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Deep Doo-Doo: Built-Up Litter System or Deep Litter Method

Chicken manure can be a valuable source of nutrients for your garden. Though it is too strong to be used directly on your plants, when composted, chicken manure is superior to other manures because of the nutrients it contains, how much moisture it holds, and the beneficial bacteria it adds to the soil.

Rather than regularly cleaning your chicken coop and adding the droppings to your compost pile, the Built-Up Litter System allows droppings to compost inside the coop. By the end of the winter you will have a large amount of composted chicken manure that can be added to your garden in the spring. The decomposition process also produces heat inside the coop, and though this may not completely replace the need for heat lamps, it may reduce how much you need to heat the coop.

This system does still require careful monitoring, though it does relieve you of cleaning out the coop more than once a year. Here are some tips for setting up and maintaining a Built-Up Litter System:

Start with 4 to 6 inches of pine shavings on a dirt floor. The dirt floor allows the proper absorption of moisture, and the pine shavings will break down more quickly than hay, and reduce the chances of mold growing in the litter. Once the decomposition begins, you can add chopped straw, hay or grass over top as well as more shavings, to keep the process going. Do not add diatomaceous earth.

Make sure the coop and litter are aerated. Ventilate the coop well, so that ammonia gas does not get trapped in the coop as the litter decomposes, as this will be harmful for the chickens. Also, watch the litter. The chickens will do most of the turning, but make sure to break up any clumped or ashy areas.

Watch the moisture level carefully. The litter is likely to become too wet either from too many droppings or from water spills inside the coop. If possible keep the waterer outside the coop, and add shavings or hay and mix into the litter evenly to absorb excess moisture.

If there is ever a disease problem with your flock, you should completely clean out the coop and wait until spring to restart this process. Deep litter can trap infections and spread them through the flock even if you have taken care of the illness in the chickens.

Do not remove all the litter at the end of the winter. Leave some behind as a “starter” for the next year’s batch. It will be easier to establish the decomposition process than it was building the system up from scratch. Remember to allow the litter to finish composting in your compost pile for a short time to be sure that the heat from the decomposition has a chance to destroy any harmful bacteria.