If you’re a parent of some backyard chickens, then I know you’ll appreciate the ease of using the deep litter method to keep their coop clean. In this article, I’ll tell you why the deep litter method is not only great for your birds, but also for you and your garden.
Why choose the deep litter method for chicken coops?
The deep litter method is a tried and true way to keep your coop clean without any extra work. It’s employed by many homesteaders and veterinarians like myself. I know it may seem counter-intuitive that cleaning your coop less often is actually healthier for you and your birds, but it truly is and I’ll explain why. This method for cleaning chicken coops is not only easier, but it takes advantage of natural decomposition to get rid of all the gross things that come along with backyard chickens.
But before we get into the basics of the deep litter method, let’s talk a little about coop sanitation.
- You don’t need a pristine coop. If you’re trying to have a picture perfect coop 24/7, then don’t put chickens in there. Chickens make a lot of mess.
- On the other hand, your chicken coop should also not stink to high heaven. You’ll know it’s time to add more litter to the coop when you start to notice an odor.
- This method works great, but you’ll have less success if your coop isn’t well ventilated. Proper ventilation of chicken coops is essential to the health of your birds.
How to keep your chicken coop clean using the deep litter method
I am a big fan of the deep litter method because you only need to get into your coop to perform a deep cleaning every 4-6 months. In between cleanings, you’ll simply place new bedding material every few days to weeks.
How often you add new material depends on how many chickens you have and how much of a mess they are making. But the idea is just to dump a few inches of fresh bedding on top of the droppings like a cat covering up their mess in a litter box. When you add fresh bedding, you absolutely must make sure you use enough to provide a fairly thick cover over all the droppings. You can’t add too much, but you can add too little.
How to clean your chicken coop
Using the deep litter system, you’ll only need to clean out your chicken coop every 4-6 months.
Step 1: Choose a day when the weather is nice and you’ve got your old dirty work clothes on to open up the coop and rake out all the bedding and droppings that have piled up. If you’ve been adding new litter often enough, this is honestly not as bad as it sounds. Do wear a mask to be safe and be especially mindful if your coop does not have good ventilation because it will get very dusty!
Step 2: With the coop emptied of bedding and any toys, feeders, or waterers (if you have them inside), whip out a scrub brush and some warm soapy water to clean all surfaces of the coop, then rinse and let dry. You’re not trying to sterilize the coop, you just want to clean up any droppings, spills, and whatnot. Let the coop air out and dry for a couple of hours.
Step 3: When the coop is dry, I like to sprinkle the corners and all nooks and crannies with diatomaceous earth. DE helps keep down fleas, mites, and other bugs in the coop. Why wait till you see them, right? You want a bit more than a light dusting in there. DE works by slicing the thin skin of soft skinned insects, but they need to be coated in it by walking through the powder.
Be careful of using too much DE, though. The particles will also slice up tender lung tissue, so you don’t want to use so much of it that you’re inhaling it. If you decide to treat your coop with DE, just use your best judgment to protect yourself and your birds from harm.
With the DE in place, it’s time to fill your coop back up with 3-4 inches of fresh bedding. You can also sprinkle any number of dried herbs in your coop bedding. My favorites are lavender, mint, lemon balm, and oregano.
It’s so satisfying to get to this point. I love watching the birds go in and enjoy their fresh clean coop.
Making chicken coop compost
Take all that stuff you just raked out of the chicken coop and put it in your compost bin or set it in a pile at the corner of your property. Let it compost for at least 6 months and then add it to your garden. The bedding material and the chicken droppings will compost into something that’s very healthy for your garden soil. If you’ve used enough bedding material, your chicken compost pile won’t stink. If it stinks, add more dry materials like straw or dried leaves to balance it out.
Deep litter method problems
The things you need to watch out for are odor and moisture. If you notice either of those, it’s time to pile on some more bedding. You can quickly remedy any issues with a thick layer of dry material. The type of bedding you use doesn’t matter as much as making sure you have an absorbent material to cover up the droppings. It’s also fine to layer different types of bedding based on what you have available.
My favorite bedding for a chicken coop is hemp bedding. You might have access to hemp bedding at your local feed supply store, but it’s something I have to order off Amazon (I found a really great price including shipping here). In my experience, hemp bedding really does last longer than straw or pine shavings, but I’ve used both straw and shavings effectively too.
How is the deep litter method healthier for you and your chickens?
For chickens, the deep litter method helps keep down moisture and the build-up of ammonia in the coop between cleanings. If you weren’t using the deep litter method, you’d need to remove chicken droppings every few days to make sure your flock doesn’t get sick.
Picking up chicken droppings can potentially expose you to harmful pathogens like salmonella. The less often you can risk coming in contact with infectious organisms, the better.
With the deep litter method, you don’t have to handle the droppings but twice a year. The rest of the time you simply toss bedding on top of it. Plus, you can use the chicken litter in your compost to make your garden healthier.
Have you tried using deep litter system in your chicken coop?
Leave me a comment with your experience!