What is the Deep Litter Method? Edit
The Deep Litter Method is a way of caring for one's coop using a deep layer of, for example, wood chips, which cuts down on cleaning while still giving your hens (and roosters, if you have them) a healthy place to live. It also gives you some excellent compost for your garden or flower beds the following year!
Instead of scooping out and replacing chicken coop litter frequently, you allow the manure and bedding material to accumulate and decompose inside the coop. As in compost, beneficial microbes actually help control pathogens, so chickens are less susceptible to diseases. If you manage the deep litter properly, your chickens will have a dry, fluffy and absorbent floor to enjoy, and you will have a happier, healthier flock with less maintenance. Plus, by fall or early spring, your garden will have a nice supply of nutrient-rich compost.
Here’s the deep litter method in an eggshell: Start by spreading a 3- to 4-inch layer of clean litter on the floor of the coop. Dry grass clippings or leaves, straw, or wood shavings all work well. About once a week, as the manure accumulates (mostly under the roost), toss on another thin layer of litter. Add a handful of scratch grains or food scraps daily, and your chickens will stir the litter for you, incorporating oxygen to aid decomposition. If you see any caked litter, use a rake or fork to help break up the clumps and redistribute the moisture. Keep the coop ventilated, even in winter. You should not notice any odor of ammonia. If you do, add more litter. To increase absorption, add some clay.
Over the course of a year, the litter will become 8 to 12 inches deep. Fall or early spring is a good time to clean out the coop — but don’t remove all of the litter, advises poultry expert Harvey Ussery in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock. Leave a base layer in place to inoculate new material with the established beneficial microbes. If the manure-litter compost you remove is thoroughly decomposed and odorless, you can work it directly into garden beds. If some of the fresher manure hasn’t thoroughly decomposed, simply add it to another compost pile.
What are the requirements for the Deep Litter Method? Edit
1) A carbon-based litter material. Wood shavings such as prepackaged pine shavings (avoid cedar shavings, as they are unhealthy for chickens) is what most people use. It can be mixed with dry leaves, hay (avoid straw, as it can cause problems, too), and grass clippings (if you don't use any pesticides or other products on your lawn).
2) Oxygen. Proper aeration of the litter is very important. The chickens will happily turn much of the litter themselves, but if there are areas where they neglect, or if somewhere is collecting more waste than others, you need to mix that area into the layers of litter. The less time chickens spend in the coop, the more you will need to turn and blend it, yourself. In winter, they'll generally do most of the work for you!
3) Proper coop ventilation. This is important in any coop, but it will help the deep litter to absorb moisture much better. Cross-ventilation and open eaves are perfect, but there must not be any drafts that will hit the chickens where they roost!
4) Correct moisture balance. Moisture is essential to healthy deep litter. Droppings are around 85% water, so chances are, your litter will get too wet rather than too dry. Wet litter is a hazard for chickens, though, as it can cause all sorts of pathogens and illnesses. Always stir in wet litter, such as around waterers, and add more litter as needed, to keep the litter from being too wet in problem areas.
Advantages of the Deep Litter Method Edit
1) Heat retention/Insulation. Litter is always essential in a coop, but DLM (the Deep Litter Method) offers more advantages. Thicker litter insulates chicks, especially, from the cooling effects of the ground, and provides a protective cushion between the birds and the floor. DLM adds a few degrees to the temperature of the floor, which can be very helpful in winter to avoid frostbite and even slow waterers from freezing.
2) Drier environment. A drier coop avoids mildew and mold, which are very dangerous to chickens, and can cause fatalities. The DLM absorbs moisture at a higher rate than other litter types, and beneficial microbes that grow in it will actually combat any bad microbes that might want to move in.
3) Less coop cleaning. Only cleaning out coops once or twice a year rather than every few days. DLM only needs serious "elbow grease" when you clean it out and move it to your compost once or twice a year. When you do, though, leave about 1/4 of it in place, to retain the helpful microbes, and mix in brand new litter over the top of what is left. Generally, most people do their cleaning in either the Spring or the Fall, but not both. The DLM litter removed this Spring should be perfect to use by the following growing year in any garden or flowerbed area. Some people use it immediately around trees, which benefit highly from the higher nitrogen.
4) Great compost for your gardens. As mentioned previously, the removed DLM litter will quickly be ready to use as healthy, nutrient-rich additives for any plants you grow. For nitrogen-hungry plants such as corn or trees, you can use it sooner, but for most plants, the compost will need a few more months to be ready.
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