Deep Litter Method for the Lazy Chicken Keeper

When we first researched keeping chickens, my only hesitation was the idea of having to clean a coop weekly.  I used to have a parakeet, and I hated changing his newspaper tray, and I hated cleaning my hamster’s cage too.  I was dreading having to clean a coop.  I envisioned this, happening weekly (by the way, she was cleaning a coop inherited when she moved to the property for the first time).  Then, I ran across something describing the deep litter method, and I knew I had found the solution.

We clean our chicken coop (specifically the hen-house) twice a year.  And no more.

And the coop does not smell.  In fact, when we participated in the Denver Botanic Gardens/Denver Urban Homesteading Chicken Coop tour, everyone remarked on how our coop did not smell.  I didn’t clean it before the tour, because I wanted to show what the method off and let people see what it looked like to have chickens in real life.

What we learned was that we were, at that time, the only chicken keepers on the tour using this method.  Every other owner had told the tourists that they cleaned their coops weekly.  We were surprised by this and actually started making a joke of it, calling ourselves the lazy chicken owners on the tour.  People laughed and that’s how I actually came to the name, the Lazy Homesteader.  😉

Here is how the method works in case you are like me; allergic to hard work involving poop.

Clean your coop one fall day and then put down a layer of dried leaves or pine shavings or some other kind of litter (not straw – it’ll stink to high heaven).  Then you let the chickens poop on it.  Then when it’s thoroughly covered over in poop…

Put down more shavings or leaves. I just throw it in – I don’t spread it nicely or anything.  I’m not touching that crap.  😉  The chickens will dig through it and spread it around anyway.

Repeat until spring comes.  Note that I mainly just put litter down right under the roosts.  If it’s very rainy or snowy, we put their food and water inside the house (usually we keep them in the run) and we don’t want them to throw litter in the food and water.

Finally, on a nice day, when you feel like doing it, bring the wheel barrow over to the coop, scrape it all out, and dump the decomposed poop/leaves/shavings mixture into your compost bin.  It’ll be mostly all composted anyway.  Then clean out the coop and put down a fresh layer of shavings or leaves (if you have any more).

You are basically composting in the bottom of the hen-house.  And as you learned a couple weeks ago, compost generates heat, perfect for helping your flock stay warm during the winter.

And I can totally handle cleaning only twice a year.

Categories: Chickens, Compost, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 57 Comments

Post navigation

57 thoughts on “Deep Litter Method for the Lazy Chicken Keeper

  1. I use straw and it doesn’t smell…But then again I have lots of other stuff mixed in with it such as shredded newspaper, leaves, wood chips etc…I think it’s all in the blending.

    • I think straw alone doesn’t absorb enough moisture. The mix would probably take care of that. Leaves are my favorite to use since they are, 1) free, and 2) have a pleasant (to me) sweet smell as they compost. 😉

    • Glad to hear this. Pine Shavings are too expensive. So I was hoping to use straw. Mixed with newspapers is a good idea.

  2. Peggie

    That’s how we do it. We also bought some self-stick linoleum floor squares and covered the bottom of the coop. When we clean out, everything just slides out. Plus it’s easy to clean with hot water and clorox.

  3. Pingback: Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens « The Lazy Homesteader

  4. We also do this method with mostly pine shaving (with some leaves mixed in). I think the chickens actually enjoy spreading around the bedding. And thanks for the link! 🙂

    • Jackie Stark

      Where do you put the water. Inside or out? We have turkeys and ducks. The ducks are separate. Good thing since they make a mess. Both are free during the day and get penned up at night to protect them from predictors.

  5. This is what we did with the chicks when they were inside. No odor despite being inside about, um, I guess about two months longer than they were supposed to be. We never changed it, too lazy! Since it worked so well inside, we gave them a thick start of bedding inside the coop and mulch in the run and so far looks and smells just fine.

    • Still fresh but we’ve discovered a problem–three of the girls have chosen one corner instead of a nest box for laying and they bury their eggs in the bedding. We have to dig them out every day!

    • What did you mulch with? Pine shavings? Straw? Hay?

      • We used tree shred (free from the tree company… we deep mulch our yard too). Right now they have straw. But both work great.

