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Thoughts on deep-bedding with conifer needles and twigs.

 
Kevin MacBearach
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Location: Beavercreek, Oregon
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After I watched the video, "deep chicken bedding with christmas trees in the chicken coop" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwjPj1p1Azo , I started pruning pine branches around my property and filled the coop with the small twigs. Instantly the strong ammonia smell was gone and in it's place was a nice pine-scent which lasted over a week. Even after the pine-scent dissipated, the ammonia smell never returned.

At this point I can't say enough about how well this has worked out. I feel that this is the first thing I've done at my farm that's felt like I'm doing permaculture since I don't leave the property to buy straw anymore, and just use what's on my own property, which works ten times better.

The lady in the video used old Christmas trees, and gave the impression that either because the chickens spend more time in the coop in winter, or she hasn't many conifers growing where she lives so it could be a seasonal thing, for her anyway. I on the other hand am cutting fresh ones and using them, and I'm wondering what else it would work, pig bedding, or cow? I have yet to use the finished product of broken-down pine needles and chicken manure as a compost on the soil so I have no idea how it will be for growing stuff. It's strange that, besides this one video, I've seen nothing else on mulching pine needles with manure to make good compost. If it's so great, then why isn't there more chatter about it?
 
Jay Green
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I'm currently using deep litter with leaves~lots of free ones here~and even stored several packed trash cans full for winter use this year and saved myself some money on buying pine shavings. I am very pleased with the speed and ease in which they break down and how well they form a "pack" at the base, which is what I desired.

I don't plan on ever removing all my litter pack but maybe extract some for garden use only. My coop has no smell whatsoever. Of course, it doesn't smell anymore since starting fermented feeds anyway, but the leaves are good cover for the beneficial bugs I've been wanting to cultivate there in order to start my own pest control.

I used to use pine shavings but they take much longer to break down...they would be very useful in more moist and humid conditions as they seem to keep the litter more mobile and absorbant, so they may still be added to my litter this summer.

Here's a pic of this fall's beginning of the use of the leaves and you can see that small twigs, and pine cones are par for course when using the leaves. There are even pine needles included in this mish mash of forest floor debris that I am using. The current pack level is about 6-10 in. deep throughout the coop now, but in this pic I had just started, so the leaves were fresh and crispy.

The chooks really seemed to enjoy the leaves even more than they do the pine shavings...



If you look close at this pile, you can just see the pine cones and needles, along with the twigs and leaves:




I think most folks hesitate to use a large concentration of pine needles for mulch due to the high acidity but I think that could be sweetened right up with the right application of sweet lime. I use wood ashes in one corner of the coop that slowly but surely get mixed throughout by the birds.


 
Kevin MacBearach
Posts: 213
Location: Beavercreek, Oregon
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I hadn't thought of leaves for the chicken coop. I would have thought that they wouldn't have enough body to them to handle all the chicken poop. I guess you make a pretty deep layer to start with. And yes, it would probably be better for applying to the garden without worrying about the effects of pine.

Well, I went in this morning and applied wood ash to all the pine needle bedding. When I opened the coop door I noticed a strong ammonia smell. I don't think I was adding enough pine needles to keep up with the chicken's waste.

Maybe I should try using leaves. I'll wait and see how the added wood ash effects the smell situation.
 
Jay Green
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You might also consider using way more airflow in the coop than you currently are using...if you open the door of a coop and the first thing that hits you is a bad smell, the airflow in your coop is not sufficient enough to wick away the ammonia. Most think of ventilation near the roofline as being key but ventilation at floor level is even more so if you are using a deep litter system. Good air in the bottom, bad air out the top as the heat and humidity~along with the scent molecules~are pushed out the upper vents.

Deep litter doesn't have to start out deep, but as you add frequent layers, it will build up deep...same with the leaves. They look deep and fluffy at first but that deep fluff is gone within a week as they are flat, dry, thin and easily broken. Could be that you need to add layers more frequently. It helps also to take a fork and turn the dry litter over onto the night's deposit of feces when you go to feed and water...just takes a few seconds and keeps the flies~if any~ from blowing the poop and keeps the ammonia from the urine from being so strong in the air.

If you don't currently have pole roosts as opposed to ladder roosts, you will find that~if you switch over~ the pole roosts are way more convenient when dealing with a deep litter system. Ladder roosts are hard to work under and take up much more floor space, it's hard to regulate the heavy dropping load under the ladder unless you move the whole structure, etc.

Most folks who use deep litter have open air style coops...here's a crudely drawn diagram of airflow in one such coop from a fellow from another forum:



This is his open air coop....





Even when not using a deep litter system, open air style coops have been proven to be healthier than the small, windowless and narrowly vented coops one sees on the market and being built these days. These are in fashion because the new set of poultry owners imagine the chickens need insulated boxes in which to keep warm in the winter, but open air coops are often left completely open air throughout the winter, even in sustained subzero temps.

