Don't understand the deep litter method - LOTS OF ISSUES

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by LOLchick, Aug 26, 2013.

  1. LOLchick

    LOLchick Chirping

    Apr 1, 2013
    I use pine shavings in the coop and just scoop the poop out every morning. 4 Chickens. No flies, no smell, no problem. BUT, the run is a different story. It used to be just dirt but because there was some flies where I put the greens, fruit and veg, I decided to try what I have read. Kind of like a deep litter thing combined with composting which I read people compost right in their coop and the chickens apparently help with the tilling etc. I don't really compost as such as in putting all our food scraps in there,(I have a closed compost system) but I figured the leftovers of what the chickens didn't like/eat would be the compost part. Anyway, so I have those scraps, dirt, chicken poop, pine shavings, DE and some left over hay in there. And just short of a million flies. [​IMG] It is a complete disaster. I have 4, yes, four, of those stinky fly traps up which have tons of flies in, and I change it at least every 3 - 4 days because it is full and stink up a storm. I till the whole area myself as those chickies are not working fast enough. So, I'm wondering what am I doing wrong?? Do I need to put more shaving is there? More DE? How much DE anyway? I level it all out and then sprinkle the whole area from end to end in a thin layer of DE.

    I did consider getting sand but the area that does have sand at the moment, they avoid like the plaque. It was supposed to be their dustbath area but they refuse to get close to it. Now I imagine myself carrying chickens from one area to another when the whole thing is full of sand.[​IMG] I also don't know how they would get bugs etc if it is just sand. What bugs live in sand? Also, I have a lemon tree and a grape vine in there, which I don't thing will do good in the sand. And I'd also like to plan a few more plants in there so the sand doesn't sound like a great idea.

    Any ideas, and advice would be great.
  2. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    There are a multitude of ways to utilize a "deep litter" method, but it is used for coops, not in runs. I would suggest you maintain a separate compost pile instead of expecting "compost materials" other than chicken feces and pine shavings to BE composted by the chickens. Let your flock into your compost pile occasionally, if you so desire. Many folks use sand in their chicken runs; some use it in their coops, too, instead of utilizing a deep litter method. Sand is not litter. My flock ranges freely, without a run, so I am only remarking upon something about which I have read A LOT. I do, however, use deep litter in my coop over a dirt floor.... The only thing I suspect you will be able to grow inside a chicken run will be trees which were there for many years. Even cacti won't deter chickens from destroying growing things.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  3. LOLchick

    LOLchick Chirping

    Apr 1, 2013
    I'n not crazy. I read an article here on BYC "composting with chickens" that suggested throwing all your compostables right into the "chicken yard", which I presume would be the same as a run as it talks about if you don't have enough space to do a compost heap seperately to do it right where the chickens live. It goes further and suggest you dump your existing compost heap in there for the chickens to scratch through and help compost. As I said, I already do have a closed compost system and was a bit weary to add that to the run. Thank goodness I didn't. Can't imagine how I would ever dig myself out of that flytrap.
    Guess it sounded like a good idea at the time. If anyone read the article and/or are doing this please let me know what I should do differently.
  4. hogster160

    hogster160 Songster

    Feb 13, 2013
    New Carlisle, Indiana
    According to wiki diatomaceous earth is used as a insecticide. This is their description.

    Pest control

    Diatomite is used as an insecticide, due to its abrasive and physico-sorptive properties.[8] The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate.[9] Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency, based on Fick's law of diffusion. This also works against gastropods and is commonly employed in gardening to defeat slugs. However, since slugs inhabit humid environments, efficacy is very low. It is sometimes mixed with an attractant or other additives to increase its effectiveness. Medical-grade diatomite is sometimes used to de-worm both animals and humans, with questionable efficacy.[10][11] It is commonly used in lieu of boric acid, and can be used to help control and possibly eliminate bed bug, house dust mite, cockroach, ant and flea infestations.[12][13] This material has wide application for insect control in grain storage.[14]
    In order to be effective as an insecticide, diatomaceous earth must be uncalcinated (i.e., it must not be heat-treated prior to application)[15] and have a mean particle size below about 12 µm (i.e., food-grade— see below).
    Although considered to be relatively low-risk, pesticides containing diatomaceous earth are not exempt from regulation in the United States under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.[16]

    In order for any compost to work, you need browns, greens, air and water. Bugs are also a big part of this. If you are using DE, IMHO, you are killing off all the live bugs that are needed to make the deep liter method work, either in the coop or in the run.

