What is the Deep Litter Method?

Deep Litter Henhouse Setup
Hemp Bedding

The Deep Litter Method is a tradition in poultry management going back decades. A Deep Litter system is essentially composting in place and it greatly reduces the time and expense of keeping chickens.  Composting utilizes a neutral source of carbon such as dust free and super absorbent industrial hemp combined with the nitrogen from chicken droppings. Next, Mother Nature adds in naturally occurring microbes and this is where the magic happens.  The bedding in your roosting area begins to compost in place. When done properly the Deep Litter method does not smell, flies are more or less non-existent and the bedding only needs to be replaced every 12-18 months.

Setting up a Deep Litter System:

For initial set up of Deep Litter fill your roosting area with a layer about 4-6″ deep of industrial hemp (or the bedding of your choice). The following estimates work well for deciding how many 44 lbs bales of hemp to buy to get started:

  • 1-12 chickens and a 20-24 sq ft henhouse – 1/2 bale of hemp (22 lbs)
  • 13-24 chickens and a 20-40 sq ft henhouse – 2 bales of hemp (88 lbs)

Once per month, or as needed depending on moisture level, add in an additional 1″ of industrial hemp. Turn the pile with a small garden hand rake if the chickens scratching around in the henhouse is not moving the material around.

Managing the Deep Litter method:

Most importantly, resist the urge to remove chicken droppings from your Deep Litter system.  The Deep Litter method requires that nitrogen and carbon to be in the right balance in order to compost.  Composting may start off slow, but over time the bedding material will naturally compost in place, reducing in height and volume. Add in additional bedding material as needed. For up to 12 chickens 1 bale of industrial hemp will typically last a year. Additional bales may be needed for more chickens. At the end of the composting process, which typically takes 12-18 months, the result will be a rich organic composted material which can be removed and used in gardens, landscaping, or lawns!

Deep Litter Cleanout1

Deep Litter Method in the chicken run:

Many people are curious about the Deep Litter method for a chicken coop run.  First, consider your moisture situation. No matter what bedding method you choose for your chicken run the ideal situation is one that is not too wet. Ideally the coop and run are on higher ground and are protected from standing water and runoff. Not surprisingly, having a covered run is a bonus to protect from rain. Too much moisture can lead to excess ammonia, smells and flies.

Wood chips and leaves are a great choice for deep litter in the chicken run. Alternatively, almost any source of carbon that is free and plentiful in your area can be used. Remember, deep litter is composting in place so carbon, nitrogen and moisture must be kept in the proper balance.

Chickens love wood chips and leaves in their run and the best part is they can almost always be obtained for free. Many cities offer free wood chips at recycling centers. Try contacting local arborists and get on their list for a free truckload next time they have a job in your area. A third alternative for free wood chips is to sign up on GetChipDrop.com.

Start off with a layer of about 5″ of woods chips and 1-2″ of leaves. Add additional material as needed during the year. Don’t remove chicken droppings but feel free to rake and aerate. Allow nature to work its magic as the wood chips and leaves decompose in place to a rich compost. The chickens will love scratching around in it looking for bugs. Moreover, their scratching also assists oxygenation of the material and further speeds up composting.

Deep Litter Chicken Run

Free Deep Litter for the chicken run

Here is a recent delivery we received of FREE wood chips from GetChipDrop.com. Nothing is better than free when setting up Deep Litter in the coop run!  Just a reminder – while wood chips are great for a covered chicken run, for your henhouse/roosting/sleeping area we recommend industrial hemp.

Need to know more about the Deep Litter method?

In addition to selling some great products we are also urban chicken farmers in the Austin, TX area. We are happy to answer any of your Deep Litter questions. Use the Contact page here on our website, or FB Messenger on Lonestar Coops FB page.

Visit us! We would love to show you a Deep Litter Method coop in action or one of our custom designed coops.We are located in north Austin near the Domain. Just contact us to make an appointment!