The deep litter method is quickly becoming more common among homesteaders — even urban homesteaders. What is it? Essentially, the deep litter method is where you pour four to six inches of clean litter into your chicken coop and leave it there for a year or so, turning occasionally and adding more bedding as necessary.
There are many benefits to practicing the deep litter method, including healthier chickens and a lower mortality rate for chicks as young as one day old. And your chickens will enjoy scratching around in their litter to find yummy, protein-filled bugs to snack on.
First, you need to choose your carbon material; pine shavings usually works best. Start your deep litter with at least four to six inches of shavings. Allow the chickens to spread the shavings around and pick through it. You should turn the litter before it gets clumpy. The time frame is different for each coop and depends on how much time your hens spend inside the coop, how large your coop is, and how many hens you have. But don’t turn it too often. Although moisture is necessary for breaking down the materials, you don’t want your litter to be wet. If there is a particularly wet spot, simply turn it under.
You can start your deep litter in early fall or spring. When cleaning it, remove most of the litter from the coop and add in four or so inches of fresh pine shavings and stir it up. You want to leave about two inches of the old litter behind when you clean out the coop to start the new litter with the same beneficial bacteria.
Once you know what you’re doing, the deep litter method is simple to maintain. Simply keep an eye out for clumps or moisture and turn it every so often. It is a huge time-saver because you only clean it once a year.
Here are a few other reasons why the deep litter method is beneficial:
- If you start your deep litter in spring, by the next spring you will have nitrogen-rich compost perfect for your garden.
- The deep litter method cultivates beneficial bacteria that keep your hens healthy. Even day-old-chicks benefit from the deep litter because they build up immunities to harmful bacteria while they are young. It has been found to decrease the chick mortality rate. The deep litter also provides bacteria that prevents coccidiosis even in day-old chicks.
- It practically eliminates chicken odor.
- It attracts bugs that your hens will love to eat, which will add a great deal of protein to their diet.
Make sure you keep your chicken coop well-ventilated, and if you can smell ammonia in your coop you need to add more ventilation. When you are choosing a material for your litter, be sure to stay away from straw, which isn’t terribly absorbent and has a tendency to mold. Although diatomaceous earth is popular for keeping chickens, it isn’t beneficial in your deep litter, as it can dry out, causing bacteria spores to get in the air and affect your chick’s respiratory system. Lastly, remember to clean out all of your deep litter if one of your chickens gets sick. The germs can get stuck in your litter and infect the other chickens.
The deep litter method is widely popular among homesteaders, and it’s not hard to guess why.
Do you have any experience with the deep litter method? Share your tips in the section below: