In my last post, I pointed
out that well-managed
deep bedding is healthier for chickens than constantly giving them
But how exactly do you manage a deep bedding system?
First of all, think of
your deep bedding system like you would think of a compost pile.
If you smell anything or if the deep bedding is wet, you’re doing it
wrong (probably not adding enough bedding or cramming too many chickens
in a small space.) This photo is a cross-section through our deep
bedding, now about a foot deep, and it just looks like a mass of
slightly chopped up leaves.
Start out with about
four inches of litter on the floor of your coop. This litter can
be anything that’s high in carbon, like chopped straw, ground corncobs,
cut or shredded corn stover, wood shavings, wood chips, peat moss, cane
litter, shredded paper, or autumn leaves. Recently, I tossed in
an old bag of lawn clippings and I’ll let you know how that more
nitrogenous bedding does in comparison to the straw and autumn leaves
I’ve been using so far — I suspect it will need more frequent
Since some of the benefits of
deep bedding depend on microbial action, you never want to clean the
entire coop out at once. Instead, your goal is to keep
a constant ground cover of six to twelve inches of bedding, removing
and adding litter as needed to keep from hitting your head on the
ceiling and to keep the bedding from getting soggy. How often you
add fresh bedding will depend on your coop size and number of chickens,
but be sure to add bedding before you start seeing poop all over the
floor and smelling ammonia. An inch or two of bedding is
sufficient when refreshing the litter.
While deep litter can be
good for chicken health, mismanagement of deep bedding can make your
chickens sick. Manure caking on the surface of the deep litter is
a bad sign — you can use various chemicals like hydrated lime (no
longer recommended) or absorbent clay as long as you stir it in so the
chemical doesn’t burn the chickens’ feet, but you’d be better off
fixing the problem by adding more litter or giving your chickens more
space. Excess moisture is another big no-no since it can lead to
conditions that promote the growth of
bad microorganisms in the bedding. To prevent wet bedding, add a
fresh layer on top, reduce the number of chickens, use one of our homemade chicken
waterers so you
don’t get leakage on the floor, and provide ventilation in your coop.
Despite the potential
for problems with deep bedding, I have to admit that in our well-sized
coop, with bedding added every week or two, I haven’t noticed any
problems at all. I’m looking forward to removing a few inches of
bedding in the spring to go on the garden, but meanwhile my work on the
deep bedding system has amounted to about five minutes per week.