I’ve previously written about the different materials you can use as bedding in your chicken coop. Beyond what material you provide for bedding, one option is to use the deep litter approach.
Using a bit of strategic laziness, the idea behind deep litter is that rather than cleaning out the coop and providing fresh bedding, you put fresh bedding on top of the soiled bedding – resulting in layers. Once per month, you add a few inches of fresh bedding – the amount and regularity can be varied depending on the size of the coop and flock. Some food grade diatomaceous earth can be added along with the fresh bedding to decrease any insect pests (this is controversial, some chicken keeps insist DE will kill off the healthy microbes and undermine the deep litter setup). A rake can be used to turn the bedding periodically between the addition of fresh bedding material – perhaps once a week or more often if you see a lot of manure or flies.
Over time, the bedding and chicken waste will start to decompose. This produces heat, which may be helpful in the coop during the winter months. Once a year, probably in the spring once the extra heat is no longer needed, all of the accumulated bedding is removed and the process is started over again from scratch. Some claim that you should leave a couple of inches of the old bedding to keep the microorganisms that have developed for the new setup.
This accumulated bedding is well on its way to composting, and should be added to a compost heap or garden.
Chickens will scratch in the bedding, helping to turn it and mix the waste into the bedding materials. If some insects move into the bedding to feed on the decaying waste, often the chickens will eat them.
A coop using the deep litter method shouldn’t smell any more than a regular chicken coop does. If it looks dirty or smells, it needs to be raked or have additional bedding more often. If you try a deep litter setup and if there’s ever the smell of ammonia, it’s an indicator that the system is out of balance. You should clean out the entire coop, wash it and provide fresh bedding if this happens.
Some concerns about the deep litter method include that it can breed disease and parasites – since the chicken waste will remain in the coop for an extended period, up to a year. Some enthusiasts worry that maintaining the correct proportions of moisture and microorganisms is too challenging for most backyard enthusiasts.
Have you ever tried the deep litter method? How did it work for you?