Deep litter done right

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by moco27, Nov 14, 2017.

  1. I started deep litter several years ago using the methods that everyone claims to have had success using. It' didn't work for me, it smelled clumped/matted was a ton of work and didn't look like I was doing my chickens a service by using it. I tried straw first and noticed that it made a thick mat of poo under the roost especially. It was hard to remove and didn't break down at all.
    I switched to sawdust and it was easier to work with but it still had a strong odor of ammonia after a week or two. I needed to rake it several times a week and it wasn't supposed to be like that. I have a 10 x 20 coop and at the time had about 200 chickens. I have a dump truck and would get my sawdust for free at a local saw mill. There are many sources of free sawdust almost everywhere. School wood shops, home depot, cabinet shops, woodworking shops, and many more. We changed the litter once a month like clockwork to keep the manure from overwhelming the coop. That's what the large broiler operations do and I don't like that system. I tried to add new litter once a week but that didn't work either.
    I saw claims that it needed to be moist like compost. I tried that too and it stunk worse. I began to wonder if any of the folks that were claiming this was great actually used it.
    One day in December my dump truck broke. I was forced to rake it daily for a few months. It smelled of ammonia, I installed an exhaust fan in the coop to make it safe for the chickens. I had piles under the roost and it didn't look good. I noticed that after a few months (it was winter) it was smelling less and there wasn't any poo buildup under the roost. The litter completely dried out turned gray and by March I didn't need to rake it at all.
    By June I noticed the litter had reduced from about 6 inches to about 3 inches of thickness. I added another 6 inches of new sawdust and mixed the old sawdust with the new. I was amazed that the new bright yellow sawdust was gray by the next day. The deeper the better.
    The hens pile it up against the coop door and it doesn't seem to rot the wood at all. The wood turned gray but isn't breaking down. I imagine it's because the litter is so dry.
    In september I took half of the litter out and hauled it to the garden to be placed on the garden after the first frost.
    The new sawdust was mixed in with the old and it worked flawlessly. During the winter it didn't stop working and stayed dry. I have not changed it in 14 months and counting. I am waiting this year until spring to remove half of it to see if I like that schedule better for the garden.
    My litter has a colony of self sustaining mealworms and beetles living in it. Mine came in feed but you can buy them and put them deep into the litter and cover it with a small piece of plywood or something to give them a chance at first.

    This is my recipe.

    1. Use 8 inches of sawdust, hay, straw, leaves, pine shavings, and pine straw don't work nearly as well despite what everyone else says. This is not garden compost so don't treat it like garden compost.

    2. Keep it dry. Only use it in a dry coop. Don't add any water ever and don't use it outside. It turns to stinky mud if it gets wet.

    3. Turn it every day until it starts to work on it's own. You will go to the coop to turn it one day and it will dawn on you that it isn't necessary.

    4. Start it in the warmer weather for faster results. It will work in colder weather once it matures but it takes longer to start in cold weather.

    5. Never remove all of it. It's like sourdough starter, you need the mother.

    6. Put the old litter in the garden. I have never had better planting medium. I had a tomato plant that grew an 11 inch leaf on this stuff. tomato leaf.jpg

    7. Don't sanitize the coop, use chemicals or DE. You want to promote the growth of bacteria and other organisms to break down the manure.

    8. Be patient and it will pay off. In the end you will have no coop litter maintenance except one day a year. It won't smell after it starts and it's always dry and loose.
  2. Treerooted

    Treerooted Crowing

    Dec 19, 2016
    ON, Canada
    I think there is no one magical recipe when it comes to deep litter.

    Since every climate is different the moisture levels are going to change depending on your situation and what litter material you use and the set up of your coop. No matter what you use, you need to make adjustments that work for you and it will always take a 'getting started' time period like you mentioned.

    I've noticed almost all issues people have when trying deep litter is that they don't have a dirt floor and/or don't use enough material. It makes a huge difference and a lot of people don't realize that you need to treat deep litter differently if you don't have a dirt floor.

    Deep litter is also much more difficult to manage and requires a lot more work if your sq ft per chicken is small. Poop is going to really cap at anything less then 3 sq ft per bird. At 5+ sq ft for instance, the chickens can generally work the poop in themselves with scratching.

    Most people on BYC aren't dealing with anything close to 200 chickens, and almost all will have coop and run space at more then 3 sq ft per bird. So their needs will be different then yours.

    It's great that you found a method that works so well for you!
  3. Hokum Coco

    Hokum Coco Crowing

    Dec 6, 2012
    New Brunswick,Canada
    Me either ..! Right now I have a wire grid covering my coop floor supported with 4 inch³ blocks with a tarp underneath this serves as a dropping pit. My coop is well ventilated and the poop just seems to dry hard and is not causing any issues.

    Grid Floor.jpg

    Thank you for posting your method. In a perfect world will give it a try once I locate a sawdust supply.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
  4. I think you missed my main point in that almost everyone who talks about using deep litter uses things that are normally in compost like grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw, pine shavings and pine straw. I have tried these materials and they don't work as well for deep litter as sawdust. It's not even close. I don't think climate is a big issue. It gets in the 80s in the summer in northern minnesota. That's warm enough to make it work. I find that once it matures it works at any temperature. I can tell by your comments that you have not tried sawdust and that's fine and I am not trying to be critical of you comments, I am usually very blunt and dry and we are just having a conversation. I have a hunch that most folks that talk about the deep litter don't actually do it with the material they talk about. I think most of them get there information from the same old sources and just repeat that information. It's the only explanation for the material list being the same and the result being so poor. My square ft per chicken was 1=1 when I started it. I have had as many as 300 or .66 sq ft per chicken in there from may to august. I don't have any issues with it being more difficult or easier with the number of chickens. I still don't turn it rake it change it or have any labor in my litter except for 1 day a year when I change half of it. I am at about 4 sq ft per bird right now. It works the same. I have two brooders that are 5ft x 4ft. The sawdust deep litter works well there too. I do find that brooding ducks with deep litter doesn't work, They splash too much water. The dirt floor may be important too, mine is dirt. I do appreciate your comments. You should try it and let me know how well it works for you.
  5. Treerooted

    Treerooted Crowing

    Dec 19, 2016
    ON, Canada
    Oh I wasn't trying to criticize @moco27! My comments weren't really directed at you per se, just observations in general.

    I'm sure sawdust works great, and there's many others who have used it too! But deep litter does work with other materials as well; most people use what's available to them. And I don't think anyone's lying when they say it works or what they use - they just may have a different conditions that enabled it to work for them where you didn't find it as successful! But you're right, some materials for sure work better then others I think (like straw takes too long to break down).

    I do use deep litter and it works great; I've used different things (grass clippings, leaves, pine shavings, straw), but I only have 16 chickens and haven't had them long so I'm by no means an expert!
  6. Molpet

    Molpet Crossing the Road

    I never tried sawdust. If I see some I will try it in one of the hoop coops.
    Shavings didn't work for me
    leaves, dry grass and a little shredded paper, work for me, after quite a while like you said w/sawdust.
  7. Sublight

    Sublight Songster

    Jun 2, 2016
    Ive never used deep litter, but consider this.
    Mabe the sawdust ONLY worked because your truck broke down, and had to rake it every day.
    If you had used other materials, and raked them every day, then it may have worked. I don't think the bacteria/animals that break down the waste care if its sawdust, or pinestraw.
    betR2, GemmaA, nminusyplusm and 4 others like this.
  8. SethJ

    SethJ Songster

    Jan 9, 2009
    I just use hay and once a month or so I gotta muck it out with a pitchfork. No big deal.

    I'd be afraid sawdust untreated would promote termites on my property.
  9. The biggest problem with hay and straw is it doesn't rake easily. It turns into a mat that can't be turned by the hens. I think I need to make segments under my roost with 2x6's and put the different mediums in it then take pictures every day with a report on how well it does.
  10. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    This thread should really be titled:
    Deep Litter - Done Moco27's Way
    Many ways and ingredients to make it work.
    henless, GemmaA, jthornton and 7 others like this.

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