Questions from a newbie on deep litter method

chickens in VA

In the Brooder
May 5, 2015
18
0
22
Virginia
Hi all,

I'm about to get my first chickens (4 3-year-old girls adopted from a friend) and am very intrigued by the deep litter method, but I have several questions. I'd appreciate advice and insights from anyone who has tried this. I've read a fair amount online about it, but there are many contradictory opinions out there!

1) The base: for the litter base before I add the chickens, can I use a combination of rotted forest leaves/garden waste such as weeds/grass clippings, or do I have to buy pine shavings?

2) Will the chickens, if they see a pile of leaves, etc., decide to lay their eggs there instead of in the nest box (which I'm also planning to line with something like dry grass)? I don't expect to get a lot of eggs anyway (the reason my friend is giving them away is that they're not laying much anymore, so they'll mostly be pets for me), but it would be nice to get the few they may lay in the nest box!

3) Is it okay to add a significant amount of grass clippings to the litter or not (some sites say not because grass gets matted and is too wet for the chickens)? Also, my grass clippings tend to be very long, since I don't mow regularly - they're more weed whacker clippings than mower size. I've heard that overlong grass can lead to impacted crops. I don't use pesticides or anything on the grass.

4) The coop I have (Eglu Cube) has drawers underneath the roosts to catch droppings - the recommendation is to line them with newspapers and then dump the whole thing. Should I add the newspapers/droppings to the litter in the run when I clean out the drawers, or would that be too many droppings in the run/deep litter (the run where the deep litter would be is about 9' by 4' - the chickens will be free ranging part of the time, though)? I don't have a proper compost pile elsewhere yet, as my garden is still very much in a state of flux with the occasional bulldozer appearance!

5) Should I add household food scraps to the deep litter too, like I would to a compost pile? Is everything (e.g. coffee grounds) that is okay for compost actually okay for chickens? I can't imagine the coffee being great for them...

6) Would adding the household scraps - or anything else about the deep litter method - attract bears? We have a lot of black bears around here (tonight I saw one ambling along about 150 feet from the coop) and what I've been told is that they're mostly attracted to chicken feed rather than the chickens themselves, and will just kill the chickens once they've already invaded the coop to get at the feed.

Thanks so much for reading - sorry this is so long, but I'm very new to this and want to make sure I don't screw things up for the girls!
 

Mtn Laurel

Songster
8 Years
May 18, 2012
1,534
201
216
Northern Virginia
My Coop
My Coop
Hi and welcome to BYC. I've got "Chickens in VA", too!

Have been doing deep litter for about 3 years and love it. Will try to answer some of your questions.

1. Rotted forest leaves and even forest dirt is great for deep litter. Forest dirt contains the wonderful microbes and bacteria needed to make deep litter work by assisting with the breaking down and composting. I throw forest leaves and dirt into my coop sort of as an inoculant to get things up and running.

2. When moving hens to a new coop, you will want to "coop train" them for about a week. Keep them inside the coop - providing it's large enough to hold them all in a comfortable environment - and that imprints on them that the coop is "home base" and they should return there in the evening and lay their eggs in the nesting boxes that are there. If your coop is small, confine them to the coop and run without free-ranging until they get the idea of where they are to lay eggs.

3. I wouldn't add long grass clippings or the clippings of thick, tough grass to the litter or the run. Reason is that your hens will eat the long clippings in one big spaghetti-like slurp and they can easily ball up and sit in the crop. This can lead to sour or impacted crop, something you don't want to have to deal with.

4. With 4 hens, I'd throw the droppings in the run initially. If it looks like too much, find a good spot in the woods to start a compost pile. With deep litter, the droppings should soon turn into part of the landscape.

5. Some will disagree with me but I do not use my deep litter in the run as a compost spot. It can draw rodents and predators. Some things that I compost aren't good for chickens, such as the coffee you mentioned. More importantly, if the food items begin to decompose or gets moldy, your hens can get botulism from the bacteria. Pretty sure I lost a hen that way. Same thing can occur with chicken feed that gets wet and moldy. If I have leftover things the girls would like - strawberries, melon, etc. that are still good but getting mushy, vegetable trimmings, 3-day old spaghetti - I will give it to them as a treat but only as much as they'll eat at one time so as to not leave traces in the run to bring in mice, rats, and other critters.

