Deep Litter for Healthier Chickens

by Robert


The "deep litter method" was one of the most important poultry developments of the Twentieth Century. It resulted in a dramatic drop in disease and a reduction in the amount of labor it took to keep a flock of chickens. It also gave an early example of how biodiversity works to our advantage, even with confined livestock.

People these days think they know what "deep litter" is, but mostly they don't. Here's a quick checklist:

  • Deep litter is not about compost. It's about healthier chickens. Do your serious composting on a compost pile.

  • More is better. It's not deep litter unless it's at least six inches deep.

  • Compost as a clean-up tool.If the top of the litter gets caked over with manure, skim off the caked part and toss it into a corner. Within a few days, natural composting will cause
    it to turn back into litter again.

  • Litter is a probiotic. Deep litter has anti-coccidiosis properties (it develops a population of microbes that eat coccidia), but only after it's been around for a few months, so never remove it all. When you start bumping your head on the rafters, remove part of it, but not all.

  • Lime helps. Stirring in hydrated lime at about ten pounds per hundred square feet will keep the litter more friable.

  • Chickens don't wear gas masks. If you can smell ammonia in the chicken house, you don't have enough ventilation. Open the windows, even if it's twenty below outside. Ammonia is a poison gas; cold weather is just a nuisance to grown chickens.

  • Don't break a sweat. If you're spending a significant amount of time messing with the litter, you're doing it wrong.

Check out my Deep Litter FAQ for more information.


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Comment from: Kelly
5 stars

Don’t forget that at least part of the reason deep litter and not removing it all is good is that the manure makes heat which helps keep the litter dry.

This dryness might also contribute to controlling the coccidiosis. I use deep litter and have done many things not recommended and never had an outbreak, even when broody hens raise their chicks in the chicken house.

Great information by the way.

11/15/08 @ 17:11
Comment from: robert

Yes, the deep litter keeps the house a lot drier. I think this works for at least two reasons – the heat of composting and the extra depth, which lets it handle a lot more moisture without being soggy on the top.

If you shovel wet litter into the corner of the house, it’s amazing how quickly this impromptu compost heap heats up, dries out, and becomes indistinguishable from litter that stayed dry the whole time. The same is true for litter that has become caked over with a layer of manure. Toss it in the corner, and in a few days it turns back into litter. So with almost no work, a nasty house can be turned into a nice one.

Just another way that Mother Nature can do our heavy lifting for us if we pay attention.

11/16/08 @ 11:01