Results from First Year with Deep Litter Method

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Daisy8s, Mar 26, 2012.

  1. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 12, 2011
    Central Michigan
    This spring marked one year since I started using the deep litter method and I thought I'd share my results.

    First, I need to disclose one important thing about me. I am very sensitive to smells. It's a family joke that I am often grossed out by smells no one else can even detect. Five years ago I actually had chickens briefly but was so impaired by the smell I gave them away. This time around I did a lot of research before getting back into chickens.


    THE COOP
    Last spring I built my coop with a dirt floor on top of an old gravel pile. It's a high, dry spot with excellent drainage. The coop is approx 6x8, with an interior feed room so the chicken area is actually 6 x 5 1/2. I planned to have 5 hens to provide 6 sq ft per bird. In actuality the numbers have fluctuated between 5 and 7 birds throughout this year due to predator loss, replacement hens, the addition of a rooster, etc. So, there has been 4 to 6 sq ft per bird throughout the year.

    I have excellent ventilation in the coop--4 inch gaps under all the eaves that are open year-round. Also, two large windows on the cross-wind walls that are open except for during really cold winter temps.


    THE BEGINNING
    To begin the bedding I placed 3-4 inches of wood chips atop the dirt/gravel floor. Next, I added 2-3 inches of 2 yr old composted dirt from my old compost pile to "seed" the floor with healthy bacteria. Then, I put in about 4 inches of fresh grass clippings. After a few weeks I felt the manure smell was too strong so I repeated the 2-3 inches of composted dirt plus more grass clippings. That did the job and so long as I maintained the coop (see below) I never had a smell again.

    DAILY MAINTENANCE
    Every day or two I throw in some kitchen scraps. We store our scraps in large yogurt/cottage cheese tubs because a) each has a lid to reduce smell and b) the tub can go through the dishwasher. (I highly suggest this as an alternative to purchasing an expensive, specially-designed composting bucket.) We only put in fruit, vegetable, bread, and coffee grounds--no meat, fat, or dairy. Every day or so I throw in 1-2 tubs of scraps, intentionally aiming to drop the scraps right under the perch where most of the manure has fallen. This is a very important step to get the birds to turn under the fresh manure as they are in the process of scratching for the scraps.

    MONTHLY MAINTENANCE
    About every 6 weeks during the summer and every 4 weeks during the winter I add another 4-6 inches of leaves or grass clippings. Just before I throw in the fresh bedding I get into the coop with a pitchfork and stir up the bedding where it is wettest right under the perch. The whole stirring and adding process takes 10-15 minutes at the most.

    RESULTS
    I have frequent visitors to my coop (my kids' friends always want to see the chickens) and one of the first things everyone exclaims about is the complete lack of a smell. Of course the chickens themselves have their own chickeny-smell, just as horses and cows have a unique smell. But, there is no manure or ammonia smell at all.

    This spring I cleaned out the coop for the first time. The bedding had built up between 18 and 24 inches at that point! I filled my first wheelbarrow load and was delighted when I lifted it to realize how light it was. This clearly was not sodden, slimy stuff. Except for a small 1x1 ft patch under the favorite section of the perch, it was not wet or heavy. In fact, I even found earthworms living in the bedding that must have come in with the composted dirt at the beginning!

    I took out 8 and one half wheelbarrow loads of beautifully composted chicken manure, leaf mold, and kitchen scraps. I couldn't believe how much was there, but, it was all easy to handle and the smell did not gross me out even once!

    So, if anyone else out there is like me and they simply can't imagine scraping poop off poop boards, I wanted to share this method that worked beautifully for my chickens, for my garden, and especially for me!


    FINAL ADVICE
    This works best with plenty of sq ft per bird. 5-6 sq ft per bird is ideal, 4 was manageable but required more bedding than I'd anticipated. I only bagged 4 of those super large yard waste trash bags of leaves last fall. It did not last me all through the winter...and this was a ridiculously mild winter with the birds outside almost every day. I would like at least 6 bags stuffed full going into next winter. I supplemented with straw beginning in Feb and this was not ideal as straw tends to hold the manure up rather than letting the birds scratch it under. I have heard that chopped straw is better, and some people use shredded paper or cardboard.

