Beekissed

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The topic comes up on occasion, so thought it would be nice to have a thread on it. Post pics, vids, articles and whatever comes to mind about how you cultivate or manage your deep litter.

When most folks talk about deep litter it's often describing using a deep thickness of whatever bedding they are using in the coop and is more or less managed like one would a wet diaper...when it gets enough moisture in it that it stinks, they shovel it out in a pile and put down dry and fresh. Or they use Stall Dry or PDZ or lime to absorb more moisture and odors so they can make it last as long as possible before removal. Usually the most common material used is pine shavings. Some use straw.

That's how I started out on the DL journey..using pine shavings, cleaning it out each spring and putting in new and adding fresh as the year went along. Until I opened up a ton of ventilation, especially at the floor level, I never could get that ammonia smell to go away and I wasn't really satisfied with how it all worked...in the winter months it would feel cold and damp to me.

I did everything everyone else said to do....throw BOSS in it to encourage the chickens to turn it for me, add fresh shavings when it felt too moist or smelled bad, etc. It never did break down in the coop and it was a HUGE chore at the end of the winter to get all those damp, stinking shavings out of the coop. I kept thinking, this isn't as nice as everyone says it is...I'd rather just rake out the droppings every other day like I did before.

Then I moved, had a coop on a soil floor and started thinking in other ways about the bedding...what if I could cultivate it like one would a compost pile or get it to rot down like a forest floor? So, I started playing around with various materials, experimenting with what works best to get it to be free of smells, not attract flies, compost in place and break down while still in the coop.

I found that each time I used pine shavings or sawdust heavily that I got an ammonia smell, so I stopped using pine shavings. Then I started raking the yard...deer hair, dog hair, possum bones, turtle shells, branches, leaves, pine cones and needles, grass, etc. You name it, it went in the coop and I started to see a vast difference in how it broke down, how much moisture it could hold, and how best to keep that moisture inside the mass of materials under the roosts.

I found it did much better if it were not disturbed all the time, so I no longer tried to stir it or have the chickens scratch through the main digester under the roosts. I just flipped dry material up on the nightly deposits of manure to discourage flies or smells and to hold in the moisture of the poops and this worked like a charm.

Then I realized each fall there were thousands of bags of leaves left on the curbs in local towns for the trash...free leaves, already bagged and I didn't have to do the work? FREE. So I started nabbing those bags, even got acquainted with some old fellas who had great, clean leaves bagged and would save them for me. I gave them eggs. Even gave one some composted chicken manure for his flower beds. The leaves were also great in the garden, around the base of my fruit trees, etc.

But, I found you couldn't just use leaves, especially all of one variety..they would mat down and not allow enough air in the mass when they got wet. Had to include things to create air spaces and also the mass could really use a lot of green...so got to dumping flower, weed and garden trimmings in there each fall. Also a little hay or straw from cleaning out nest boxes or dog houses. Wood chips when I had them. Found out corn stalks are GREAT for creating air spaces but that corn cobs never seem to compost. Kitchen scraps the dogs and chickens won't eat got dumped in there. Seemed like the more variety, the better and quicker I produced compost and the better the coop environment became.

When I had a leakier coop roof, I had the perfect amount of moisture in the mass, but now I have to haul water to dump in there until I get my rain catchment system up and running a hose into the mass under the roosts. I dumped 15 gal of water into that sponge yesterday and you couldn't tell it when you put your hand down on it...dry on top, all the water was wicked into the bottom.

And that's the wonder of it all...coldest of winter temps and that bedding is dry on top and, not only that, but it's warm from the composting going on underneath the dry top.

Have to have massive ventilation to make it work well...not little vents one sees in most coops, but big spaces. I keep the pop door open under the roosts at all times, half the front door is always open to air, windows on either side of that door are always open on top half, large cracks intentionally built into the front and back walls at all levels for passive airflow at all levels, vents at the roof level on either end, a large window right beside the roosts can be opened to increase air flow and in the warm months, both sides of the coop are fully open to air as the tarp has the side flaps raised.

Makes for a healthy coop environment to have all that good bacteria and molds working in the compost and all the passive fresh airflow in the winter. The composting litter gives off heat that keeps the chooks warmer in the winter but the humidity is taken out by the vents. No flies, no smells, composted materials all year round, a place to put green garbage, and very little work involved...just putting stuff in every now and again and taking out stuff when I need it for the garden.

Got a vid of one year's DL if anyone is interested...not a very professional vid but it kind of gives you an idea of what it can look like late in the winter when the composting has gone well.
 

Chic Rustler

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Got a link to the video?

I just keep piling what ever I can get. Straw, pine shavings, grass clippings. I pulled it all out a free months ago and composted it.
 

Beekissed

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What would you suggest for a coop with a cement floor?

If you've got any good, lively soil like you'd find in the forest or a really good composted mulch and lay down a layer of that on the cement prior to adding bedding materials...2-4 in. should do, deeper if you can. Keep it moist so the good bacteria, good fungi and microbial life can continue to live, then just cap it off with some good carbonaceous materials like leaves, scatterings of hay, twigs, rotten bark, woody stems of plant life that can create good air spaces and then just build from there. Try to concentrate your efforts beneath the roosts where the bulk of your manure will be deposited...trying to maintain a whole coop worth of compost is a little harder unless you have a pen full of meat birds and they never go outside, then you'll have enough moisture and nitrogen to compost a whole coop of bedding. But, if not doing that, it's easier to just make one half of your coop the digester and the other half where you source your dry materials for adding to it each day as you cover the poop.

Once you've established a soil life under there, your compost will just build you a soil floor right on the cement. If you've ever seen leaves collect in the corner of a concrete patio or sidewalk all winter and then you try to remove them, you find soil underneath there where they just quietly composted...that's how quick it can all go if you have enough moisture.

If you've got walls you don't want to get damp, you could place a barrier there of metal or plastic in order to protect the wood. Some people paint the wood with a sealant to prevent moisture damage. I just use treated lumber for my coop base and I don't worry about the old scrap wood I used for my back and front walls...it was free, it's old and tough and I'll worry about that when it actually happens.
 

Beekissed

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Got a link to the video?

I just keep piling what ever I can get. Straw, pine shavings, grass clippings. I pulled it all out a free months ago and composted it.

This vid was shot in January, it was in the teens outside and we had just finished up with teens below zero the week before. This is well broken down due to that leaky coop I had...my DL I have now is WAY behind and is still piled deep and the chickens don't or can't move it much due to the unbroken materials. Needs more water!!!

 
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Beekissed

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My coop is a cinder block building with a cement floor.

Great! You don't have to worry about any damage. Though you may find it harder to open up more areas of ventilation along the floor and such with a solid structure like that. Adjustable ventilation is key for managing this stuff, especially in the winter months...buckled down too tight and the humidity levels rise and cause problems.
 

CrealCritter

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Great! You don't have to worry about any damage. Though you may find it harder to open up more areas of ventilation along the floor and such with a solid structure like that. Adjustable ventilation is key for managing this stuff, especially in the winter months...buckled down too tight and the humidity levels rise and cause problems.

That's exactly my problem and the reason I went to sawdust, barn lime and turning occasionally.
 

Chic Rustler

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This vid was shot in January, it was in the teens outside and we had just finished up with teens below zero the week before. This is well broken down due to that leaky coop I had...my DL I have now is WAY behind and is still piled deep and the chickens don't or can't move it much due to the unbroken materials. Needs more water!!!




That looks awesome! Mine is only a few months old and just looks like what I threw in there and chicken poop. But I don't turn it or anything. I just pile up more when it stinks......maybe I'm lazy.
 

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