6. Bears! Yikes! See reasons above regarding predators. I'd most definitely make sure the girls ate anything in the run and would not use it as a compost bin. Attracting a rat is one thing but a bear will not only eat the scraps, the feed, the chickens but will destroy your run and coop in the process.

Have fun and enjoy your girls. Hope this helps!
 

chickens in VA

In the Brooder
May 5, 2015
18
0
22
Virginia
Hi and welcome to BYC. I've got "Chickens in VA", too!

Have been doing deep litter for about 3 years and love it. Will try to answer some of your questions.

1. Rotted forest leaves and even forest dirt is great for deep litter. Forest dirt contains the wonderful microbes and bacteria needed to make deep litter work by assisting with the breaking down and composting. I throw forest leaves and dirt into my coop sort of as an inoculant to get things up and running.

2. When moving hens to a new coop, you will want to "coop train" them for about a week. Keep them inside the coop - providing it's large enough to hold them all in a comfortable environment - and that imprints on them that the coop is "home base" and they should return there in the evening and lay their eggs in the nesting boxes that are there. If your coop is small, confine them to the coop and run without free-ranging until they get the idea of where they are to lay eggs.

3. I wouldn't add long grass clippings or the clippings of thick, tough grass to the litter or the run. Reason is that your hens will eat the long clippings in one big spaghetti-like slurp and they can easily ball up and sit in the crop. This can lead to sour or impacted crop, something you don't want to have to deal with.

4. With 4 hens, I'd throw the droppings in the run initially. If it looks like too much, find a good spot in the woods to start a compost pile. With deep litter, the droppings should soon turn into part of the landscape.

5. Some will disagree with me but I do not use my deep litter in the run as a compost spot. It can draw rodents and predators. Some things that I compost aren't good for chickens, such as the coffee you mentioned. More importantly, if the food items begin to decompose or gets moldy, your hens can get botulism from the bacteria. Pretty sure I lost a hen that way. Same thing can occur with chicken feed that gets wet and moldy. If I have leftover things the girls would like - strawberries, melon, etc. that are still good but getting mushy, vegetable trimmings, 3-day old spaghetti - I will give it to them as a treat but only as much as they'll eat at one time so as to not leave traces in the run to bring in mice, rats, and other critters.

6. Bears! Yikes! See reasons above regarding predators. I'd most definitely make sure the girls ate anything in the run and would not use it as a compost bin. Attracting a rat is one thing but a bear will not only eat the scraps, the feed, the chickens but will destroy your run and coop in the process.

Have fun and enjoy your girls. Hope this helps!
Thanks so much - this was really helpful!
smile.png


I will definitely avoid adding food scraps to the girls' deep litter. I realized there's another place I can use them anyway before I get a compost pile - I'm having a lot of excavation done and the excavated dirt is being piled into berms. It's not great quality dirt and I figure I'll have to improve it before planting, so I can use the food scraps (and maybe even extra chicken droppings) as a temporary compost heap on top of the berms. Nothing for the bears to disturb there.
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I'm getting a bit worried about letting the girls free range at all now, even after they've settled in. The grass was weed whacked recently, so there are very long grass clippings everywhere. If I wait till the clippings have dried, will the chickens lose interest? Though of course then the grass will be getting long again and they could just pick themselves new long pieces...sigh. My long term plan is to get rid of the grass altogether and replace it with ground covers, wildflowers, broadleaf natives, etc., but that's a year long process and I'm just starting now. And I guess even if I keep the girls in their run, long grass will grow around the run and poke inside - I don't want to terrify them by weed whacking right next to them! Maybe I could cut the grass they can reach with scissors? Or I am I becoming way too paranoid about this?!
 