    I hope this is helpful for anyone who is considering the deep litter method. It's free for the minimal effort of raking up leaves or grass clippings; it's nearly smell-free with the right sq footage, maintenance, and ventilation; and the result is great stuff for your gardens!
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    We handle our coop about the same way -- actually, I always have, with my various flocks over the years. Dirt floor, plenty of ventilation (it's as well aired as a three sided structure would be.) I mostly use pine shavings with some hay, only because grass clippings and leaves aren't available. Wouldn't do it any other way.

    However -- one thing I do differently is, they do get meat scraps when there are any. The compost doesn't, but the chickens do. The locally available feed has no animal protein, so I make sure my chickens get some, one way or another.
     
  3. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 12, 2011
    Central Michigan
    Good point...my chickens free range so I'm sure they're getting a good number of bugs and grubs. And their layer feed has protein in it, besides.

    Quite frankly my dogs would be annoyed if they didn't get "their" meat scraps!
     
  4. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    Excellent post and I agree! [​IMG]
     
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  5. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 12, 2011
    Central Michigan
    Originally Posted by Beekissed [​IMG]
    Thanks! I had been looking for info like this before I started and couldn't find it so I thought I'd post for anyone else who was considering using deep litter.
     
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  6. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    I'm glad you took the time to write out all the perimeters and conditions of your use and how it all came out...that is important for those considering it and far better than, "I use it and I like it and feel it's the best method because it works so well." [​IMG]
     
    OG Anomaly likes this.
  7. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 12, 2011
    Central Michigan
    Quote:
    Yes, there are so many unique factors that can vary from one owner to another...when someone extols a certain method as "the best" I want to know more about those factors to see if it would truly be the best method for me. And...long term results over time are always valuable, too!
     
    OG Anomaly likes this.
  8. joan1708

    joan1708 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 14, 2011
    DFW - mid cities, Tx
    Thank you for feedback on the deep litter method. I appreciate all your information and experiences over the past year. I've only had chickens for 2 weeks, but I've composted for 20 years.

    I have a little different situation. I have 3 silkie chickens. My coop is 3 ft by 3 ft, has a wood floor with vinyl over that and horse mat over that. I put 4 inches of pine shavings in the coop and sprinkled sweet PDZ over that. I also have good ventilation. I use a kitty litter rake and pick up most of the poop in the am and throw it into the compost pile that is located 3 ft away (it takes about a minute). So far no smell.

    The run floor is 4 ft by 10 ft. It is part dirt, part landscape rubber tiles and part horse mat. I put 6 inches of yard waste (leaves, chipper shredded oak trees). I toss scratch in there to get the girls to stir it up and I also rake it around. You can't identify poop in the run. My run is covered and on a slope, also with excellent drainage. I have sprayed it with water if it gets to dry and dusty. So far, no smell.

    I hope to report the same result in 1 year as you have. No smell.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2012
    OG Anomaly likes this.
  9. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 12, 2011
    Central Michigan
    I have read posts from other people who scoop the poop every day. Most often this is done by people who put sand in their coop. I thought about this...even considered it a great idea for a regular chore for our kids to do! But, ultimately I decided that with our busy and crazy lives this would be the chore that'd most likely get skipped, and then there'd be an accumulation, and then no one would want to tackle it.... It just seemed like setting ourselves up for failure.

    But, that's just us. Plenty of people say they don't mind it and it's a quick and easy chore for them. It's always nice to learn different ways that work for different people!
     
    OG Anomaly likes this.
  10. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    I agree with you....though it might be an easy daily chore, what about the times when you'd like to go away on a small vacation? I had my whole setup of deep litter, the type of feeder and waterer and my free range 24/7 that way so that I could leave and the system would and could go on without my intervention. I have left for 4-5 days without needing anyone to feed or check on my birds or my dogs by implementing just such changes as this.

    Daily chores are fine and I love doing them but they become a great inconvenience during emergencies, travel/vacations, illnesses, etc. Having to worry about the person you leave in charge doing it right is a big stress on top of all the other stress of these events and entirely not necessary if one just prepares for them beforehand.
     
    3 people like this.

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