Using woodchips as deep litter in chicken runs

  1. The Yakima Kid
    Many people find cleaning the chicken run an unpleasant task and would like to find an alternative to weekly cleanings.

    A very easy way to minimize run cleaning is a variation on the deep litter method using wood chips.

    Coarse softwood chips are sold for use as mulch at many garden stores and landscape materials dealers, Pine, fir, and cedar may all be used; cedar has the advantage that it discourages insects - and contrary to mythology, cedar has not been demonstrated to cause health issues in chickens and was long used for chicken bedding in the Pacific Northwest.

    The idea is to start with between four inches and six inches (10cm - 15 cm) of softwood chips throughout the run; to measure, spread the chips and walk over them to compress them a bit and then use a yardstick or ruler. Place feeders, drinkers, and other equipment on concrete stepping stones to keep wood chips out of feed and water and to make them accessible.

    The chickens will turn the chips over in scratching; this can be encouraged by tossing a bit of scratch or mealworms on top. We have found that we need to rake it no more than once a month to effectively turn it over, and we add woodchips as needed. Over time the wood chips at the bottom will slowly compost away. We tend to haul them out at one year of age and use them to replenish the mulch around the shrubs in our front yard, which also fertilizes them at the same time. Generally we start new litter in the spring and replenish nor more than once a year. We use a standard flexible lawn rake to do the raking.

    Chickens generate much of their manure at night on the roost. The easiest way to manage this is to have perches with what are known as dropping boards or to use removable trays. Our method is to use removable trays that are filled with either coarse wood chips or with softwood shavings. Softwood shavings are slightly more effective at absorbing the moisture in the waste. Once a week we use a kitty litter scoop to remove the manure from the trays from under the roost and we add this to the contents to our composter. We replace the litter when it becomes moist or malodorous. This material is then added to our raised beds after composting.

    The result of applying these methods is that you minimize the effort required to maintain your birds in health and comfort.

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