  6. Just wondering if you live in a cold climate…I like the idea of having the nesting boxes outside of the coop, but am not sure if I could make that fly in MN. 🙂 I just found your blog and LOVE it! 🙂

    • Hi Claire, we’re in Colorado. It’s plenty cold, but we don’t get the ice you do. 😉

  7. We have kept as many as 12 hens this way for the past 14 years here on Dogwood Lane Farm. I clean the hen house once a year only with a bleach/water solution in late spring. Once dry we spread a thin layer of diatimaceous earth over the floor and perches then pine straw and leaves. Whenever I cut back my rosemary border or prune the lavender bushes I throw those in the hen house to repel bugs and keep things smelling sweet. I’ve never lost a bird to illness or had an mite problem.

    • Glen

      Great idea with the rosemary/lavender – kind of like a chook pooh pot pourri. We grow a lot of garlic and I think I’ll start putting that in the mix too to keep bugs out. We’ve just started this for our 8 chooks in their new home and are building a base with grass hay as we don’t have any shavings/saw dust.

    • Why the DE?

      • Heather Reynolds

        DE prevents mites and other bugs your chickens can pick up. It is all natural and kills pests. Food grade is the kind you need, as chickens eat stuff off the flooring. It is also great in their food for internal parasites. I use sand in my coop, and it is so easy to keep if you put it thick like a foot deep.

    • Melanie

      That last thumbs down was a mistake! I’m sosorry! I’m learning a lot and don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate the help!!!

  8. Bill

    Go vegan, and it solves even more of the messy, smelly chicken problems.

    • Heather Reynolds

      Chickens do wonders for gardens . They eat pests, help till the top soil, fertilize the plants, and pull weeds. You do not have to eat meat to enjoy keeping chickens. My sister is vegan and loves her chickens.

  9. Pingback: Remedial Composting « The Lazy Homesteader

  10. Pingback: Homestead Garden Tour – May 1, 2012 « The Lazy Homesteader

  11. Pingback: What I Made This Week: Turnip, Pea & Kohlrabi Stir-Fry « The Lazy Homesteader

  12. Pingback: How to Tell if an Egg is Fertile « The Lazy Homesteader

  13. Pingback: Backyard Chickens for Beginners

  14. Pingback: I Brought My Chickens Home Today! – Sustainable Scoop

  15. Pingback: We Finally Have Eggs! – Sustainable Scoop

  16. So it does really work? I read about this deep litter method ( others will call it strategy) in one blog in my search on how to disinfect chicken coop naturally. Like you this method was enthusiastically recommended by the writer because of its hassle free maintenance, and in fact they only do a general cleaning of the coop only once a year. Wow, sounds interesting and the convenience it offers is very tempting. Maybe I’ll get to try this method soon.I was just wondering if aside from leaves and pine shavings can we use sand? Thank you so much for this very informative article.

    • Kristen,
      I was all gung-ho about sand until I really read up on the pros and cons. Sand doesn’t break down in compost. Sand can only be mixed into soil at a 50% ratio, or else your soil will start to resemble concrete and once this happens, this condition can’t be fixed. Sand placed in concrete runs smells to high heaven when it gets wet in the rainy season, which draws flies galore. It also needs to be replaced every 6 months – so if you have a large coop and run, that is a lot of stinky sand to put in the dumpster. However, sand can be mixed with top soil, food grade diatomaceous earth [fossilized sea creatures], and wood ash to make a lovely dust bath for your chickens. This provides a 25% ratio of sand, well under the dreaded concreteitized soil threshold. But to be honest, now I think I’d leave the sand on the beach 😉

  17. Steph

    I use this method too but I recommend keeping the bedding shallow enough for the birds to be able to turn it over daily. I let mine get too deep (cleaned only in the spring) and I had a horrible mouse problem

  18. Beth

    Interesting! My coop is a repurposed Shed (heavy duty rubbermaid type with floor). Do you have to have a dirt bottom to do this deep litter method?

  19. Rob

    Just bought a house that had a unfloored, but roofed, 10×10 outbuilding. I raked all the leaves into the 10×10, built two levels of roosts and a large door with a small chicken door in it, and then wrapped the whole thing with poultry fence. Working well so far with 2 hens, but adding 15 8 week olds once the layers get used to it. We just throw our compost scraps into the “mulch” and they scrap it around. Much faster composting than if we let it sit in a compost pile 🙂

    • Donna

      I once had a chicken coop with no floor….fyi we lost birds to predators that dug into the coop at night. Now our coop has a floor and our run has wire buried all around it.

      • I LOVE our dirt floor. No trouble at all and extra microorganisms to help break things down. To avoid predators, we dug 1/4″ hardware cloth about 1′ underground around the entire perimeter.

