Quail on Deep Litter - Why it Works

Discussion in 'Quail' started by Quailsong, Oct 20, 2013.

  1. Quailsong

    Quailsong Songster

    Apr 20, 2013
    Hello, all!

    I wanted to talk about Deep Litter (DL) today & why it's not just for chickens. It seems a few folks on BYC have their quail on wire meshes because they believe it's safer, cleaner, or cheaper. I want to show you an alternative way to keep quail that I feel beats the wire grate method; it is cheaper, healthier & much less work in the long run.

    (Note: If you really like your wire grate method & hate DL, that's fine. But please respect that other folks like to try different things. No trolling or flaming here please. This post is for the benefits of deep litter. Derails and/or trolling will be reported.)


    "So what is Deep Litter?"

    Deep Litter (DL) is a mix of pine shavings, grass clippings, raked leaves, & rough mulched/chipped bark which makes up the floor of your pen. There are also other things added to it in smaller amounts that make it truly work, these are:

    Wood Ash & Charcoal bits - Neutralizes the acidic PH & also helps reduce or prevent mites & other blood-sucking bugs because they dust bathe in it. Dust bathing helps turn the soil.

    Scratch - This is a mix of seeds that encourage your quail to scratch (hence the name) at the deep litter to forage for. This reduces boredom & helps turn your litter so you don't have to!

    LABs - Lactic Acid Bacteria is a pro-biotic that you can spray into the deep litter. It helps promote beneficial bacteria & break down the litter into healthy compost.

    Dirt - Like the LABs, dirt from your backyard is full of little critters that will help break down the litter. Springtails are one very handy litter bug!

    Bonus Additions

    They aren't crucial, but can improve your deep litter further.

    Feathers - The quail add this in for you as they moult & bathe. They can pick them out when they like for extra protein. You can also pick some out for art purposes as they generally stay cleaner.

    Egg Shells &/or Oyster Shells - Can be scattered lightly in the DL to encourage turning.

    Herbs - Chives, sage, pepper leaves, etc can be dried & crumpled or clipped & tossed in the DL (along with the nest boxes). They can use this to self-medicate & can makes the DL smell nicer.

    "How deep does the litter have to be?"

    For DL to work effectively, it needs to be deep enough to cover the bottom of the pen without the floor being easily exposed by quail scratching. Usually for quail 2-4 inches is a good average. You can easily start with 2 inches of pine shavings & work up over time.

    "Doesn't DL stink?"

    A healthy deep litter either doesn't stink or it smells like good compost. The beneficial bacteria & microscopic or tiny bugs (ie, bugs like springtails) help keep the litter healthy.

    "How much maintenance is it?"

    It depends on how many quail you keep & how dedicated you are to keeping them healthy on the long term. It takes a slight change in routine, sprinkling shavings every few days, encouraging quail to turn their litter & removing some of the litter when it gets too dark.

    In the long term, the savings are obvious. You have nearly-ready compost, your quail are less prone to fights, and their immune systems are generally better than on wire. This means less time waiting to compost hot manure, no playing musical cages or culling aggravated/injured birds, & little-to-no need to medicate birds with compromised immune systems.

    "How much savings will I get?"

    It again depends. If you buy bags of compost every spring for your garden, going with deep litter will reduce or remove that need to buy extra. If you tend to medicate your quail over time, you may find deep litter will surprise you with how healthy they become. Not only with the current generation, but future generations you hatch.

    "Isn't it messy? Won't it contaminate water dishes?"

    It can be a bit messy, which is why you need to raise the dishes off the litter. I recommend putting them on something heavy like bricks & at least a few inches above the deep litter. Some people use rabbit or chicken nipples so that the water stays extra clean.

    "I don't want DL falling on my porch!"

    Like with indoor pet bird cages, you can put a little guard rail around the outside of the pen to stop shavings from flying out. You can use plasti-cardboard or clear construction vapour-barrier about 6 inches higher than the DL.

    "Okay, so I might be convinced. How do YOU do this?"

    It's fairly simple once you get started. Though there's a few ways to start up a DL, below is my method.

