Deep Litter Method for Backyard Chickens

Ashley Beckman

Are you looking to take composting to the next level? Interested in ways of creating excellent nutrient-rich soil without a lot of effort? Then you’ll want to check out the deep litter method pioneered by eco-entrepreneur Harvey Ussery. Here’s what you need to know about this innovative way of turning organic matter into a viable and sustainable type of fertilization.

Table of Contents

Harvey Ussery Guide to a Clean and Healthy Backyard Coop with The Deep Litter Method

What is a Deep Litter? (And What it’s Not!)

The Deep Litter method is a no-work, no-cost, no-energy-input method of keeping chickens that produces compost for your garden for free! It is based on natural systems in which all of the farm’s fertility needs are met by the biological processes of growth and breakdown of organic matter on the land. All you need to do is set it up once and let nature take over!

Why is it Sustainable?

In natural settings all over the planet, animals’ waste products get broken down into rich organic fertilizers for plants by all of the wild life – earthworms, insects, bacteria, fungi – in what can be described as a never-ending sustainable cycle of fertility! This happens in nature all around us in woods and meadows!

What Materials Do I Need?

To start out, you need enough bedding material (straw or hay) to create a deep litter system at least 8-10″ depth on your chicken coop floor. Then you can begin to think about your cleanout plan once it’s been used for about three months! You can use wood shavings or chopped straw at about 2″ thick to keep down foul odors and slowly break down into your existing litter below over time.

Pests & Disease Prevention:

The idea here is to keep harmful pests from taking over by managing general moisture levels in the coop area but also to break up any existing buildup before it can get out of control by regularly breaking up wet spots or larger clumps – like once a week or so in winter but maybe more often on warmer days when things will like to break down more quickly! Also, try to give good ventilation through air exchange and good air flow to help keep harmful microorganisms away from your birds’ respiratory systems.

Compost & Fertility Benefits:

Once set up properly, you will see health benefits immediately! All of that organic material underfoot helps to keep down fungus and other bad pathogens like E. coli, which can be present in dirty cages!

But also, over time, all that extra nitrogen being put into your chicken coop will naturally break down into minerals like phosphorus and iron through microbial action rather than just decaying away like so much dirt out in nature would do on its own!

Finally, after about 3-4 months’ worth of use, all those materials can help boost healthy microbial activity in soils for many years once it has been removed from the chicken house!

Discovering a Natural, Eco-Friendly, and Healthy Lifestyle for Backyard Chickens with the Deep Litter Method!

Why Use The Deep Litter Method For Your Chickens?

Using the deep litter method in your chicken coop has all sorts of benefits for you and your hens- for one, it helps to keep down on bad smells- in fact, it helps to create its own natural fertilizer for your garden or flowerbeds. If you set up your system right, you must wait for it to compost itself before spreading it around the garden- talk about easy!

It also keeps the floor of the coop dry- all of those natural by-products of chicken poo and bedding have a lot of nitrogen in them- which really stinks to high heaven- but also serves to keep away all of the wetness in the air that otherwise would give rise to molds in the coop.

The hens benefit from it because it gives their feet natural calluses to help keep them from getting hurt on the wire of their cage- it also allows them to have natural behavior by scratching in the dirt to make comfortable little nests for themselves in which to lay their eggs- talk about win-win!

What You Need To Avoid When Using The Deep Litter Method for Your Chicken Coop

The first thing to keep in mind when setting up your deep litter method for backyard chickens is to avoid using pine shavings- it’s awful for both the respiratory health of the birds and for the natural decomposition of your in the coop- in fact, it can lead to ammonia build up in the coop which is really bad for your flock’s health- avoid at all costs! Check out our guide on natural coop cleaners to see what we use in our coops to prevent these problems.

You also need to choose your bedding wisely- it needs to be something natural that will break down in the coop easily- in other words, avoid using anything synthetic. Try to find whole corn cobs or stalks for bedding- but avoid cedar shavings at all costs! Check out this excellent video to see what we use in our coops to get it set up right.

