell transplant from unrelated donor in Feb 2015. Thank you to all my friends here on BYC for all your support during my treatment and ongoing recovery!


Rachel BB

Stem cell transplant from unrelated donor in Feb 2015. Thank you to all my friends here on BYC for all your support during my treatment and ongoing recovery!

post #7 of 35
I agree. There's no need to over think it. I did in the beginning and caused myself unnecessary stress.

It really is no big deal to start and maintain a DL run. There's basically 3 things you need to keep your eye on the amount of: nitrogenous material (greens), carbon rich material (browns), and moisture. The thing is that you want to maintain a balance of these 3 things over time. That means that it is okay if your litter occasionally runs a bit dry or you have periods where all you add is dry leaves or you have more grass clippings at certain times of the year. It really is a very forgiving process.

My list of "ingredients" when I started included a base of 6-8 inches of wood chips, a couple inches of pine shavings, some partially composted shredded leaves, some chopped straw I had on hand, and some old hay. It was a couple of months before I could get my hands on some green material to offset all those browns but I didn't worry because I knew they we're coming.

It is tempting to search for a "recipe" or step by step instructions for DL. There really isn't one out there. Don't worry though. I can almost guarantee you will very quickly get a feel for how to achieve that balance over time just by looking at your litter.
post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Hi, thanks so much to everyone who responded! I'll reply to you all tonight, bear with me. I appreciate all your thoughts and advice, this is really valuable and gives me the confidence to know I'm not missing something obvious or doing something terrible / irreversible. Responding to you each individually is the least I can do smile.png

Replies coming up in a mo!
post #9 of 35
Thread Starter 
Hi Flyin-Lowe, that thread was a great read, thanks! It seemed to me like lots of people were ok with it, except one who was quite articulate about it. But really the ashes seem fine if you're careful smile.png, thanks! So I shall be careful and hopefully it'll all get sorted out!
post #10 of 35
Thread Starter 
Hi Calpal212, thanks for your info! I think I said before that I'd exclude DE from the run, it wouldn't be the best for them for breathing and so on... Cxx
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