If you have really good airflow and are still smelling ammonia, then I agree with your assessment...you need to add more dry material and more frequently to affect a change in the smell of the coop.
 
Kevin MacBearach
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Location: Beavercreek, Oregon
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Wow. I'll be adding two air vents today just above the door. I have one vent only (the chicken entrance) at the bottom on the opposite side. I think this change will make a huge difference.

Thanks!
 
Jay Green
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You're welcome! You may even want to go further than just venting over the door.....more light and air in the coop can help prevent a lot of nasties.

And remember...cross breezing, though wonderful in the summer, can create drafts in the winter. Having the upper and lower ventilation on the same side of the coop, as in this fella's coop, can create an in and out flow of air that isn't creating a breeze/draft situation but rather a circulation. I have both types in my coops so that I can create the best of both worlds but will close off the breeze way style venting during the winter months.
 
Thea Olsen
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Location: suburbs of Chicago USDA zone 5b
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I used pine branches in my a-frame chicken tractor. It had an upper floor where the chickens roosted and laid eggs, and pine shavings quickly got kicked out, but pine branches stayed put, and completely eliminated odors. If I still had chickens I would still use pine branches. I wonder if I could use them (chopped fine) for quail?
 
Dayna Williams
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Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Jay Green, I wonder if you might explain a little more about fermented feeds for your chickens? What changes did you make in their diets? I know about the value of fermented foods for humans, but haven't heard of them applied to chickens before, only sprouted grains.
 
Jay Green
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If you are sprouting grains, you are already fermenting them to some degree...the seed goes through the same process and the same enzymes are involved, but it is allowed to sprout afterwards. In fermenting grains for feeding, the whole mass of feed~be it processed feed formulas, whole grains, feed supplements such as bone meal, kelp, etc.~is placed into a bucket, water is added and it is stirred on occasion to aerate it. It can either pull yeast spores from the air or you can charge it to speed up the process.

Most jump start it with mother vinegar to get some well established enzymes into the batch quickly but you can use other forms of yeast cultures. I use the ACV because it's cheap and I have it on hand anyway. Some use kefir, bakers yeast, etc.

After your batch is inoculated and the enzymes are converting your grain proteins into something that is more able to be utilized by a monogastric animal, you can just use part of the fluid or fermented feed as a continuous starter, much like keeping a sourdough starter going, so that you have strong enzymatic presence in each batch of feed that is fermenting. This is called backslopping and the studies showed it to be more efficacious in producing the needed fermentation more quickly and with stronger action.

Here are some links to studies done...there may be more out there since I started fermenting last spring but I've not felt the need to glean more information since starting the process. The proof of its benefits show in the flocks, in the total feed consumed and in the coop environment. The more they can utilize their grains, the less is evident in their waste material, leaving their feces with less smell of the partially processed grains. My dog used to scoop up any chicken poop he came across and I assume it was for the protein derived from the undigested grains, but he no longer finds their feces edible or attractive. To me that means that less of my money is laying on the ground in the yard and in the coop and more is being utilized by the bird.

http://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajb/article/viewFile/60378/48610

http://www.pjbs.org/ijps/fin640.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19373724

To loosely summarize the studies done, the fermented feeds are a valuable probiotic source for the birds, increase the length and absorption of the intestinal villi, can increase the total protein absorption by 12% and thus less feed consumption overall is noted to get the same amounts of nutrient benefits. When used in laying flocks the egg weight increased, when used with broilers less chicks died of dehydration in transport and more chicks were able to show improved digestion when fed the wet feeds early on. The probiotics in the FF were able to reduce the incidents of cocci, salmonella, e.coli, etc. in the flocks and overall health was improved.

Here's a link to the BYC forum thread that another fellow and I had started when I first experimented with this method of feeding with some Cornish Cross meat birds:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/644300/fermenting-feed-for-meat-birds

Any questions you may have about the various styles of using this feed, the feeders utilized to do so, the results people have had, etc., can all be asked right there on that thread...it sort of morphed into something along the way and there are a large number of people now using the FF for their flocks of all kinds and even for their pets.

I still use the two bucket system I devised in the beginning but I don't lift the inner bucket for draining off any longer as my flock is much smaller, but it came in real handy when draining off the amounts of feed required each day for the 54 CX birds. The bottom bucket is a good reservoir for keeping my starter intact and for feeding it from above, while still utilizing it throughout the bucket when fresh water is added from above.

In my own experiment with FF I found that meaty chicks arrive from the hatcheries with residual effects of the antibiotics fed to their parents and will have loose, foul smelling feces throughout their short life if their bowels are not recultured. This constant and frequent squirting of their nutrients out the backside gives them a voracious thirst as they are constantly being dehydrated by the diarrhea. Just drinking more water doesn't replenish these valuable electrolytes lost, so many people experience death with CX when the birds are the slightest bit stressed by heat, exercise, or fast weight gains.