How To Set Up The Deep Litter Method To Get Maximum Use of It

Here’s the deal – you want to start by putting about 4-6 inches of bedding in the bottom of your coop. It will start breaking down into litter over time – this is where all those good smells like ammonia come from! Keep adding more bedding over time until there’s about 8″ at all times. This helps keep down on bug infestations and bad smells as well – no need for vigorous cleanouts like before!

Once a year, you want to clear old bedding from beneath roosts and remove old nesting boxes if things start getting out of hand (bugs). But once set up correctly, all should go smoothly over time!.

Deep Litter Method for Backyard Chickens: Is it Right for You?

The Benefits of Using This Method

Using this method can save you a ton of time! The poo gets put into a tiny corner- meaning it all can be scooped up at once! In addition, it also helps to keep all of your yards smelling better by keeping all of the bad stuff away from the rest. As an added bonus, it produces natural heat in winter by having all the decomposing poop break down, helping keep your chickens warm during colder months!

Is There a Downside to The Deep Litter Method?

Though this method can seem daunting and takes some setup to work right, there is also no immediate downside to using it to keep up with all of your chicken poop! There is also no need for too much forethought into how you set up your coop for it to work for you later on down the line!

So Is The Deep Litter Method Right for My Coop?

Using this method certainly can help make all of your chicken-keeping endeavors run smoothly but also consider what setup works best for you in particular. But at least with this idea out there- it can give everyone an idea about ways to keep everything smelling good, free from over-frequent scooping, and help keep chickens warm during season changes!

An Easy Way to Keep Your Backyard Chickens Healthy and Happy

Maintenance for Optimal Composting

For optimal results, moisture is critical! You want it to be slightly moist during the summer by sprinkling it with water occasionally. But in winter and spring, this is optional because it can take care of itself. You can also give it a once-over with a rake or fork, but it isn’t necessary.

When To Clear Out The Coop

You want to clear the material once it builds up to 12-18 inches high. As it accumulates, it may get smelly no matter how well managed. Still, it depends on personal comfort level to clear it out! I know some people who only clean out once a year but use your best judgment!

Using It For Fertilizer!

The best part of deep litter is all of the rich compost you can use for fertilizer for your garden, flower beds, etc! All that breakdown material makes for excellent yield in all your plants! Plus it is super easy to maintain – what could be better?!

The A-E Guide to Testing Deep Litter Method for Backyard Chickens – Is It a Stinky Situation or the Perfect Solution?

A is for Concerns about Odor

If you try the deep litter method, are you worried about bad odors in your chicken coop? It’s natural to have some worries about it because, let’s be honest, this can get pretty stinky! But it doesn’t have to be difficult to keep the smell in check.

B is for Bedding

Deep litter requires layers of bedding like straw, wood shavings, hay, or even shredded paper to break down into useful compost over time. This is what helps keep it smelling fresh and also allows it to be cleaned up regularly without too much effort on your part!

C is for Cleanup Helpers

What we need to keep the skunks away helps in the form of red worms that can take all of that waste and break it down into organic fertilizer for us! Tell those chickens to bring in reinforcements!

D is for Setup Simplicity

Setting up deep litter in your coop is complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. All that is required is that your basic coop setup offers all of the necessary amenities for chickens before adding in all that comfortable bedding on top!

E is for Eager-to-Clean

Once everything is set up right, it should take no time before all of those friendly little red worms get to work at breaking down all of that mess into something usable below! So not only will you have no bad smells coming off of it, but you also have a usable fertilizer for by-products by using this amazing method!

The Pros and Cons of the Deep Litter Method for Backyard Chickens: Is There a Time to Not Use it?


