another newb with deep litter questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by ikemiker, Nov 29, 2016.

  1. ikemiker

    ikemiker Just Hatched

    Jul 5, 2016
    We have a pretty big coop/run setup (see pic) for our 16 chickens.

    After reading this and that here and there, I thought that deep litter might be a good option for me because I have a garden, and I thought it might help keep the chickens more warm in winter. I live in the Berkshire foothills of Western Massachusets, so we are below freezing most of the winter, and can get 5-10 degrees below zero on occasion.

    I put whatever in there... there's pine shavings, straw and fallen leaves from the yard. It's about 7 inches deep, and I turn it with a pitchfork every other day or so.

    We had a very dry summer and fall and it seemed to be looking great. But the past few days have been very damp, and it's starting to smell ammonia-y. Is that a sign that something has gone wrong?

    Am I dreaming that the composting litter will help create warmth in the coop? Is my coop too big to keep the chickens warm?

    I don't mind giving up on the deep litter- it's not hard to switch out the litter every other week.

    A lot of questions, I know!


  2. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 12, 2013
    Boulder, Colorado
    I think you are smelling the leaves starting to break down. They probably absorbed some moisture from the air. Stop turning it. It needs to start heating up. Sprinkle some scratch on the DL and they will do the work for you. I wouldn't strip the run. Just give it some time to process on its own.
  3. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2016
    Is the window opening on the coop an actual window or is it screened? If window, what do you have for ventilation? If you are smelling ammonia, it is probably a combination of several things.........damp conditions, and lack of ventilation.

    Was the shed originally built as a chicken house or converted to one? Either way, does it have a dirt floor or board floor?

    With a board floor, deep litter is going to have some issues. It will be damp down deep, so the boards will likely rot out in a hurry. If board floor, it may be best to simply leave a couple inches of pine chips and refresh it often. It will generally be dry and that is good with an untreated board floor. Or, get all that out of there, dry the floor out, then cover it with vinyl flooring as a moisture barrier, then go back with a deep litter, starting at around 6 inches or so and building from that. But even if you did that, you may want to add some pressure treated kick boards around the perimeter to keep the damp, litter off the siding.

    If dirt floor, same deal with the treated kick boards, but better conditions for deep litter.

    BTW, deep litter in a chicken house is not the same as a traditional compost pile. It is rotting down, which is a cold process, vs. a hot composting process. If you got it up to a foot deep or so, it might start to heat up, but not enough to matter.

    What really matters to this whole thing is adequate ventilation in the coop. The air needs to turn over often. With chickens, a closed up tight coop will be a damp coop in winter, which means a cold coop and ripe for all manner of respiratory issues with the birds.

    With chickens, dry is warm and well ventilated is dry.

    Also, is the run covered? Either yes or know, you can keep that dry and clean by really piling up some litter in there. At least 6 to 8 inches of coarse grass hay is good. It is what I have and what my daughter uses. It may be wet and damp down below, but dry on top. About once or twice a year that can all be shoveled out and moved to the garden. Black gold.
    1 person likes this.
  4. ikemiker

    ikemiker Just Hatched

    Jul 5, 2016
    You've brought up a lot of good issues. Until last week, the door of the coop was screened, so provided a lot of ventilation. We had a couple cold windy days, and so I covered it with cardboard as a temporary measure until my dad could help me build a proper door. However, the coop is not really tight. There are cracks in between each of the siding boards, and spaces between the roof and the walls.

    But yes, wood floor boards. Sounds like just ditching the idea of deep litter (especially if it doesn't contribute to the warmth) is the way to go and stick with pine shavings.

    The run is not currently covered, but tomorrow's the big day for construction!

    :) Jen

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