Ol Grey Mare

One egg shy of a full carton. .....
7 Years
Mar 9, 2014
20,622
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Oregon
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Thanks so much - this was really helpful!
smile.png


I will definitely avoid adding food scraps to the girls' deep litter. I realized there's another place I can use them anyway before I get a compost pile - I'm having a lot of excavation done and the excavated dirt is being piled into berms. It's not great quality dirt and I figure I'll have to improve it before planting, so I can use the food scraps (and maybe even extra chicken droppings) as a temporary compost heap on top of the berms. Nothing for the bears to disturb there.
wink.png


I'm getting a bit worried about letting the girls free range at all now, even after they've settled in. The grass was weed whacked recently, so there are very long grass clippings everywhere. If I wait till the clippings have dried, will the chickens lose interest? Though of course then the grass will be getting long again and they could just pick themselves new long pieces...sigh. My long term plan is to get rid of the grass altogether and replace it with ground covers, wildflowers, broadleaf natives, etc., but that's a year long process and I'm just starting now. And I guess even if I keep the girls in their run, long grass will grow around the run and poke inside - I don't want to terrify them by weed whacking right next to them! Maybe I could cut the grass they can reach with scissors? Or I am I becoming way too paranoid about this?!

You're being overly concerned, yes....which is natural for the first time 'round. Any greenery that grows immediately next to the run and is within beaks reach on the outside or dares to poke through the wire will be "trimmed" by your very efficient flock. This is unlikely to cause crop issues because they will be snipping them off in bits. There is no need to use scissors to do your trimming- we regularly use the lawn tractor, weed eater, chain saws, drive the truck out to drop off feed and supplies to the barn, etc. around our birds - it startles them, they get over it and then they go about their day - eventually it just becomes "that thing" to them and is no longer even something to be startled by as having it move around their environment every week becomes normal to them.
 

Mtn Laurel

Songster
8 Years
May 18, 2012
1,534
201
216
Northern Virginia
My Coop
My Coop
Agree with Ol Grey Mare [Love the name, BTW!] that you're worrying too much about the outside grass. We have a mulching and bagging push lawnmower and sometimes my husband will cut our "sweeter" grass - the thinner type, not the long switch grass stuff - and, since it's mulched into smaller pieces, give it to the girls. Just dumps the entire bag of mulched grass into the run and they attack it. Well, the girls LOVE THE SOUND OF THAT MOWER! They come running when they see him get that thing out as they know it will mean a treat real soon.

You don't need to worry about them eating on established grass that's in the ground. They can't get it down in one big gulp as it's anchored by the dirt. They'll do their own snipping, for sure!
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,077
19,476
857
Southeast Louisiana
I’m not sure which Eglu Coop you have, I saw a few different versions, but it looks like a small plastic coop (probably elevated) with a wire run that comes as a unit. Those will offer virtually no resistance to bears. It’s really difficult to construct anything that will stop bears anyway but with that I’d suggest you look into protecting it with an electricity of some sort. That’s about the only thing that will stop them. Predators are hard to predict, bears, raccoons, dogs, or anything else. You might go years without problems even though they are around or they might wipe you out the first day. I’ve been real happy talking to the folks at Premiere. They have been knowledgeable and helpful. With bears that active in your immediate area I’d chat with them about setting up electric wire to protect the coop and run or maybe putting electric netting around it to stop all ground based predators.

There are a lot of different versions of deep litter, it can mean different things to different people. When I think of deep litter I think of it in a coop but from the photos I saw of the Eglu what you are talking about is more composting in the run. That can make some differences.

What I do in the coop is not what I consider deep litter as I keep it too dry to actually break down. I normally go years without shoveling it out but my coop is a large walk-in on the ground, not really comparable to yours. I don’t compost in the run either but many people do, whether that means just tossing in leaves and/or grass clippings or also including garden and kitchen wastes.

One of the problems with composting in the run or true deep litter in the coop is moisture. It needs a certain amount of dampness for the bugs to break it down but if it stays too wet too long anaerobic action can set up and it will get slimy and stink. I’ve had that happen to my compost pile. So be careful where you position that Eglu. Put it somewhere water can drain away from it. Don’t put it in a low spot that holds water. The chickens should stir it with their scratching, especially if you toss in some treats they need to dig for so it can dry out.

If the chicken poop gets too thick in there it can stink when it gets wet. For four hens your 9x4 is not too bad, the droppings should be spread out reasonably well, but I’d really consider just dumping that tray in a compost pile somewhere other than the run. Wet thick poop can draw flies too. They lay their eggs in it. One trick I’ve learned with my compost pile is if the poop starts drawing flies I cover it with grass trimmings to block the flies out. With a garden you can use as much compost as you can get.

That Eglu coop section is probably too small to leave your hens locked in there for a few days when you first get them. I suggest you put a fake egg in the nests you want them to use. I use golf balls but others use other things. Hens tend to want to lay where others are laying. I can’t give you any guarantees that this will work but it does help motivate them to use the nests.

I pretty much agree with everything Mtn Laurel said. We all have our own ways of doing things but that sounds like experience talking.

A story about lawn mowers and chicken runs. When I first mowed around the run they were terrified. But after a couple of times they realized that when I mowed around the run I threw bits of grass through the fence where they could get to it. It did not take them long to associate that lawn mower with food. They ran toward it, not away from it.

Good luck!
 

Ol Grey Mare

One egg shy of a full carton. .....
7 Years
Mar 9, 2014
20,622
15,032
821
Oregon
My Coop
My Coop
A story about lawn mowers and chicken runs. When I first mowed around the run they were terrified. But after a couple of times they realized that when I mowed around the run I threw bits of grass through the fence where they could get to it. It did not take them long to associate that lawn mower with food. They ran toward it, not away from it.

Good luck!

Absolutely - it becomes the big, noisy, rolling food dispenser! Even worse than the chickens is our horses. Their pasture is actually surrounded by three different properties - our back yard butts up against one side of the fence line and then our two immediate neighbors each have their yards along two of the sides (the back is the wooded part of our property). They love mowing day and will walk which ever fence line is being worked hoovering up every little bit they can get their lips on. The fact that they have three different people to rely on means they end up getting a snack three times a week since we all seem to end up mowing on different days.
 

chickens in VA

In the Brooder
May 5, 2015
18
0
22
Virginia
Thanks everyone! I had a feeling I might have been descending into full-blown paranoia about the grass. The parrots I grew up with, though, were highly neurotic souls and would probably have had little feathered nervous breakdowns if they'd encountered weed whackers.
wink.png


Ridgerunner, good points on the dampness. I will definitely have to keep an eye on that as my property tends to be damp anyway, and although there aren't a ton of flies so far, there are certainly a ton of small gnats, etc.

I'd prefer not to have to go the electric fence route, partly because I have cats too and I want them to wander freely without shocks, and partly because the coop isn't in its permanent location yet. I'll have to monitor the bear situation really closely, though, and may have to give in and go for electricity if they seem too interested in the girls. The bears are most active right before dusk, so hopefully if I remove the food then and keep it out all night that should be okay. I gather chickens don't eat much at night anyway - is that right from what you all have seen?

Does anyone have any thoughts on herbicides? I bought this house a year ago and a very long stretch of the property is lawn. My eventual plan is to graze llamas on part of it, and the chickens will be fenced in with them at that point. For the rest of the cleared area, though, I want to get rid of the lawn and replace it with more shrubs, perennials, wildflowers and native broadleafs. I had a guy come from VA Tech yesterday to advise on how to do this. He said to spray once in late June with a herbicide that will kill only grass (to get the Japanese stilt grass), and then again in early Oct. with Roundup to get the fescue (though I've since been told that contrary to what he said, the Roundup will kill everything, even the native broadleafs that aren't supposed to be actively growing by then). It didn't occur to me to ask him if it was okay if the chickens (and my cats, who are constantly nibbling grass) eat stuff that's been sprayed. I've been googling and getting contradictory info, but it mostly sounds like Roundup is not a good idea. I'm not sure about the grass-only herbicide.
 

TalkALittle

Songster
5 Years
Dec 15, 2014
1,661
725
191
Massachusetts
If you're getting rid of lawn you might consider renting a sod cutter. No herbicides needed. If the lawn is in good condition and weed free you may even be able to find someone who will pay you for the sod. Sure, it's more work, but far less impact on the environment and no worries about keeping your animals off the area.
 

Mtn Laurel

Songster
8 Years
May 18, 2012
1,534
201
216
Northern Virginia
My Coop
My Coop
Not a fan of herbicides and do my best to stay away from them. There's thought that herbicides are contributing to the decline of pollinating bees as well as the Monarch butterfly. As a gardener, I need all the pollination I can get! Create some movable paddock panels and use your girls to remove the lawn. They'll take care of it in short order!
 

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