Want to build great compost, reduce coop odors, and raise healthier chickens? Try using a deep litter system.
If you raise chickens, you’re probably familiar with cleaning the coop! It can be a lot of work to keep your chicken coop clean, and you may be wondering what to do with the manure. Instead of constantly cleaning your coop, you may want to consider using the deep litter method.
What is the deep litter method? It is a method of manure management that offers some excellent benefits to homesteaders and urban livestock managers, including rich compost, natural pest management, and odor control.
The deep litter method is often used for larger livestock such as cattle, and sometimes for rabbits, but it can also work very well for chickens.
Here is more information on using a deep litter system when raising chickens:
The simplest approach with chickens is to use a deep litter system... In the deep litter system, the ground of the chicken house and, if the chickens are given access to the outdoors, the surrounding pen in which they are confined, is “seeded” with eight to twelve inches of compost, leaves, straw, grass clippings, and weeds. With this method it is essential that the chickens have access to all areas in which their manure falls. Then chickens themselves will consistently nick through this material, over and over, eating any fly larvae that develops. Their thorough scratching will expose all debris and manure to the drying action of the air so that odors will not develop. The regular addition of weeds, debris, and kitchen wastes will gradually build up on the floor, and at intervals of a half a year or so a portion can be removed and used in the garden as compost.
The advantage of the deep litter system for waste management is its simplicity. The chickens have access to a number of insects that may start to live in the material. Being able to give themselves dust-baths periodically undoubtedly helps to control external parasites such as lice, unlike chickens raised in wire cages, not having access to their litter. This system works as a management approach for kitchen as well as animal wastes… Instead of being stored to be used later in making a batch compost, the leftover materials from preparing, cooking, and eating meals can just be taken out to the chickens daily. With a deep litter system the uneaten leftovers from the chickens will help form the litter…
The disadvantages of this system are the loss of nitrogen, and greater needs for space and climate protection… Let’s take these points one by one.
The constant turning and exposure to the air (and any rain or other water that may fall on the material, if there is an outdoor pen), will cause nitrogen in the manure to move into the air as ammonia or be leached down into the soil… Nitrogen that is lost from the chicken pen in this way is not available to the plants in the garden.
Chickens that are running about freely require more space per bird (about three square feet of room per hen) than confined chickens, and use up more of their food energy in physical activity, rather than putting it into producing eggs, which is why commercial growers keep layers on wire in separate cages. The large space encompassed by the deep litter system must be adequately protected from rain and snow if compost is to be provided for the garden at a later date. The entire area must also be securely enclosed to keep out dogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, and rats, the most common predators on chickens and their food and eggs in urban areas…