|We’ve got about 5-6″ of loose stuff on the floor of our chicken run. Underneath that, it’s black gold.|
Around this time of year, folks are getting chickens. Some for the first time. So I figured it was time to talk about deep bedding again. I know we’ve written about it before, in our book, or on this blog, but this advice bears repeating:
Nature abhors bare ground. Line your chicken coop and run with a thick layer of mulch.This is called “deep bedding.”
Deep bedding solves a whole lot of chicken-related problems in one easy step:
- It goes a long way toward controlling odor.
- It reduces flies (it not only absorbs poop, it actually fosters parasites that kill fly eggs)
- It makes the coop area much more attractive to look at.
- It gives the chickens more to do (ie scratch) which keeps them happy, which keeps them from developing bad behaviors
- It saves you work, because you don’t have to clean it out very often. Maybe not at all. Depending on your set up.
(This is a little off topic, but in a similar way we also advocate thick mulch over any bare ground in your yard. It will improve the soil, encourage worms, discourage weeds, conserve water, etc. If we had lots of spare time, money and a big truck, we’d drive around LA dumping mulch on the many, many parched landscapes that desperately need it.)
How deep? What do I use?
The deeper the better. Say 4 or 5 inches to start, and you will add more to that as it breaks down. As to what to use, you can use any dry organic matter–leaves, husks, straw, dry grass clippings, pine needles. We use straw, and a lot of dead leaves fall into the run, too.
If you want to use straw, try this: just toss a few flakes* of straw into the center of the coop, and the ladies will do all the work of distributing it for you. Scouts honor. Go away, come back in an hour, and it will be so level and even, it will look like you spread it yourself.
Start to think about your chicken coop/run as a compost pile rather than as an animal enclosure. That is what it will become. The chickens break down the bedding material, all the veg scraps you give them, and their own manure, through their constant scratching. Over time, the floor of the coop and/or run becomes a deep soft deposit of compost. Ours is sort of like quicksand. We throw all sorts of stuff in there–kitchen scraps, huge stalks of bolted lettuce, armloads of nasturtium, squash rinds–whatever goes in vanishes within a day or two. The hens peck at it until all the good stuff is gone. Then they trample it. Then they bury it. It all becomes one.
Wear and weather break down the bedding, so you will need to add fresh material every so often. You may also choose to harvest the compost that accumulates in the run. When you do so is up to you. We don’t harvest more than once a year, but your mileage may vary. When you do clean it out, replace what you took with lots of new bedding.
You will probably want to transfer what you harvest into a compost pile to finish up before it goes into your garden.
Note: The hen house is different
Our hens don’t spend any of their waking hours in the hen house, except to visit in the laying box. This means they never scratch around in there, which means this whole “living compost” system just doesn’t work in the house. The poop remains where it falls beneath the roost, untouched. Because of this, we have to clean the house out regularly. To make clean up faster, we don’t use straw or leaves inside–though we could–instead we use wood shavings, because those scoop out fast and easy, like a cat box. The soiled litter goes into our compost pile.
|Hens so hot, they had to be put behind bars!|
*Flake, a vocab word: Straw bales are compressed in such a way that when they are unbound, they come apart in sections about 4 or 5 inches thick. These are called “flakes.”