  • Keeps Your Coop Clean
  •  Keeps Your Hens Healthy
  •  Inexpensive
  •  Natural Fertilizer for Gardens
  •  Less Maintenance Over Time


  • Setup at First can be Tricky
  •  Need to Clear Out Monthly to Avoid Bad Smells and Flies
  •  Limited to Small Flocks Due to Lack of Space in Containers like Buckets or Kiddie Pools

Getting Started With the Deep Litter Method for Your Backyard Chicken Coop: How To Build It Up Right!

When caring for chickens in a backyard, one of the most important things to consider is deep litter. That’s why getting it set up properly is important to keep your chickens safe and healthy. I know from experience that it can seem intimidating at first, but with a few simple steps, you can have a strong start on the road to chicken-coop cleanliness!

Step 1: Set up a wire-fenced run

The first thing to do is set up an area for your chickens to use during the day or at night. Small fencing like wire fencing is usually enough if your backyard has enough space. Still, if you want extra protection, you can also look into other materials like metal sheeting or netting! Put down straw on the floor to help absorb all of the chicken messes (trust me on this one- it helps out big time).

Step 2: Keep it clean!

It can be easy to let all of that chicken poo sit in a pile once it’s in the coop but think about your neighbors and doing your part to keep our planet clean. Clean up regularly by scooping out old bedding and refreshing it with new every month to keep everything smelling great!

Step 3: Keep supplemental items on-hand

As an added bonus, several supplements can help keep your chicken’s environment healthy by adding additional nutrients like calcium into their diet. Things like oyster shell grit or black oil sunflower seeds are always good to have around in case they need them in between cleanouts.

Stay on top of it!

With proper preparation and maintenance of deep litter, your flock will thank you for taking good care of them! Have a set schedule so you stay on top of all their needs. Invest in quality products for the cleanup, like special rakes for combing through tough corners where caked-on mess can hide.

Wondering What You Need to Get Started? Check out This Handy List of Materials!

Using the deep litter method in your backyard chicken coop provides heat in the winter. It is a natural way to keep pests at bay and can give you free fertilizer for your garden. Plus, it keeps down on coop odor by allowing droppings to break into the bedding before cleaning it out! Get set up for success immediately by checking out this essential list of materials needed to get started using the deep litter method!

Visual Learners: Check out Our Super-Helpful Infographic!

A picture is worth a thousand words- right? If that’s true- this helpful infographic is worth like one million! Click on it to check out all the materials you need in an easy-to-enjoy, interactive format.

We Want To Hear From You! Let Us Know if You Use Deep Litter in Your Coop & Get All of Your Questions Answered

If you use the deep litter method in your own coop, let us know in the comments below. Also, tell us which of these materials you already use in your setup, or ask away any queries about those on the list!

Check back next week for part two of our Backyard Chicken Series- we will discuss safeguarding your flock from local pests and predators…

The Dangers of Choosing Poor Materials for Deep Litter Method for Backyard Chickens

So, you have your coop set up, all of the right accessories, and feeders and waterers ready for your precious new chicks! But before they call it their home- sweet-home, let’s look at what materials to avoid for bedding in the deep litter method in your coop/run. WHY on earth would someone want to use any of these anyway?! Let’s take a look at all the no-nos for coop bedding –

Cedar Shavings: Avoid at All Costs!

Cedar shavings may seem like a cheap option for free hauling, but there is more to consider! Cedar can give off odors that predators are likely to notice – bad news for your flock! Also, it can cause respiratory issues for your feathered friends. Say no to cedar in your coop!

Pine Shavings – Keep Away!

Pine may also seem like a cheap option but keep away! It has been said by some that it can also cause tumors in the liver of chickens, so keep away from using pine in the chicken run.

Sawdust = BIG NO-NO

Using sawdust is never a good idea when choosing the right bedding for deep litter in your backyard chickens. Sawdust does no good for anyone involved: it can cause tumors in the liver of chickens and respiratory issues in your beloved flock- so nope on sawdust!

Oh, No-Cat Litter!

