Deep Litter: Making Your Winter Coop Work For You

I am a self described coop cleaner. I love cleaning my coop out every week or so in the summer, it is one of the best parts of keeping chickens- the new shavings, the clean walls, the fresh nesting boxes filled with herbs to deter flies and keep the chickens healthy, and sometimes new pretty curtains.

The spring coop is always somewhere I love spending time with my little clickers.

Now my winter coop is an entirely different story.

It’s dark, it’s dingy, the whole floor is full of six to eight inches of broken down straw, shaving, sawdust, and chicken poop. The nest boxes are nice and clean however the curtains are put away till the wet chicken feet let up a little. And the big mounds of mint I dried specifically for the coop this winter are beginning to run out.

But it doesn’t smell and it is not slimy. It creates warmth for the chickens, gives them something to scratch around in all winter and the very best part ?

Black gold.

The deep litter becomes ready made compost for your garden, shortly after it is cleaned out in the spring.

Deep litter refers to the organic matter that accumulates on the bottom of the coop or is added during a period of time. Building up this matter doesn’t just happen.

How To Build Deep Litter

Begin the process of building up the litter in early November. The chickens poop and hopefully you already have shavings, sawdust or straw down on the floor of the coop. Take a pitchfork and toss the chicken manure and the bedding, blending well.

Make sure to get in all the little corners and crevices of the coop. If you do this every 2-3 days, it will never be heavy or slimy. It will be light and should come apart easily.

This part is optional and controversial (I do it anyway): You can add diametaceous earth before you turn. I add a sprinkling of it all over the well ventilated coop, before I turn it under with the pitchfork. I believe it helps break it down easier, gives the chickens something to peck at (numerous studies say it’s beneficial for their digestive track) and keeps it smelling a little fresher due to eliminating pests.

Now add a light layer of bedding over top, what has just been tossed and mixed.

I repeat this all winter. The chickens break it down by scratching it, so it doesn’t get overwhelming, and it shrinks down as it breaks down. It also heats up as it breaks down, keeping the chickens feet warm all winter.

What Next?

On a nice warm day in late February, when the sun is out, and the wind is blowing lightly, I clean the whole thing out. And it feels sooooooo good to get the coop cleaned out and freshened up.

I take the litter to the garden and dump it in a big pile (this retains heat for making compost), where I want it to amend my soil. I toss some soil in with the deep litter pile, and turn frequently, tossing soil in every time . I do this every few days, as the more you do it, the faster the decomposition.

If it is snow covered where you live still, you can keep the deep litter method going until you can see ground in late March or April. It doesn’t hurt anything to wait. Just don’t plant in it till you have been adding soil and turning frequently for about a month at least.

By the time I am ready to plant in mid to late April, it is looking beautiful. It is ready to be spread and planted in. If I hadn’t of done this last step, I would have taken a chance of “burning” my plants with any fresh manure still in the deep litter.

If you do the deep litter method again from February until the Beginning of May, You will have more compost to amend the garden with by July. Or you can start now and have some by the end of April.

In no time, you will be growing in amazing soil (black gold!)

Trouble shooting

I do not recommend doing the deep litter over summer, as fly control can be an issue.

If it does become slimy, just keep adding more organic matter and tossing more frequently.

Can you do this with other animals ?

Yes!, I also do this with my sheep bedding as well. However, with sheep, I only add straw. Other bedding gets in the wool and is a pain to clean and shear the fleece. But the chickens go in to the sheep bedding and help break it down for me. I also take the sheep bedding out monthly, and add it directly to the garden. Sheep manure is a green manure and doesn’t burn (as is rabbit and goat).

Joel Salatin does it with rabbits, creating deep litter under the cages and the chickens turn the bedding over, and break it down.

I hope you found this information helpful, and hope you can hold out from cleaning the coop for a few months. That black gold is definitely worth it.

Love Jenn xx

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