With Winter approaching and our days getting cooler it is the perfect time to set up a ‘Deep Litter System’ in our coops.
Cheryl Nelson from Natural Chicken Health – Super Mash shows you how to create this happy environment.
Deep litter in a chicken coop develops its own biome (bacterial culture), which acts to reduce insect pests, diseases like coccidiosis and unwanted moulds. The biome helps to decompose manure which reduces the amount of maintenance.
Here are the steps to clean the coop and make a healthy, natural deep litter on the floor.
Make a sweet smelling, natural cleaning Spray
To a large jar, add the peels of 1 lemon or some lemon oil, a big handful of fresh thyme, a couple of squashed cloves of garlic and white vinegar to cover the solids. Let the jar sit for a 1-3 weeks, shaking the contents every few days until the mixture is fragrant and the vinegar scent is gone. Strain.
Alternatively use the peels of 1 orange, a couple of cinnamon sticks, and a couple of fresh vanilla beans OR lime, lavender, and mint (which helps to repel mice who don’t like mint) OR pine and cinnamon.
Spray perches, nesting boxes, nooks and crannies with your spray. Scrub and scrape with a stiff brush and paint scraper, respray to rinse off solids.
Replace nesting material with dry pine needles or other fill with solid stems that don’t house mites. Add stripped rosemary leaves or lavender, oregano, or any of the mint family to deter bugs.
To start your deep litter, empty and scrub down the coop (as above) to start with a fresh slate. Scrape any manure to one side to add later.
Deep litter coop maintenance is all about balancing the beneficial microbe levels to allow the manure & litter to decompose in the coop. It means less coop cleaning, a healthier flock, a warmer flock through Winter and a rich garden compost for Spring!
Add agricultural lime to the base and again half-way up the pile. Be careful to cover the ag. lime, the lime can mildly burn your chicken’s feet.
Then add layers of pine shavings and other dry materials like pine needles, dry lawn clippings, shredded paper, dryish sea grass, autumn leaves and other dry ingredients. Some people use straw or hay in their deep litter coops with success, but watch for mould and dampness.
As chickens roost above the deep litter, manure may cake. Caked manure can go anaerobic, which releases ammonia, which is a toxic gas.
Once or twice a week, use a hoe to completely stir up all the shavings & droppings. You can get your chickens to help with this part by tossing scratch or treats into the coop that they will have to scratch around to find. You will still want to be in turning it yourself at least once a week so that you can access the condition of the material.
Deep litter has anti-coccidiosis properties, after it’s been around for a few months, building its own unique biome, so never remove all of it. When you start bumping your head on the rafters, remove most of it.
A ‘no-no’ with a deep litter system: Unfortunately diatomaceous earth (DE) does not pair well with a deep litter system. The good parasites that a deep litter system fosters will sadly be eradicated by diatomaceous earth within the layers. In other words, diatomaceous earth is unable to determine the good parasites from the bad parasites and as a result a deep litter system simply won’t work.
But you can sprinkle DE into nesting boxes and corners to help reduce habitat for insects you don’t want.
Your chicken house should allow quite a bit of airflow. Deep litter must be combined with a fresh-air poultry house. Closed housing will build up ammonia levels that are far too high. Even in the brooder house, ventilation is essential. Just keep the wind-chill factor down by limiting drafts at floor level, to prevent chilling the chicks.
Once you get a feel for deep litter housing, you soon realise it makes a better growing environment for your flock and you.