Chickens poop.  A lot.  This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how you approach the problem.  After all, in permaculture, we teach that the problem IS the solution, if you know how to approach it correctly.  So rather than viewing chicken poop as an inconvenience, we are looking for a way to turn it to our ends.  One way to make that happen is with the deep litter method in the coop.

Chickens in Litter 1

So what is the deep litter method?  Its exactly what it sounds like.  Its tossing in a deep layer of bedding material such as straw or alfalfa, and letting the chickens smash it down into the ground.  Ours is usually about 6 inches deep when we toss it in, which compacts down to about 3 inches once they stomp on it.  You notice that in almost all of the photos of the chickens, you can see them standing in a bed of alfalfa.  That is us, deep littering our chicken flock.  It sits in the bottom of their coop, and catches all of the poop.  So you don’t really have to get in there and clean anything up.  In the six month we have owned our flock.  I have not cleaned anything inside of the cage other than the shelf, and all I do then is knock the poop off into the litter.  My coop doesn’t smell, and it isn’t dirty.  It just breaks down into compost underneath the layer.

Chickens in litter 2

You can use really any type of organic components that you like, as long as they aren’t too big.  Chickens have a natural tendency to root around and scratch at the ground.  So this action causes everything to get torn apart into smaller and smaller pieces.  In our run they will actually root down and make a little bowl that they can sun themselves in.  Its quite adorable to see a pile of boneless chicken flapping around in the sun.  We choose to use alfalfa in ours, because despite the slightly higher cost, when the chickens eat it they get some nutrition.  If we used straw, the littering would still work the same, but the girls wouldn’t get a benefit.

chickens in litter

This method is incredibly healthy for the soil.  Now under our coop if you scratch down a couple inches through the alfalfa, you can see some of the richest dirt in Arizona.  Our yard consists primarily of sand and rocks, but under here some rich brown dirt is forming.  Anyone that moves our chicken coop after we move will have a perfect spot for a garden.  Its actually the first place in Arizona I have seen the little gray rolly polly bugs.  I didn’t even think they lived here till I was poking around under their water bowl one day.  You can also scoop this bedding out every month or so and toss it on your garden.  Its an incredibly nitrogen rich snack for your soil, and the bedding is composting the poop, so it won’t scorch your plants.

We really haven’t seen a downside to doing this yet, so I have no issues to warn you about.  I did learn that the method works best if you have a moist environment.  Obviously, living in the desert is not moist, so if we go too long without rain, I like to take the hose and give the mixture a good soaking when the girls aren’t in it.  This helps keep it breaking down the way its supposed to.  I noticed this was an issue late last year.  When we went three months without rain, the coop still felt clean, but the alfalfa wasn’t breaking down very well.  An hour of rain, and I swear the alfalfa was half the size.  So hosing it off is no alternative for rain, but it gets the job done.

So if you want a cheap, simple way to keep your coop clean, and your girls happy.  Go for the deep litter.  It certainly beats cleaning out a poop coop by hand.

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