Report from my winter of deep litter

IMG_0362It was a long winter.  A LONG winter.  And it was the first winter my chickens lived in their new house built for me by my husband.  The large building with southern-facing windows was amazing for its heat-gathering. There were many days that I didn’t even open the door, choosing to let the chickens (and three ducks who got to come in in sub-zero weather) stay inside all day with feeding and watering stations.

I had read about how old-timers used the deep-litter method for coops, just turning over the dirty litter with a pitchfork to keep it dry and adding new shavings in on a regular basis. So, I decided to try it.

In late November, I cleaned the entire house out and added new shavings, about six inches thick.  And every couple of days I went in and turned over the wet droppings to dry out and added new shavings, mostly under the roost areas.  Things seemed to go very well until the end of January, when the relentless cold just seemed to go on and on.  And, when the litter is frozen, it just doesn’t smell that bad or seem that wet. I will confess, I didn’t keep up with the turning.

And that is the kiss of death for the deep litter method.  I read that if you start smelling ammonia, you have failed and you have to start all over again.  However, as the cold waves kept coming and coming, I just added more shavings and tried to patch things up.

And then, one sunny day in late April (yes, its taken me this long to write about it), I cleaned out the whole darned coop. The ammonia smell was pretty strong the more I took off the top. It took me about 15 wheel-barrel trips to my litter pile and about two days over the weekend.

But, finally, the place was cleaned and I put out about four bags of fresh shavings again.  It smells much in better in there, and I’ve been far more diligent about keeping the litter turned over to stay dry.

I won’t have the luxury of having frozen litter over the summer, and it’s been absolutely necessary to turn it every couple of days.  But even doing this is easier than cleaning out the entire large house every week or two–which is what I used to do when the birds where in smaller coops.

So I”ll report back in the fall, and hopefully this deep litter method will prove far more successful and far less work than the old way.IMG_0363

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