    Starting Up a New Pen

    - A bag of pine shavings - You can buy in pet or livestock stores for around $10. One 10lb bag could last you a couple months with 20 quail (it does for me!)
    - Dry raked leaves (now's the time!) and/or grass clippings. - Let the clippings dry on a porch or sidewalk for a day.
    - Wood ash - Pick out the biggest pieces of charcoal & non-burned wood. Store this in a bin. 1/2 cup per 4sq feet of pen.
    - Handful of backyard dirt - to introduce some beneficial critters.
    - Bag of Scratch - You can use BOSS (black-oiled sunflower seeds), or mixed bird seed from the store if you want to be thrifty.
    - Small spray bottle of LABS - 1tbsp of Kefir milk or yogurt. Fill bottle with luke-warm water (preferably non-chlorinated).
    - Hand rake & dustpan.


    1. Put down the pine shavings, toss in the leaves, bark & clippings.
    2. Spritz the shavings with the LABS & then sprinkle on the wood ash.
    3. Gently 'mess' the shavings with your hand rake..
    4. Put in water/food dishes, nest boxes, hidey branches & quail.
    5. Let them see you toss in a handful of scratch.

    And you're done!

    To maintain:

    Every time you go to feed, 'mess' up the litter a bit with the hand rake. You don't need to do much before the quail figure it out & start picking through the litter. Toss in a bit of scratch before you go or some fresh pine shavings. You could do both if you want.


    Depending on the # of quail per size of pen, you may need to clean it every couple weeks or month. But you don't have to clean it all, in fact, you should leave some DL behind to inoculate the new stuff!

    1. Use your dustpan & scoop out some of the extra spent litter. Toss it in a bin to take to your garden bed or compost pile later on.
    2. Toss in some more shavings, a bit of wood ash, dirt & spritz the area with LABS (with a refreshed bottle).
    3. Add some scratch before you leave.



    "My quail won't scratch!"

    The earlier quail are introduced to DL, the better they'll be at scratching. Quail who are used to wire grid floors will need a bit of gentle encouragement. Every time you feed them, mess up the litter a bit with the rake, or toss some seeds where they can see. Eventually they'll figure it out, but they may need a few future reminders until they do.

    "The DL stinks!"

    It may need changing or got too wet. Make sure your water dish or nipples aren't leaking or tipped into the litter. If you live in a very humid climate, use more dry litter (shavings) & spritz less often. Don't let the rain fall directly on the litter!

    "The water dish is always dirty!"

    Put the dish higher, or if possible switch to water nipples. I use standard chicken waterers & open dishes - at worst, I tip the water out onto the grass & refill the dish or let the waterer refill itself.

    "DL is too dusty or dry."

    If you live in a very dry climate you may need to keep a spray bottle nearby (just of water) to moisten the litter. It needs to stay a touch moist so the beneficial bacteria can survive, but not damp or soggy. A good balance is if you can grab it with dry hands & feel a slightly cool & moist feeling. It may also help to keep your deep litter a bit deeper so it doesn't dry out too fast.

    "Can you show me an example of YOUR quail on deep litter?"

    I'm glad you asked, here's a video of a couple quail living it up on the deep litter:


    If you watch the vid carefully, you can spot them eating seeds & other little things inside it. As they bathe, their feathers fan out & take in the dust to discourage mites & they can lay down where they like without getting sore from wire.

    Thank you for reading! If you have more questions, comments or tips please post here. I will also answer what I can, when I can!
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013
  2. peepsnbunnies

    peepsnbunnies Songster

    Mar 31, 2007
    Central Florida
    This a nice, well written article! I think I will try this method this winter.
  3. GhislaineDel

    GhislaineDel Songster

    Apr 25, 2012
    New England
    How tall is your coop?
  4. Quailsong

    Quailsong Songster

    Apr 20, 2013
    My coop is an old shed that my DH & I re-finished this autumn. You can see the outside here. It's 10' or so tall, w/ a 6' tall netted ceiling. We put in insulation & pens for the quail inside. Each quail pen is roughly 2' high & 4' long. There is a divider in the middle of both levels made from wire grid, framed in wood, & temporarily covered over with plasti-/cardboard. If the divider is raised & locked in place, it becomes just two pens: 2' tall & 8' long. The floor in each pen is plywood under the DL.

    The 2' ceiling in each pen is just high enough for the DL to work, without worry of them building up too much momentum when startled. My quail very rarely startle & are actually pretty tame.