Using cat litter is also a big no-no when choosing materials for a deep litter of backyard chickens. Cat litter can give off chemical odors that put predators on alert- not good! Also, cat litter can be potentially bad for respiratory issues of our feathered friends, so keep away from it no matter what!

Newspaper? I think Not.

Using a newspaper is also not recommended at all when it comes to choosing the right bedding. First, it could be better at absorbing moisture (terrible news if you live in a wet area!) Also, slippery surfaces like newspaper can be hazardous, especially for small bantams or silkies- even double bad news right there – avoid at all costs!

Straw? Sorry But Not This Time Either.

Using a straw is also out of play when choosing bedding materials for a deep litter of backyard chickens. Straw gets dirty fast and could harbor pests and other unwelcome visitors like snakes– sorry, but no straw in the coop either!

Bedding Types: What to Use in Your Chicken Coop

When it comes to your coop, bedding is one of the most important aspects of keeping your chickens comfortable and happy! But what kind of bedding should you use in your chicken coop? Check out all of your options to help you choose!

Pine Shavings: A cheap and absorbent option that needs to be changed daily.

Corn-Cob Bedding: Dust-free but can be more expensive than other varieties.

Hemp Bedding: Highly absorbent but needs to be replaced up to six times a year.

Straw Bedding: Coop Size Matters! Calculate How Much Litter You Need for an Appropriate Litter Depth The right amount of bedding for chickens also depends on the size of their coop. If it’s smaller for up to 5-6 chickens, at least 2-4 inches is needed in the coop. But if it’s more significant for up to 20-30 chickens, at least 6-8 inches is required for comfortable insulation.

What to Keep in Mind When it Comes to Messy Chickens (And Other Locations)

It’s also important to consider how prone to messiness your flock is. If they get extra dirty regularly, it’s good to keep deeper bedding levels. But if they keep things tidy daily, you can get away with only an inch or two all over! Don’t Forget About Climate! Keep Layers in Mind Depending on Where You Live.

Lastly, think about your climate before adding too much bedding! Use thicker layers in cold environments like the North during wintertime and thinner layers in hot weather for breezy comfort.

Benefits of Deep Litter Method This Natural Method Keeps Your Coop Smelling Fresh!

If you want to keep your chicken coop in a natural way – and also save some money in the process – try out the deep litter method for backyard chickens. Setting up takes 15-20 minutes, but it can save you hours of labor! Let’s look at what it is all about. At the start of the process, begin using pine shavings in your coop. If it is a wet day, put straw down in the run to help keep it from turning into mud.

Once everything is nice and dry, switch back to the pine shavings on both run and coop for a good start. Cleaning out is also no sweat! All you need is to take a big fork, fluff up all of the bedding in sight (including nesting boxes), use a small rake to put it all into a pile at the center of your coop, and then transfer all of it into a big trash can for good riddance. From there, get some new clean pine shavings for every corner of your tired-out but soon-to-be gleaming cage!

The bad odors won’t stand a chance against this fresh start! Warmth & Moisture Management on those Rainy or Freezing Days! On those cold days of winter, put some nice comfortable straw in all of your cages for animal comfort no matter what species they may be: chickens or rabbits! You can also use straws in feed boxes to help keep all food dry on rainy and icy days.

An Unexpected But Welcome Bonus Surprise – Cats Also Love This Technique!

Feline friends also seem quite taken by the deep litter method for chickens: my cats just can’t seem away from scratching into that fluffy bedding like there’s no tomorrow! It helps them get back in touch with their wild instincts!

How to Effectively Clean Out the Pen Why Use the Deep Litter Method?

We all see those great setups on Instagram of big backyards and huge coops with deep litter setups, but do you know what it takes once it’s dirty? Keep up on it to keep it clean! Get the scoop on why it’s beneficial for you to use a deep litter method for your chickens.

