A good friend of mine prides herself on how immaculate her chicken coop is. Granted she only has about five chickens, but it seems as though the droppings have only barely hit the floor before they’re cleaned up. She cleans it morning and evening and it’s so clean you can eat off the ground (okay, not really).
Then there’s my coop.
We have a little over a hundred chickens and I clean my coop once. No, not once per day. Once per year.
Disgusting you say? Healthy is what I say back.
What is the Deep Litter Method
The Deep Litter Method is sweet and simple. Put straw or any other carbonaceous material onto the floor of the coop (dirt floors aren’t necessary, but some drainage is good). I use straw and collect fallen leaves every autumn and use them as well as weeds, hay, wood chips, wood shavings, wool and anything else I want composted. You should keep your litter at least 8 inches, according to Joel Salatin the guru of small farmers. As the chickens mess and compact this litter, you just add a fresh layer.
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I cannot recommend this book enough for even beginning chicken owners. Seriously, buy it.
Why the Deep Litter Method
Contrary to common sense, it’s actually better NOT to clean your chicken coop every day. The Deep Litter Method has been around for many years and is used by some small farmers as well as industrial ones. It has very few disadvantages and many advantages.
It’s Easier. The biggest benefit is it makes you work less. Instead of constantly cleaning, you only have one cleaning a year. Granted, that one day is going to take you a long time. It’s literally a year’s worth of cleaning. However, it does cut down overall time spent on this chore. For example, you cut out the time it takes you to get and put away your tools, say five minutes each time you clean. That adds up over the year.
It provides free food. As chicken poo and straw (or whatever other carbon material you use) builds up, so does the amount of little critters living in it. Everything from microbes to worms will love this compost buffet and your chickens will love to scratch through it and eat the buggies. Since we started doing this as well as keeping our compost pile in the chicken coop, it’s dropped our feed cost in half.
It decreases the death rate. According to Joel Salatin, the Deep Litter Method decreases the death rate significantly, especially with chicks. The research supports this statement. As mentioned earlier, microbes begin to proliferate in this compost and these microbes provide a lot of benefits to the health of your chickens. The microbes produce valuable waste products: Vitamins B12 and K, natural antibiotics and immune-enhancing substances, which the chickens eat along with whatever it is they find so interesting in the litter. The microbes also help prevent infestations of lice and mites in your flock.
It kills flies. Along with all the other wonderful critters that begin to thrive in the deep litter, this also becomes a perfect environment for parasitic wasps and other fly parasites that kill fly eggs. Additionally, all the carbon material will help to absorb the manure that attracts flies and the microbes help to break manure down faster.
It provides heat. As the deep litter begins to break down, a lot of heat gets produced. So much in fact that compost piles occasionally catch on fire. We don’t want this heat in the summer of course, but since you start allowing the litter to build up in late spring, you don’t have much heat production until winter when the heat is very appreciated by the flock.
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Deep Litter Concerns
But what about pathogens? Chicken poo doesn’t actually harbor as many pathogens as other manures such as cat. The microbes that grow in the litter help to break down these pathogens as well. Many people are concerned about their chicks in particular being in “filthy” conditions, however just like human children, the more pathogens the young ones are exposed to, the stronger their immune system. Ironically, the more you protect, the more dangerous life is for the one being protected. Chicks raised on the deep litter method have significantly higher survival rates.
Won’t it stink? I remember driving past the industrial dairy operations as a child. My midwestern dad would roll down the window to torture us kids and take in a whiff. “Mmm,” he’d say with a big smile “that’s the smell of money.” This is a common attitude for people used to the industrial farming system. But it’s wrong.
If your coop stinks, there is a problem.
Joel Salatin has said “If you are around any livestock operation, regardless of species, and you smell manure—you are smelling mismanagement.” This means that if your coop is stinking when you’re using the Deep Litter Method, you are doing it wrong. Usually smells come from lack of drainage such as with a cement floor, or not enough carbon materials.
Give it a try. There are so many benefits and so few disadvantages that I don’t understand why anyone manages their chicken manure in any other way. This is one time your animals will actually thank you for being lazy.
As published in the Daily Press by Moi.
What do you think? Do or would you use this method? Why or why not?