The deep litter method is a system of managing chicken litter (the mixture of bedding material and chicken manure) in a coop. Instead of regularly removing all the litter and replacing it with fresh bedding, the deep litter method involves adding fresh bedding material on top of the existing litter to create a deep bed. As the chickens scratch and peck through the litter, their manure gets mixed in with the bedding material, which begins to decompose and create heat. The heat and decomposition process helps to break down the manure and create a natural compost, which in turn provides warmth and insulation for the chickens during cold weather. Over time, the deep litter bed will build up to a depth of several inches. As long as the litter is kept dry, it will continue to break down and provide a healthy environment for the chickens. The deep litter method requires less frequent cleaning and can be a more natural and sustainable way to manage chicken litter, while also providing some natural pest control and reducing odors. However, it is important to monitor the litter moisture levels and ensure it does not become too wet or compacted, which can lead to health issues for the chickens.
For less maintenance, the deep litter method is something you may want to consider. The best way is to use wood pellets, or pine shavings. Every few days or so you’ll need to turn the litter using a rake or shovel. The chickens will scratch around in it which helps, but it’s better to stir the top droppings to the underneath to assist in the decomposing process.
As the bedding and droppings decompose underneath, the amount of bedding will shrink, so about every three months you’ll need to add more, keeping the depth to about six inches. Using this method the odor is minimal, and is an excellent heat source in cold weather as decomposing litter produces heat similar to composting. This is a great alternative to daily cleaning, and a real time saver considering you’ll only need to clean out the coop or chicken enclosure twice a year. I don’t recommend this method during the summer months, it makes good sense to avoid a heat source during elevated temperatures.
Don’t forget that the decomposed litter from the coop is perfect for the garden, adding rich nutrients to the soil! Or, continue to compost until it is reusable as clean dirt. You may want to return it to your chicken yard to replace/add to existing ground footing.
Wood Shavings Like straw, wood shavings are available in bale form. They are soft and good for drainage, however, wood shavings are usually slightly more expensive than straw. The layers of shavings and chicken mess do not adhere together quite as thoroughly as layers of straw, making wood shaving-lined chicken runs easier to clean than those lined with straw.
Pine shavings, available at your local feed store.
Wood Pellets Wood pellets are small chunks of compressed sawdust that are available at any barbecue or heating supply store. Though they are generally sold to be a heat source or cooking fuel, unused pellets can also be used as chicken run bedding either on their own or mixed with wood shavings. Wood pellets will last longer than straw or shavings, but they are also more expensive.
Wood pellets, available at Home Depot, Lowes, and sometimes feed stores.