    I have a large side yard that my chickens are in. Its about 40x120. The chickens have the area around the coop down to bare hard ground, and have grass in the other areas. So in front of my coop, I placed several large bags of mulched grass and leaves. 5 large construction bags all in a pile. I threw some sunflower seeds down and the chickens went to town (this is the air and mixing of compost) . This area is where I feed them their greens, fruits and other veggies. What doesn't get eaten, will get scratched down and added to the heap. Composting also need moisture. So when I notice its all dry, I will water it slightly, put more seed down and let the chickens do their thing. When it rains a lot, I have noticed that the ground is actually absorbing the rain now instead of it running on top of the ground. I no longer have puddles. The ground below is starting to be broke up and is softer, yesterday I saw under the mulch/compost some green trying to grow again. Of course the chickens ate it up but quick. So I do know that my ground is becoming more fertile, softer so grass can grow again and with all that more bug activity. Which also is good for them. They have the mulch spread probably 15' all the way around the coop. They add nitrogen to it daily as well as turning it daily. I also am continuing to add brown to it as needed. As well as some green and watering it. And of course they add green to it daily.

    At the far end of the yard I also have a 3 bin compost system. Made of wood, the chickens are forever playing around in it. One section is completely closed off to them, as that's where I put all my foods/plants I don't want them to get. The other two are piles that are further along in the composting and I have no problem with them getting in there. Once a week I go and rake it all back into the bin, water it, close it off for a day or two, cover it, then open it up and let the have at it. I do put a small amount of sunflower seed or scratch down to get them started. But once they start they can be out there all day long.

    Do I have flies? Yes, any outdoor area with poop added daily is going to have flies imho. However, I don't have a ton of them. I also don't have the chicken poop smell in my yard. If you came to my house, other than seeing the chickens you would not know I had them, you can't smell them. I smell the cows across the road on occasion when the wind blows in the right direction. But I don't have an odor from the chicken yard or coop.

    I also do dlm in the coop. I have it build up to about 7" atm. It should be about 9 come winter time. Once a week I take the pitch fork and give it a small turn about in the coop, I will also throw some seed or scratch down inside and the chickens will turn it for me. I have 2 fly strips in the coop, one has a lot of flies, the other has a few. I put them up when the coop was completed (we are new to chickens, and had to start from scratch) But I have not had to add anymore fly strips. I just don't get that many flies now that the dlm is set up in the coop and yard. I have 14 laying pullets and 2 turkeys. The turkeys roost outside at night and the chickens are in the coop. They keep it fairly clean. I also have recently added a poop tray. I give it a clean every two days and have not noticed an increase in the amount of flies. The poop then gets added to my compost.

    As far and plants go, good luck! The chickens will destroy any new plants. I have a garden in the side yard as well. It is enclosed with chicken wire. Occasionally I will have a chicken fly into it or dig under it. They are decent for bug control as long as I'm out there with them. BUT when I'm not, I lose plants. They have made a mess of my potatoes which I have mulched with straw. They love the straw. They destroyed my onions and carrots. They walk through my watermelon like they own it. and they eat all the starts of my cucumbers and zucchinis. After my fall crops are done, I am planting a cover crop, which once about 6" tall I will open my garden up to them. They can eat and scratch all they want. I'm just hoping they don't ruin it all before it has a chance to do what it is supposed to do for the garden lol.

  5. Sjisty

    Sjisty Scribe of Brahmalot

    May 18, 2009
    I buy fine shavings (the yellow bag) at Tractor Supply for my run and coop. I used to never put anything in the run, but it gets pretty slippery when it rains. Last year I started putting a bag of fine shavings down to help soak up the rain, and it works like a charm. The chickens turn it and mix it well and it keeps things pretty dry and odor free. I also use "Sweet PDZ" in the coops, which also helps dry things out and neutralizes the ammonia. We don't have a big fly problem, and we haven't shoveled out the run since we started using the shavings. My chickens usually free range, though, and they come and go out of the run all day, so it might be different for chickens who live in their run 24/7.
  6. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Crowing

    Apr 8, 2008
    Firstly, how big is this run? Is it covered? From the fact that you just have four chickens, I'm picturing a little coop and run. These are not conducive to the methods you're trying to use.

    Deep litter is for coops, not runs. It's not for a place that gets wet often. In fact, moisture is the enemy of the deep litter method as it will cause all kinds of problems, and in fact DLM folks haul out very wet areas or turn them and mix with dry shavings or you will have the build up of gasses that can harm birds.

    Your run shouldn't have shavings in it if it's not roofed, IMO. Shavings that get wet are worse than nothing at all. They are rotting all the time, they hold the water so the run can't dry out, rotting shavings stink. In fact, I personally wouldn't have shavings at all in the run--the birds are supposed to scratch in dirt.

    Mud will not hurt birds. They will get muddy. They will track mud into the nest boxes. It's a pain. But mud won't hurt them. Just let the run be dirt, or put sand down to stop the mud. Your birds will get over it and will scratch in the sand. They really will. Unless you have a really, really BIG run, don't try to plant anything in there. The chickens will destroy it and it will be wasted effort and money. I have a 75' x 125' chicken pasture. The back half is covered in grass, but here's the front half:


    See what they've done under those trees? It's actually even worse right in front of the hen house. Nothing grows there. They very much appreciate the trees, so trees in a run are good, but I'll never get anything to grow underneath those trees precisely because the chickens like them so much.

    When people talk about composting with chickens, they are talking a compost bin/pile that the chickens have access to. Also, they have a chicken yard. Unless your run is a lot bigger than I'm picturing, that's different than making their entire run a compost heap. And I will warn you, chickens LOVE a good compost heap, but they do make a giant mess of it and scatter it all over and you have to keep raking it back together.

    Unless you're talking a much bigger space than I'm picturing, here's what I suggest:
    1. Keep doing what you're doing in the coop. It seems to be working for you.
    2. Clean out the run entirely down to bare dirt. Then either live with the mud, or put down several inches of sand.
    3. Don't try to plant anything else in the run unless the run is very large and the plants you put in are in the farthest part away from where the chickens like to spend most of their time.
    4. Have a separate compost bin where you compost your shavings, chicken litter, and household scraps. Make it an actual compost pile. Many people have a "pile of rotting stuff" and call it a compost pile, but it isn't. A real compost pile means learning about how to compost and having good ratios of greens and browns, watering and turning it regularly, and taking its temperature to see that it's working. Don't put DE in a compost pile. Feel free to let the birds out to play in the compost pile, they'll love it. OR, if your run is large enough, make a real compost pile in the run. But don't expect your chickens to do all the work. YOU ONLY HAVE FOUR CHICKENS. There's a lot of work in a real compost pile.
    5. If you have mouldering scraps in your run that bother you, scoop them out and put in your compost bin. And feed fewer scraps next time so there aren't leftovers to draw flies.
  7. fiddlebanshee

    fiddlebanshee Songster

    Mar 11, 2010
    Frederick, MD
    My fly problems (while never huge) are usually pretty quickly taken care of by a generous sprinkling of DE in the run.

    I have dirt with straw on it in the run. The chickens turn it constantly (they also free roam but spend a chunk of time every day in the run - by choice, they must like it there). After the winter I dug out the deepest part that had composted and turned a wonderful black earth. My run area is 24x30 ft and I dunk a bale of straw in there once every 3 months or so. I never bother to spread it out, the chickens do that within the first day for me, I just cut the baling twine and divide the bale into three portions in three parts of the run. It never stinks, and as I said, very occasionally I'll get flies but then I just sprinkle DE liberally over all areas. The flies tend to congregate where the straw is thinnest. I think because the chicken droppings don't decay as fast as when they're mixed in with more straw (this is the same brown/green principle of composting namely the balance between nitrogen of the droppings and carbon of the straw.).
  8. ChickensRDinos

    ChickensRDinos Songster

    Aug 19, 2012
    Los Angeles
    You aren't crazy. I have also heard of people composting in their chicken runs, however, I am not sure the results are going to be what you want. From what I have read part of reason people are wanting to do this is to attract insects for their chickens to eat and I have even heard of these set up specifically to attract black fly larvae. I generally see it in large flock in more rural set ups.

    I am also guessing that your balance of green and brown may be pretty off causing more rotting than composting which is attracting the flies. Chicken waste is very "green" but your browns, pine and straw, are very slow composting browns. Some newspaper and cardboard or dead/dry plant materials may help a lot for fast composting browns to combat your greens. The poo/straw works in the DLM because everything is kept so dry and no food is introduced.

