Chickens: Care and “after feeding”

This weekend begins a new cycle of managing the litter in the chicken coop.  There are many methods that people use to manage the copious amounts of stuff that chickens create.  First off, if you didn’t know it already, chickens poop… a lot. They poop before they eat, after they eat and even while they are eating.  One of their most favorite places to poop is on the roost.

If you have never seen a chicken before they roost for the night, they will try and gorge themselves to the point of popping before they head to bed.  By morning, you will have considerably more chicken droppings than the night before. With that being said, we will now go back to how to deal with this problem.

I personally use a modified deep litter method.  The interior floor of my coop is 36 square feet. This is not tremendously large, but the interior is tall enough to that my staggered perches work out well for the chickens.  They only sleep in and use it for access to the laying boxes. When my coop was new I covered the bottom with 2 compressed bags of shavings from  Tractor Supply.  Every couple days, the droppings build up a little and I use a bow rake to stir and spread the shavings about a bit about.

I do this not only to remove the droppings from the surface of the litter, but also to allow time for positive bacteria and bugs to  take up residence.  This creates a positive environment for the droppings to start to breakdown naturally.  After a week of this stirring process, I spread a one to two inch layer of fresh shavings on top, and the process continues until the next weekend.  So far this is the typical deep litter method, but this is where I diverge.

Most people who choose the deep litter method use dropping trays under the  roost poles. This cuts down on the amount of shavings that make it to the litter below.  I prefer for the droppings to go into the shavings.  This dries them out quicker and by adding shavings to the top it builds the material up.  Deep litter method typically accounts for an annual complete emptying of the coop material, but I never fully empty the shavings.  Every three to six months, I dust mask up and use my rake to pull about 75 percent of the shavings out of the coop and spread them in the run. I then add a fresh bag of shavings and the process resumes.

I find that the regular stirring and drying out of the droppings not only reduce the smell of the coop, but also the smell that would occur with the removal of the litter.  Once the litter is spread in the run, I stir it lightly about with the other material there and dust the entire run with scratch.  The chickens do a real fine job of homogenizing this mixture.  This mixture along with all my raked leaves and grass clippings builds up a very thick layer of mulch like material that is almost spongy.

The almost constant scratching in this material aerates it well and speeds its decomposition. The added fresh droppings and rain speed the process as well.  Once or twice a year I shovel up about half of what has accumulated in the run and then incorporate it into my compost bin.  What so great is the fact that because this compost has been so actively turned that it takes very little time for this to usable in the garden. A few shovel scoops of this stuff under tomato plants produced some of the best that I have ever grown.