deep litter method ?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by mowgli457, Nov 2, 2013.

  1. mowgli457

    mowgli457 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 29, 2013
    hi everyone . I am new here and having a debate w a stubborn neighbor ! I want to try the deep litter method as lots of people have told me this is a great way to get thru the winter . the issue I have an 8 x 16 indoor coop , attached to that is a 8 x 16 fully enclosed outdoor play area(run) all summer this has been open to sun , rain etc . in a week or 2, I am planning on laying some metal roofing on top and enclosing the sides with plastic, I wanted to pull out the summer's worth of bedding - by now pounded into the ground and very wet n gross , I cant imagine laying nice fresh hay and shavings on top of this ?????? if I pull all it and start w fresh bedding for winters start the new stuff wont be exposed to rain or snow thus keeping it from getting like the sludge that is there now . my chicken -12- free range on 2 acres all day from 7 until 6 evry day so the fenced play area is only for bed time or should they want to hang out without going inside coop . please someone help I want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible - joanne
  2. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 8, 2013
    I've used the deep litter method successfully for many years, through monsoonal rains, floods, and overpopulation, but having said that, my cages don't have any enclosed house-like portions. They're all open sided on all sides. The perches are up higher, protected from sun and wind and rain by the roof's overhanging edges, as are the nest boxes. Everything else, the whole coop floor included, is subject to sun, wind, and also rain to more or less extent.

    Sufficient airflow and sunshine I believe are very important particularly when you have a high population density. I'm not sure how it'd go in a darkened and still-air environment... In fact I'm pretty sure that's a recipe for failure. I also don't think animals should necessarily have an enclosed sleeping area, as it's unnatural, except for the likes of burrowing animals.

    Also, two cages, minimum, I believe is a necessity. I have on occasion, not often, rested one or the other cage for a few days, because of random events like a bee swarm taking over one temporarily, or just the normal culling routine emptying one cage of its normal occupants. (Mine also freeranged as a rule, too, they only feed, sleep and drink in the cages --- also something that doesn't work for everyone, referring to feed and drink in the cage).

    Originally when I limed a cage, using the hydrated agricultural lime that they can safely eat, I'd keep them out of it for a day or two, thinking it would irritate their eyes or lungs if they dug or dirt bathed in it, but it never did; so I just took to liming the ground while they carried on life as usual. I use lime somewhat regularly (approx 6-monthly) to kill parasite eggs, diseases, and break up manure, clay, and litter, and keep the ground sweet. Also, wood ash, charcoal, and diatomaceous earth worked for me, not that they work for everyone, and it's important to remember that there are different grades and sources, and some are quite useless. These were infrequently added to some portions of the cages, namely wherever they dirt bathed most often. I also used hay on the nests and when the deep litter was going well, I'd simply tip the old nesting out straight onto the ground when changing it, and let it join the rest in the litter.

    One of my two main coops was home to a recuperating injured baby bush turkey before I got chickens, and as it was quite nervous, never tamed, to make it feel more secure I took a barrow of the litter from an old turkey nest mound from the forest and put it in the cage. This cage 'took' to the deep litter method faster than the other which never had that natural litter added. Also, both cages had previously been used to hold calves for long periods, prior to me moving into the property. There were skeletons buried in the ground, and a lot of manure, but quite aged.

    As for whether the deep litter method will work in your place, it would help to know how the deep litter method is naturally working around your place --- as in, do you have leaf drifts, or forest, where you can check how healthy it is? After all the deep litter method is present in nature, though the resident overpopulation is usually not. Taking some of that 'started' litter back to your coop can get it going with the necessary bacteria and fungi and microorganisms to create a healthy culture.

    But since you say it's a stinking mess, liming it first might be a good idea. Or, you could also clear it out, lay down lime, and put the new litter on top, or maybe even work it through with a shovel or pitchfork, and work from there. It takes more effort to start a deep litter system to begin with, before it's all going autonomously or nearly so. (Depending on your circumstances).

    I used to clean my coop litter out regularly until I realized it reached a smelly point quicker the faster I cleaned than if left it, and it was even slower to reach that smelly point if I limed it and left it. Also, while they would have been considered normal by many, the chickens were under par healthwise in my opinion while I kept changing litter, but starting the deep litter method gave me incongruously healthy animals. Eventually, with a good few limings over the years, the litter reached a stable composition balance and self-regulated, so to speak, and I haven't had stinky floors since. It's also very beneficial for their immune systems and general health.

    Different wild bacteria, and different population sizes of them, are present everywhere so whether or not deep litter will work for you is dependent on your environment to some extent. If you're surrounded by intensively farmed land, chances are the natural bacteria etc are in very short supply or absent. The same goes for suburbia.

    Also, it takes a while for the beneficial populations to reach a competent managing level. But I have only good experiences with deep litter method, though I did it "ad-lib", and so have many other people. Some, obviously, have had bad experiences. You can only try, I guess. :) That, and do one's homework.

    Best wishes. Hope you also have a great experience with it. Definitely recommend the agricultural lime, too.
  3. cgmccary

    cgmccary Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 14, 2007
    NE Alabama
    The bedding needs to be dry, and I would avoid using straw or hay. I use dry leave, oak and tulip popular leaves primarily which I have in abundance & they are free. Chicken poop is high in nitrogen. With deep litter, you want a lot of carbonaceous material as the litter -- use wood chips, kiln dried shaving. Hay or straw will have some nitrogen content of its own & you are trying to achieve a certain C:N ratio. Kiln dried wood shavings or wood chips are like 500:1 and ideal. Dried leaves are high in Carbon too. You want something coarse so the chickens can scratch up (sawdust is not as good because it does not fluff up as well). The only water / dampness my floor gets is from under the ground or the small amount I pour out of the lip of the feeder.

    There's a book called "The Small-Scale Poultry Flock" by Harvey Ussery that has a chapter devoted to the Deep Litter system. I highly recommend the book for all the other good reading n natural poultry keeping.

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