There is another, better way: it's called the Deep Litter Method. I had read about this, but never tried it. It is an almost-forgotten old-timers' method that allows manure and bedding in the coop to accumulate and decompose inside the coop all winter, then in the spring you clean the whole thing out and have beautiful compost for your spring garden.
It basically consists of turning over the soiled bedding, adding a new layer, and allowing the chicken droppings to decompose on the floor of the coop all winter, while creating heat to keep the coop warm naturally. As a further bonus, as in composting, beneficial microbes grow that actually help control pathogens, making your chickens less susceptible to diseases. (Using the Deep Litter Method helps prevent coccidiosis by not allowing the parasite eggs to develop.)
Then you just clean the whole thing out in the spring and dump it into your compost pile. It sounded easy and practical. So last fall I decided to give it a try.
First I had to give the coop a good cleaning. Here's what I do on a regular basis to keep the coop clean and smelling fresh. And the best part - its all natural. CLEANING YOUR COOP THE NATURAL WAY
Now for the deep-cleaning. I use this same cleaning routine every fall. I pick a nice, warm sunny day to do my twice yearly cleaning. First I shovel out all the soiled straw and sweep out the coop as best as I can.
At this point, Quality Control will come and make their inspection.
If the linoleum needs to be replaced, I rip it out at this point. Then I fill a bucket with warm water, Dawn dishwashing liquid and regular store-brand vinegar. I have a pair of rubber gloves and a scrub brush, as well as a larger long-handled scrub brush.
It combines the antibacterial and disinfectant properties of vinegar with the insect repellent properties of cinnamon and vanilla and the solvency of the orange peel for an all natural spray.
Next the entire coop gets a good scrubbing with the detergent/vinegar mixture - floor, walls, roof, nesting boxes, roosting bars - getting into all the corners where mites might hide.
Then I hose off the inside, rinsing it well, and prop open the roof and nesting box cover to let the inside dry completely in the sun. I love my coop design with the hinged roof because it is super easy to clean.
If needed, I next cut a new piece of linoleum and staple it down over the plywood floor.
The nesting boxes get nice new floors also.
A new layer of straw goes down. Note: if you are using the Deep Litter Method, DE should not be used since it will kill the good microbes and also isn't beneficial to have in your composted soil. [Here is more information about DE] Also, with the Deep Litter Method, you should use pine shavings as your bottom layer.
Of course the girls have to come check it out !
This is also a good time to check the exterior of the coop for loose screws, hinges, shingles, etc. and make any repairs necessary before winter.
Now for the Deep Litter Method:
Starting with the 6" layer of pine shavings on the floor, each morning I turn over the litter so the soiled bedding from the night before ends up on the bottom. I continue doing that each day, adding straw after that as needed to eventually build up to a 12" deep layer. Nothing is removed but rather turned over to expose new straw. (You can also use dry grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, or a combination of bedding types)
Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen. Mixing it with a source of carbon (either straw, shavings or dry leaves) will balance the mixture and hasten the rate of decomposition. It is important that your composting material contain oxygen, so turning is crucial. Fortunately the hens will help you with that part, especially if you get in the habit of tossing some scratch into the coop for them before bedtime. They will learn to scratch through the litter to find the scratch when they wake up in the morning. You can also turn the material with a rake. The turning and introduction of oxygen will reduce the chance of ammonia buildup.
After just a few weeks, the droppings, shavings and straw will start to decompose and you will end up with a fine dirt on the bottom that looks like this.
Continue in this manner all winter. Early in the spring, sweep the composted litter into a wheelbarrow and toss it into your compost pile. Then scrub down the entire coop as described above, let it dry and replace the bedding with a 6" layer of straw. Through the spring and summer, I remove the soiled straw and it goes into our compost pile for the following spring's garden. I only replace straw as needed to maintain a 6" base. The Deep Litter Method is not appropriate during the warmer months since it does generate quite a bit of heat in the coop which you only want in the winter.
Here is what you will end up with come spring.
A few caveats before you try The Deep Litter Method: Your coop must have good ventilation (which is very important regardless of whether you use this method or not, to keep the humidity levels in the coop down to prevent frostbite) and if you smell even a hint of ammonia, you need to clean the entire coop out, add DE to absorb the vapors, put down new straw and start over. Ammonia fumes can cause eye and sinus irritation in your flock.
As I mentioned, last winter was my first time trying the Deep Litter Method. I was very impressed. My coop didn't smell, there was no ammonia scent at all, and the coop consistently stayed 10 degrees or more higher than the outside temperature due to the decomposing litter and the chickens' body heat. I will definitely use this method every winter going forward. It is inexpensive, easy and you end up with perfectly composted litter each spring !
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