    I have 6 hens in a small urban run. When it starts to get a little messy and I see flies, I till the dirt -- it gets rid of the surface poo freshens things up a bit -- then I rake in a generous amount of DE into the now soft ground. The hens love to dig and bathe in the fresh DE dirt and it makes a big difference. I found small older model gas powered tiller used on craigslist for like $25 and it has been totally worth it.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  9. yogifink

    yogifink Songster

    May 16, 2013
    Pinebluff, nc
    My Coop
    We have a compost bin in our chicken yard. The chickens love it. The compost attracts files, in which they lay their eggs. In turn, the chickens scratch at the compost and eat the larva and any left over bits of food that is not broken down, turning the compost regularly. Its a win-win. There are flies yes, but I don't live in an urban area so its not a problem. If we feel like the flies are getting to be a bit of a problem, I'll pull the boards out from around the compost pile and rake the pile out into a larger area, and the chickens will go to town on the larva. Problem solved.

    We also hang a bug zapper and an occasional smelly bag. Only really use the bag during the hottest months of the summer when the flies are at their worst.

    IMHO, if you have an aversion to the files than don't put out food scraps or anything that 'rots' in your chicken run; and if you do, clean it up that same day after the chickens have had their run of it. Stick with grass clipping and leaves in the compost pile in the run, and save the food scraps for a different area.
  10. LOLchick

    LOLchick Chirping

    Apr 1, 2013
    Thank you so much for everybody who offered some advise and for those who actually been doing it this or a similar way for sharing your ideas. ChickensRDinos, in hindsight, I should have investigated what the results was before I jumped on this fly ridden wagon.[​IMG] Sounds to me when people put straw down or pine shavings and let chickens do their thing till it's composted and take it out once or twice a year, it's the same as the deep litter method except it's done outside. I have a few pictures of the run. The previous owner had raised beds and used it for square foot gardening. I decided to make the coop and run over and around it as the wood was already there. I wanted the coop to have separate areas. The run is 28' x 7' and connected to it I have a 2' x 50' tunnel. So total space for 4 chickens 300 sqft. That's a reasonably big space I believe. Part of the run is covered but the problem area is not. It's not wet. We live in N Cal and have not had rain here since the winter. (before I even had chickens). I do have about a 2 x2' moist/wet area next to the problem area but no flies there. I'm not concerned about the wetness for the chickens - it just look ugly and I thought if I plant a clumping bamboo there (if it's not poisonous) that will work great. How can chickens destroy bamboo. (we'll see I guess). I did try a bug zapper but we must have bought a dud because it literally did not kill a single fly. Really, not one! Tried it up higher, tried it lower. Nothing......

    The hole in the white fence is the opening into the tunnel. The new grazing frame I started a few days ago. Sadly that whole area used to be grass. To the left is the sand for dust bathing (never used) and sharing the box is another dust bathing area with peet moss, sand, DE and dirt. They like to play there. There is also a strip of what's left of the strawberry plants with a little dripping system to make sure it gets water.

    This is the problem area. Lots and lots of flies. It's basically a 7 foot x 5' box, with dirt, fine pine shavings, some hay, DE and it's also where I feed them their greens, fruit and veggies. I don't put any cooked food or table/household scraps in there. That all goes into one of those big green tilt compost makers along with chicken poop and used pine shavings which are composting great so no issues there. No flies either. All nice and enclosed. When I said composting in the run, I meant composting in the sense of what is left over from what they don't eat, the odd lost lettuce, bits of lost fruit or the much hated carrot pieces. Most of these treats are placed in 2 of those square bird feeder wire boxes that is supposed to keep them busy and be less messy. In the back is the grape vine which has been cordoned off as they are trying their best to get to those nice juicy grapes. As you can see this area is dry and no visible pieces of food. Those I collect at the end of the day. I do help them till the area by mixing/tilling the whole area once or twice a week. I don't think it's too big for 4 chickens to handle though. The more I think about this the more I think "why does bad things happen to good people" [​IMG]LOL.

    The 4 girls.

    This is the other side next to the problem area with a small lemon tree. No issues here. One of the waterers and feeders are kept here.

    Covered run and coop at the back. Dirt floor, no problem. They like to dustbath in there and enjoy the cool ground in there when it's very hot out. (every day!)

    Problem area again in the front. The area in front of the log is the moist area but it's separated from the other area with wood.

    Sounds like I should put more pine shavings and DE down, through in a handful of seeds, and see how it is by next week. Maybe not give them fresh greens for a few days. If it does not improve by next week, I suppose I'll go back to bare dirt and a quick clean up every afternoon just like I've been doing with the coop except no shavings. Thanks again for the advise and positive input.

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