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. Directions: 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. Cleaning: 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. -- Troubleshooting: "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!