  20. Susan

    Hello! I live in the Phoenix area and we are already hitting 100 degree days. My chicks are old enough to move to the coop. Is it too hot for starting the deep litter method or is some other type of bedding best for young birds starting off in this heat?

  21. I love all these posts! Thanks to all who take the time to share your ideas! I am doing this tomorrow in my coop! Live in Florida so all should compost quite well!

  22. kat

    What is your coop floor made of and how many chickens do you have?

  23. christa

    can i use grass clippings?

  24. Darlene

    I tried the deep litter method because I heard it generated heat, I must have been doing it wrong because no matter what I did it SMELLED and I no heat! I think it was too many chickens in a small coop (my first year with chickens) but my girls all survived me and our horrible NY winter. Does it have to be a mixture or can it be just pine shavings? I have since built a bigger coop and put down linoleum on the floor, is that going to mess up on how the deep litter method will work? Thanks

  25. Louise

    I have a truck load of shavings, but even though I have tried to keep them covered, they are wet. OK for summer with coop mostly open. Now it is starting to freeze. Not sure how this is going to work for my 60 hens

  26. Dawn

    We cut down a bunch of pine trees and ran them through the wood chipper. Then when we got the chickens we put that in the bottom. When I’d clean out the nesting boxes and where they slept I simply added a few shovelfuls to the floor of the coop and raked it in. Near the end of the summer all I had to do was rake once every couple of weeks. I planted lavender and rosemary around the edge too. I had hardly any flies and no smell. Since this will be our first winter with them I’ll probably shovel it all out (after reading this) and start over in the spring. Great post!

  27. Judy

    Love this

  28. Lisa camden

    im going to be getting 15 new chicks in a few days. I would also like to have a couple of ducks. Can they co-exist together? What do you suggest?

    • Laurie

      I had to make a low fence in the middle of my run for the chickens to get away from my male duck who picks on the hens. The female ducks get along and the rooster does ok. They have separate sleeping sections. Ducks are messy with water which they need to bathe and when they eat.

  29. Betty Hoofman

    This is great info! I was raised on a farm , with chickens , but that’s been at least 50 years ago., and now I’ve started my our ‘little hen house and I have learned a lot from this article. Thank you very much . I’ve also made a couple of swings on the outside of the hen house , so they can perch and sway in the sunshine .

  30. Hello! I just spent8 hours today building the first level of my first chicken coop (I have 11 chicks that are about 5 weeks old and are anxious to get out of the oversized cardboard box they’re currently living in). I am In WI so my coop currently has a plywood floor to keep them off the ground this coming winter (my entire plan was designed around scrap wood and items I had in my yard)…. I’m concerned about keeping it warm enough throughout the winter if we get some of our infamous cold snaps — if I have this deep layer of bedding, the composting warmth is great — but should I consider it a fire hazard if I need to supplement them with some sort of heat? What is recommended for heating in very cold winters? Also, my husband does a lot of work out of the woodshop our garage has turned into so I have ample supple of fine wood shavings and saw dust — would the sawdust be okay to use as bedding in the coop? Or should I be concerned about how fine the dust is and if that might cause respitory issues?

  31. Kim

    Just curious. What do you use in your run? That’s what smells so bad at our house. Esp with all the rain we’ve had lately…

  32. Roxanne Carr

    I use the deep-litter method with straw. All winter long I would just add another bundle of straw if it would get over-pooped, smashed down or I just thought is needed more. My chicken barn is not heated, the roof is at least twelve feet high and my chickens did not suffer at all. The deep-litter method gives off heat as it composts on the bottom layer. I know the chickens like it because they dig holes in the litter and cover themselves in it. Whenever I bring in a new bundle of straw they go crazy when I break it open. They cackle and crow, as they strut through the straw. There is very little smell as long as I keep a fresh layer on top and don’t let it get too over-pooped. It is now mid-summer and in the mid-nineties. The first reasonably cool day we will shovel it out to the compost bin, clean the barn and start the layers all over again.

  33. Deanna

    Do you have a floor. I live in texas and critters are bad so my chickens are put up at nite

  34. Konstantine

    I really want to do deep litter but moved into a property with an existing building, there is a concrete floor, I know dirt is the ideal, does anyone have any experience using deep litter on concrete?

    • Michelle

      Our base floor in the coop is concrete and we do deep litter without troubles.

  35. Karen

    Interesting. I’ve wanted chickens for years but cleaning the poop mess every week drove me away. My nephew made a “fertilizer wagon” and runs it through the rows of his garden and lets the chickens poop there as they go up and down the rows eating bugs and pooping. 2 good things for the garden.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: