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Confused about deep litter - dry or moist? DE or not?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by ChickensAndMe, Jan 1, 2017.

  1. ChickensAndMe

    ChickensAndMe In the Brooder

    Dec 5, 2016
    Melbourne, Australia
    Hi everyone, first-time chicken momma here... LOVING raising my three chicks and have got lots of invaluable help from this forum so far, so thanks!

    My question is about deep litter... I have decided to try this method, but am getting lots of conflicting advice on this forum as well as other sites about dry versus moist and using diamotaceous earth (DE) or not.

    Some say the litter should be somewhat moist for beneficial organisms to grow, and therefore DE dries it out too much and will kill the good stuff....

    ...but other people say you have to keep the litter dry, not moist, and therefore DE helps and it also stops bad bugs.

    I live in Melbourne, Australia, and we have a temperate climate - supposedly with wet, cold winters and hot dry summers, but we do get lots of variations in between. Right now it's summer, some days are super dry, some days are as humid as the tropics.

    I am using wood shavings and leaves, and I have ordered some hemp bedding to add to it. I did add about 2 cups of DE to the wood shavings, but now I am wondering if I messed up?

    Advice would be appreciated,

  2. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Songster

    Dec 15, 2014
    Likely the conflicting advice is due to there being two primary reasons for implementing a "deep" setup.

    The first is to prevent odor and excessive moisture in the coop by drying everything out. Basically you overload the litter with carbon rich material. This litter runs really dry. Among this forum this is often called "deep bedding". It's useful in a coop that might not be ventilated the best or in a climate that is super rainy and damp/humid all the time. Many people will dump this litter in a compost pile to break down when they decide to clean out the coop.

    The other reason for going deep is to reduce odor and feces by creating an environment beneath the litter where composting takes place. For this, a better balance of carbon rich material to nitrogen rich material must be maintained and some moisture is essential. In this set up the poop and bedding actually gets broken down into a humus material. Depending on personal preference that material can be left in the coop and new material just thrown in on top or it can be removed for use in the garden. People choose this version of deep litter because they feel there is an ease of maintenance to it, that it has health benefits for the birds, because they want the compost, etc.

    People add DE to both kinds of setups. I run a dry deep bedding in my coop and find it stays dry enough that adding DE is really just a waste. I add DE in with sand and peat in their dust bath bin though. If you add it to the composting kind of deep litter it won't effect the bacteria or microorganisms, but will affect actual bugs and insects. I run a composting litter in my pen and don't add DE because I don't want to discourage yummy insects from living in it.
    Jillio likes this.
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    There is no perfect right way. No, you have not messed up.

    There are different ways to go about “deep litter”. The basic idea is that you want the litter, whatever you use as the litter, to act as a diaper. You want it to soak up extra moisture from the poop. Wet poop will stink after just a few days and can be unhealthy. A wet coop becomes a breeding ground for diseases. What you want to avoid is a wet coop. It doesn’t matter if the litter is deep, shallow, or not even there, it just needs to not be wet. Dad never put litter in his coop, his had a dirt floor, and it stayed dry enough. Most of us need litter.

    For materials to compost you need browns (litter), greens (poop), and moisture. The composting process is bugs and microbes eating the litter (browns) and using the poop (greens) as fuel. If you get a compost pile too wet it can stink. The type of microbes eating the litter become anaerobic types. Too much moisture keeps the air away so only anaerobic microbes can live and they can stink. But the aerobic microbes need some moisture to live. In a compost pile the level of moisture you are shooting for is to take a sponge, soak it with water, then wring it out as dry as you can. That slightly moist sponge is a guide to how wet you want your compost, enough to support the aerobic microbes but not enough to drown them.

    If you keep your coop the right level of moist, you will wind up with great compost eventually. And the litter will dry the poop out enough so it does not stink. You will get a nice earthy smell. If the litter is not moist enough to support the aerobic microbes, it will still dry out the poop so it does not stink, but you don’t wind up with compost. You get a mix of dry powdered poop and litter.

    One of our forum members, Beekissed, uses the moist approach. She keeps the moisture level in her coop in the range that the aerobic microbes can live. She recently posted photos of the compost she took out of her coop on the sister gardening forum. It was rich and black, great compost.

    I keep my coop too dry for that composting action and I use wood shavings as litter. I use droppings boards to collect pure poop from under the roosts to keep the poop levels low enough so I don’t have problems. I cleaned my coop out last week for the first time in three years, putting that stuff on the garden. It was not rich and black. It was basically shredded wood (sawdust) with a lot of dried poop mixed in. The chickens grind it up with their scratching. By the time I plant that section of the garden in May that stuff will have broken down, but right now it is not compost. If you don’t give it a winter to break down, you may need to compost it before you use it as TalkALittle said. There are a lot of variations on these methods.

    I don’t use DE so I have no personal experience with it. Reading up on it, when food grade DE is used in the food industry it is primarily used as a desiccant, to keep grains and such so dry critters, including microbes, can’t live and reproduce in it. It absorbs moisture. If it is kept dry the sharp edges are supposed to cut the body covering of insects which allows the critter to dry out, further enhancing the drying-out process. If it gets wet you lose the benefit of those sharp edges and it has absorbed as much moisture as it can, but if it dries back out you regain those advantages.

    How dry you keep your litter will not affect its function as a diaper to absorb moisture as long as it is dry enough. It will affect the material you take out, whether it is compost already or needs to be composted.
  4. Hokum Coco

    Hokum Coco Crowing

    Dec 6, 2012
    New Brunswick,Canada
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2017
  5. ChickensAndMe

    ChickensAndMe In the Brooder

    Dec 5, 2016
    Melbourne, Australia
    Thanks everyone for helping me untangle the advice.

    So it's sounds like what I have done is okay, and I just have to work it out by trial and error. All info was helpful, especially the comment about the wet sponge, and the comparison between getting "compost" and "dry shavings" at the end of a year... I would like compost but no drama if I don't get it.

    Best of all, my pullets seem to really like the deep litter.

    Thanks :))
    1 person likes this.

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