    This picture above is of my coop's interior semi-done. The reddish floor is maple leaves over grass clippings - I was starting a new deep litter with my recent inhabitants; Wyandottes. Missing in the pic is their food/water dishes, my step ladder (I'm short!) & of course, the chickens which were moved in after the photos were taken.^^

    I will be building a bottom level before winter, under the two levels. It will possibly hold my extra Wyandotte roo. But more often it'll be kept for brooding chicks & on occasion, introducing new chickens after a healthy quarantine period [in my garage].
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2013
  5. flg8r

    flg8r Chirping

    Jul 30, 2013
    Thank for the info! I was asking about this on another thread since I'm not familiar with it.

    So yours are in those coops inside the shed? I was thinking of doing an aviary so they would be on the ground and I was trying to figure out how to keep it from getting nasty (good tips!). I keep mine on wire now, but most of the bottom is covered in spanish moss and they have large sand trays so less than half is bare wire. I just change out the moss and newspaper trays that are beneath the wire and they go in the compost. I'm trying to convince myself I don't need another project or more space for more quails!
  6. Quailsong

    Quailsong Songster

    Apr 20, 2013
    That moss sounds great. Can they touch the sand directly (I assume it's for dust bathing)? I'm cautious of using just sandy dust baths & it can potentially 'bread' any feces dropped in there & mistakenly look like a yummy morsel..which leads to impacted crops or other digestive issues. If possible, I'd mix some peat moss or regular dirt in there so it's not just sand. But if it's working for you then that's great.

    Yes, the pens are in the coop, not detachable. I'll be making a connected outdoor aviary down the road for them as well. The coop was just the first step. Come spring I'll be (hopefully) making the aviary in the back (South-East) end. I intend to make it out of 4x4' posts with 1/2" wire mesh.

    My outside floor will probably be made like this:

    - Bottom layer of rocks/gravel to discourage pest digging (gophers, moles, etc) & water shed. At least a few inches thick.
    - Middle layer of dirt or mature compost directly on that.
    - Top layer of thick wood mulch/bark as the ground litter.
    - Plant small shrubs & keep other potted plants in aviary for hiding areas.

    I want the ground slightly higher than the surrounding area is that space is in a lower area of my property & I don't want to worry about flooding. I won't be using light pine shavings or just grass clippings as it'd turn to muck, fast. The thicker wood mulch/bark will give the ground grip & look nice throughout the seasons.

    I am actually hoping to prep/plane the ground some before winter or very early spring, this way I can get the gravel in early & begin to layer that top with compost. I have to wait on this part atm as I injured my back this month. Bah!

    I'm not too sure of the plants yet. Obviously some type of dwarf variety. I don't mind deep rooted plants but I'll def be avoiding invasive/spreaders like lilac. I'd rather have one plant, than a bunch of little ones pushing gravel everywhere. Maybe berry plants like blueberries or gooseberries.

    As for convincing you to not make new quail projects.. Sorry, I'm addicted as well. :)
  7. flg8r

    flg8r Chirping

    Jul 30, 2013
    Yeah, they're just sand trays. I've never heard of anyone having problems with them so I just do sand and they love it. I guess I'll do some more research or if they go on the ground, I can eliminate them.

    Right now the two coops are on a small cement area and if I clear out some of the brush next to it, I can have an aviary against my house. There are already a number of plants there so I would just need to clear a bit and condition the soil. I have some other projects higher on the to-do list right now but I'll keep researching designs and deep litter, you've given me a great starting point!
  8. amandacv86

    amandacv86 In the Brooder

    Sep 20, 2012
    I have most of mine on the ground in my aviary and I love the deep litter method! I just stir it in every once in a while with my garden cultivator. Only problem is sometimes the eggs get buried when they scratch. Picked up 3 roosters on Saturday and keeping them in a cage with a wire bottom temporarily for quarantine, and it smells horrible after just two days.

    I'm going to be hatching about 50 eggs starting tomorrow and I'm planning on making hutches using the deep litter method for them, too.
  9. USAmma

    USAmma Songster

    Jul 26, 2009
    Very interesting! I am learning a lot! I may experiment with something like this. After seeing my chicks so happy in the wood shavings in their brooder, I am hesitant to put them fully on wire when I move them outside. I am very limited in what "filling" I can use though. I live in Phoenix area and our soil is clay-based and hard, and we have very little shedding of leaves in the fall.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2013
  10. DoubletakeFarm

    DoubletakeFarm Songster

    Feb 23, 2013
    NE Ohio
    Wow, what a great article! Thanks so much for the ton of information.

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