Coop Waste Management Systems: The Deep Litter Method
There’s no denying it. If you own chickens, you must figure out a way to deal with the droppings that build up inside of the coop. The Deep Litter Method is a great approach to this that not only cuts down on time and labor but incorporates well with your garden and homestead.
The deep litter method is basically an “in-coop” composting bin right under your chickens. If done properly, it can save you some time with less frequent coop cleanouts and also yields a fabulous composted humus that is ready for your garden or flower beds. If done incorrectly, it can threaten the health of your flock. Getting the carbon-nitrogen balance correct is the key in using the deep litter method.
The basic steps of the deep litter method:
- Add 4-6 inches of a carbon-based litter — Pine shavings preferred.
- As the droppings build up, aerate the pile by stirring them into the litter, or scatter some scratch grain over the coop floor and let the chickens stir the pile for you. Avoid letting the droppings form a “crust” over the surface of the bedding. If any areas develop a white, ashy appearance your pile isn’t getting adequate oxygen.
- Add a light layer of litter to absorb the nitrogen-rich droppings and excess moisture as the pile builds. When decomposition begins, the bedding will break down and form the humus.
- Maintain moisture. If the material is too wet, an ammonia odor will begin to develop which is very bad for your chickens. A wet coop is a breeding ground for coccidia and other illnesses. If your bedding is wet and smelly, add more bedding and stir in!
- Do not overcrowd! Too many chickens will mean that the droppings build up faster than the carbon bedding can absorb them and will lead to health issues (see #4). Allow 4 square feet of coop floor space per hen.
- In the spring, remove all of the bedding and start again. If managed properly, the bedding should be decomposed into a rich, dark material that is rich in nitrogen and ready to use.
If managed properly, the deep litter method can yield a great by-product while saving you time and energy. The break down puts off heat as well, which helps to keep your flock warm during the winter months.