Sunday, January 17, 2010

The deep bedding method for backyard chicken coops - a lot of pine chips = a lot less work in the homestead

Abigail says: " keep me happy"

Deep bedding keeps backyard chicken coops clean. Clean hens – happy hens – good neighbors
As I began my addition of backyard chickens to my little homestead, I had read about the idea of deep bedding. Deep bedding is a system designed to keep the floor of the chicken coop clean and safe and warm all the while reducing the amount of work necessary to maintain the coop. It is simplicity itself” you start by laying down a layer of bedding material, straw, hay or pine chips. The depth should be around 3 to 5 inches to start, perhaps a little less is your use pine chips, due to their superior ability to absorb and retain moisture. This initial layer is the basis of all later success so do not scrimp – especially, if you have a wooden floor. Well, I told you it was simple. That’s is for step one

Now you enter the maintenance phase. You will want to check the litter every day or so. The standard method calls for stirring the bedding every week. I find that the hens do such a good job of scratching that this is hardly necessary. However, I always check the area directly below the roost and remove any wet or heavily soiled litter. This is the most obvious spot for over concentration since they will spend a lot of time there, especially in rainy weather. This spot maintenance is a little hands on and it can get icky. But it is always a small amount and can usually be easily disposed of in your compost bin where it will serve as an excellent booster to the composting process. But even this bit of work is very minor, you would be surprised how rarely this occurs, this system is just that good.

Over time, you will want to add fresh bedding. I cannot nail this down to a strict routine but here are some guidelines for when to add another inch layer of bedding:
1) Add bedding whenever you smell any noticeable ammonia odor
2) Add bedding whenever you notice any moisture
3) Add bedding once a month at a minimum
This maintenance will allow the original bed to stay safe and healthy for months and months.

Research has shown that a year still based on the original bed of litter is no challenge at all and still maintains a healthy clean environment. In fact, research shows, less parasites, less mites, less infections, greater weight gains and just better overall health using the deep bedding method over traditional methods that replaced the bedding more often but kept a thinner layer. In cold weather, the deep bedding method also helps to keep the chickens warm – both by sheer volume and by the gradual composting heat generated as the soiled material sinks to the bottom through constant scratching by the hens and the occasional deep stirring done by us.

I did not choose to leave the bedding in place for a year. I have decided to change my bedding twice a year. The reason in not lack of confidence in the deep bedding system and it is not through excess care and fastidiousness. No, I chose to change the bedding twice a year because after a year the bedding can reach up to a foot in depth and I simply do not have that much room in my coop. Remember I made my chicken coop by converting a prefab doghouse. This is a great success, but it is only 36 inches high. The bedding may continue to rise but my doorway and roost do not.

So, no matter, changing a bed of pine chips twice a year is no problem. I set out with a lined garbage can, a small rake, a large scoop and a flat scrapper to clean out corners. Within a very few minutes, all the bedding was gone – all the pine chips raked and brushed into the can and ready to compost. Then I took time to add a thin dusting of diatomaceous earth to thoroughly dry the floor and kill mites. I had planned on a bleach water bath, but it was so obviously unnecessary that I skipped it. All this was accomplished, used bedding in the compost pile, new bedding in the chicken coop and tools put away in less than an hour.

If you have backyard chickens, a good weather tight coop and this deep bedding method will make the joys of backyard farming all the more easy and truly enjoyable. What could be better a small investment in pine chips, will reduce your work, increase your hens health and happiness and end you up with a great batch of material ready to compost. It almost seems like this should be illegal. Take my word for it; this is an idea worth doing.

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