The Pros of Using the Deep Litter Method in Your Coop Setup:

This method can help keep things drier by absorbing all their natural fertilizer into the bedding rather than just building up on a cement or dirt floor. Plus, as it starts to compost underneath, it creates heat to keep them warm in winter but cool in summer! It also acts as a natural pest/parasite repellant by creating an environment bad for pests but good for your chickens. How to

Keep Up on Cleaning the Coop

Rake out all of the dirty bedding at least once a week. If it’s super cold in winter, let it go for two weeks at a time! Also, put down extra thick layers like corn obstacles or snow in freezing temperatures to keep it from getting wet. Finally, give it a complete cleanout at least once a year before it gets too cold to use in your compost!

Going Deep: Does the Deep Litter Method Benefit Your Outdoor Chicken Coop?

The deep litter method in my chicken coop has been excellent! I have never had to clean it out. Here are all the things I did right to get it to work for me and get you started on the right foot! Start with the right flooring for your coop by adding a removable tray at the bottom of your coop that is filled with pine shavings. This will help keep your chickens comfortable and keep them from absorbing much of their mess over time.

Choose good bedding, like pine shavings. The more porous it is, the better off you’ll be since it can get dirty quickly- but also have something cheap to replace it often! Keep up on any big messes by cleaning up any accidents and extra poopy spots at least once per week- this is important so that you don’t let it get away from you in no time at all!

Oh no! All of the Things I Did Wrong in My Coop…

I want to tell you all the mistakes I made before it started working for me in my coop- so that, it won’t take as long for you to get set up right away! Keep these in mind when setting up your own- or start all over again like I should have done, to begin with!

Don’t use a straw for your coop.

It does not absorb well and will end up smelly and gross in no time. Avoid using cedar shavings for your coop in the summertime because it holds in moisture and poop and produces an ungodly stench. Ew!

Don’t expect a sparkling clean (all of the time) setup. If it’s too good to be true- go away! It’s better to plan on having some dirty out there than trying to keep up with a pristine look all the time. Expect Setbacks Before Success!

As with anything- expect setbacks before success when starting down this path toward a more straightforward method for managing outdoor chickens! Mine got away from me once before everything started to run smoothly. But after that initial shock, I could handle my newly dirty setup much better!

Zero Waste Homesteading

Suppose you have been through it all before. In that case, chickens escaping, foxes getting in, and other chicken-predator-related drama—you may want to start over and try out the deep litter method to ease upkeep and keep your hens cleaner in a colder winter.

Using Poop Boards Isn’t All it’s Cracked up to Be!

You might have heard about using poop boards but it can get really stinky if you end up composting wrong, leading to an even bigger mess of mold. Staying Away from Chemicals by Using Natural Remedies to Keep Away Pests There is conflicting information about diatomaceous earth (DE).

Some people say it is terrible for chickens since they can breathe it in, but others think it is no big deal for use on poultry as long as they don’t eat it. Check some other natural methods out there for pest control like herbs to keep pests away without using harmful chemicals or synthetics on your birds.

Natural Worming Remedies to Avoid Needing to Use Medicine in the First Place

It can get expensive having to buy medicines for worms over and over, so look into natural remedies like plants that help keep away worms! Sources like old-timers recommend certain herbs to help avoid worming needs in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Trying out the Deep Litter Method for my flock of backyard chickens has been one of my best decisions. Not only have my chickens been healthier and happier, but I also live a more environmentally-friendly life by reducing waste and helping my chickens live in a cleaner environment! I no longer need to worry about cleaning out all the old bedding once a week; I can relax into the idea of leaving it there to help keep my chicks safe and healthy all at once!

The Deep Litter Method is an all-encompassing approach to chicken health that is friendly to us earth-dwellers, giving us peace of mind in environmental consciousness while also giving our feathered friends what they need to remain solid and comfortable in their homes! It’s an excellent method for any chicken-lover out there looking for a simple way to help keep their flock happy for years to come!

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