We’ve discovered the perfect solution for keeping our chickens warm in winter, keeping their coop clean with minimal effort, and making compost. It’s called the deep litter method, and everyone should try it!
When it comes to homesteading, we’re about as easy going as you can get. Cleaning out the chicken coop every day and following around our darling little chickens with a pooper scooper is not my idea of fun. This system was made for people like us.
Using the deep litter method in the chicken coop is easier, cheaper, and healthier for your chickens. Why not start today?
This post may contain affiliate links - I may receive a commission if you purchase from the links.
What is the Deep Litter Method?
The deep litter method is a chicken coop system based on repeated layering of organic materials on the floor. The first layer of litter is spread on the floor of the coop. When the first layer is soiled, a new layer of fresh litter is added on top. This continues as needed to keep the chickens on clean bedding.
Steps to the Deep Litter Method
- First, clean out the coop completely
- Lay down at least 4-6 inches of clean litter (recommended litter below)
- Let the chickens poop all over it
- Turn the litter over once a week with a pitchfork to bury the poop and bring fresh bedding to the surface
- Continue to lay down fresh bedding so the depth always remains at least 6 inches
- Repeat, repeat, and repeat
- The litter slowly breaks down over time to make compost
- Twice a year (spring and fall) clean out the coop, removing the newly made compost but leaving a one-inch layer of litter so the microbes can integrate into the new fresh bedding.
- Start all over again!
Types of Litter Used for Our Deep Litter Method
When I say we stacked 6 inches of litter on the floor of the coop, I don’t mean cat litter. Never use cat litter in a chicken coop! Litter simply refers to the type of organic material that you lay down on the floor of the coop. Some people use wood shavings, some use leaves, and some use straw.
Our litter is composed of any and all organic matter we could get our hands on including:
We used all of the dry leaves raked from our yard in autumn. We also took bags of leaves from all over the neighborhood from unsuspecting neighbors (how nice of them to bag them up and leave them by the side of the road for us!)
An easy way to pick up leaves is to use a mower with a bagger. This way, you’ll get a nice mix of shredded leaves and grass.
We put in random bales of dry straw that were used for Halloween decor and abandoned on the roadside. It’s even more fun to toss the whole straw bale in the coop and letting your chickens spread it around for you as they scratch through it for seeds.
We also used piles and piles of cheap pine shavings from a sawmill.
Pine needles alone are not a good choice for the deep litter system because they do not absorb moisture. However, mixing pine needles with other litters mentioned above can increase aeration and prevent the little from clumping.
Pros of Using the Deep Litter Method in the Coop:
- It can be inexpensive
- Raking leaves is good exercise
- Creating quality compost is fast and easy
- You don’t have to clean the coop every week
- The litter absorbs most of the smell from chicken waste
- Scratching through the litter alleviates boredom for the chickens
- The litter provides insulation of the floor during cold weather
Cons of the Deep Litter Method in the Coop:
- Chickens see giant piles of leaves and start laying their eggs wherever they feel like it. Ever searched for eggs in inches of dry leaves? Why won’t you use your nest boxes, chickens?! Why??
- It’s work up front to rake and gather the leaves
- Your neighbors will think you’re insane when they see you stealing bags of leaves from their curb
- Leaf mold + allergies = miserable egg gathering
- You need a well-ventilated coop
Even though the deep litter method was pretty much hands off. I do monitor and remove litter that becomes wet from spilled water, or areas with heavy droppings. Most often removing the damp litter in the affected area, and then mixing with dry litter does the trick.
How many of you have successfully used the deep litter method? Do you use another method that works better? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Sources and Further Reading
- Practical Poultry Tips. “Deep Litter in Chicken Coops” by Robert Plamondon
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow
- Natural Chicken Keeping. “Deep Litter Method” by Leigh Schilling Edwards
About Meredith: Meredith is the founder of ImaginAcres. She lives in Western New York with her incredible husband, Michael, and their menagerie of farm critters. Join her at Backyard Chicken Project where she shares more chicken antics and tips to care for your flock.