Originally Posted by techiebabe
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.
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
but I don't need pointing at basic starter descriptions, but would appreciate the benefit of your practical experiences.
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?
Just start layering in materials, no digging necessary. If you live in an arid climate, gravitate towards materials that have a little natural moisture, if living in a humid climate it's okay to stick with more dry materials. It all works best if you avoid too much of any one kind of material unless it's something that breaks down easily l like leaves but even then it works best if using a variety of things with different particle size and break down times.
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?
If you want it to actually compost, you'll want it deep enough that it holds moisture in the lower levels, much like a compost pile, so that the bacteria and fungi have some moisture in which to thrive and metabolize. The deeper the better...2 in. will not do much at all towards that purpose, so I'd go with 4 and work up to and maintain at least 10-12 if you can, otherwise the chickens will just scratch it up too much and disturb those lower layers too often.
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.
It is, though the hardware wire should do just fine on keeping in your materials, the wood will help you retain your moisture in those lower layers.
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?
You won't want to rake it or turn it at all, other than maybe flipping the manure under the top layer or lightly casting dry bedding on top of the manure. Try not to disturb the bottom layers if you can....the chickens will do that enough while the litter is shallow, when it gets deeper they will only scratch it that deep in certain places. That's all good. When I first started out I thought you had to turn it often too but I found it does much, much better at composting if you just leave it alone....using materials with different particle sizes lets enough air into the mass, so the key is to not lose the moisture there. Every time you stir it, it's like tilling your garden...you break up the fungal systems in there and you lose moisture~both are not real good for composting deep litter.
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.
I know it sounds contrary to everything they tell you on here, but you'll want some level of fungal spores in your litter, so the bark is just fine. No harm in using the bark at all. Ramial wood chips are also perfect for this usage, as they have the variance in particle size that does the best for a deep litter system.
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?
In a deep litter system that composts, you don't want drying agents, so it's just not necessary. Think of the DL as a huge compost pile where you layer in the browns and the chickens layer in the greens. The difference in your brown's particle sizes and composition takes care of the aeration, along with the chickens and the materials, the humidity in the air, the rain and the chickens add the moisture. All you have to do is keep a watch on keeping it moist in the lower layers during the dry summer months, adding new material or flipping existing material over the manure if the chicken manure isn't getting turned into the pile by the chickens, and maintaining a good depth for moisture retention.
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.
Just keep things up on pedestals or legs....don't worry about the DL, as it will compost down if you are doing it well, so it doesn't just get ever and ever deeper...in fact, you'll wonder where in the world all your litter material is disappearing to! Every once in awhile you may have to remove some totally composted material in order to not hit the ceiling when you walk into covered areas, but if it's out in an uncovered run you can just leave it be unless it builds up so much over the years you lose your fence height. Most people will usually remove some of the compost to place on gardens, so it's usually not a problem for most.
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?
Just keep them up on pedestals and you'll be fine. You might even consider using a nipple bucket setup for your water and some folks use hanging feeders as well.
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!