The FF changed that outlook for my meaty chicks within a day or so of arrival...normal, formed and scentless little mutes were being expelled instead of the moist, putrid feces that are trademark for this breed. Their water consumption went down, their total feed consumption was considerably less and they were more active in every way. No losses due to health issues, good growth pattern, increased foraging abilities and a coop that had no smell or flies for the 3 mo. they were depositing feces there in the deep litter...this was during the hottest and most humid temps we had had in a very long time and many days 98* weather and 50-60% humidity. My CX foraged all over 3 acres throughout the heat wave and only showed minimal effects of the heat, such as not running as quickly or taking a little break during the hottest times for a rest in the shade.

In using it for layers I've found that it increases the rate and quality of feather regrowth after molting, increases body condition on the same protein percentages I used to feed as dry, increased egg yolk size no matter how small the actual egg itself, and increased vitality in older birds. Others found an almost immediate increase in rate of lay for their younger flocks and increased coloring/barring in their show stock's feathering.

I really can't say too much about how pleased I am with the FF and I won't ever be going back to dry feeds. That's saying a lot after feeding dry feeds to chickens for 35 years. It doesn't take much time, it's not too messy, it cuts down on my feed bill...it's a winner with me. My flock doesn't need sprouted grains because they are free ranged at all times, so the fermented feed grains gives me the probiotics and increase in total nutrient use without all the fussing and fiddling with sprouting grains. Just 2 buckets and a scoop are all that's required and some folks just use one bucket for the same purpose. It's cheap, it's easy and it has powerful results.

Here's a pic of an egg size increase in the same flock, before and after feeding FF.



And here's a pic of a free ranged and FF fed chicken's small egg next to large Grade A commercially produced eggs:



Here's a few pics of the FF in the bucket:



And an example of quick molt recovery for this older hen, accomplished in 7 week's time after starting the FF:





 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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So would it be a matter of what individual chickens are exposed to, or is there a clear favourite? As in, is FF candy to them, or do they really prefer bugs and green growies? I am inclined to provide them with FF all the time if it's better for them, if it maximizes use of forage resources, and if it makes sure my backyard remains relatively inconspicuous, smell-wise anyways.

-CK
 
Jay Green
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No, FF isn't candy to them and they seem to like it equally as well as forage. Chickens like best what they do not have at the time, so if they are foraging all day, FF is still a treat. If they are penned all the time, forage is the treat.

There is a certain amount of protein they need in order to reproduce and maintain muscle mass and, unless you have exceptional forage, it won't be enough to maintain them at a high level of production. Feral chickens in tropical areas can maintain existence but they will not lay as well as domestic birds, nor will they maintain a meaty carcass.
 
drew grim
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Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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how long does it usually take for a bucket to start fermenting? im going to go the ACV way. do you look for fermentation bubbles or just go based off of smell? have you had any problems with flies?
 
Jay Green
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drew grim wrote:how long does it usually take for a bucket to start fermenting? im going to go the ACV way. do you look for fermentation bubbles or just go based off of smell? have you had any problems with flies?

1. Depends on the temps...anywhere from 8-15 hrs if temps are >72*. Also depends on the subject of fermentation.

2. Both...the smell and the gas formation are both indicators of change to the fluid and feed.

3. I cover mine with the lid but just leave one side not snapped down. I've not had any problems with flies but, if I did, I would count that as more protein. Some folks who didn't cover theirs mentioned fruit flies at certain times of the year.
 
drew grim
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Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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great thanks. i am going to start this right away.
 
Ollie Puddlemaker
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Location: Houston, Tesas
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Chris Kott wrote:So would it be a matter of what individual chickens are exposed to, or is there a clear favourite? As in, is FF candy to them, or do they really prefer bugs and green growies? I am inclined to provide them with FF all the time if it's better for them, if it maximizes use of forage resources, and if it makes sure my backyard remains relatively inconspicuous, smell-wise anyways.

-CK


Chris - I knew, I'd seen this post/text material somewhere, but couldn't locate...this can be your answer to preventing any odor problems getting to your neighbors. Click this link ~ http://www.permies.com/t/21446/permaculture/Lacto-Bacillus-growing-farm
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Has anyone seen a post from Paul where he talks about the deep-litter thing? I don't think I have. I personally see it as entirely different from them "standing around in their own shit" to paraphrase his chicken article. This seems like the kind of thing where you could easily innoculate ramial wood chips with Lactic Acid Bacillus and have them treat the animal wastes better, and starting the moment they hit the litter.

-CK

EDIT: Just answered my own question: http://www.permies.com/t/7294/chickens/deep-bedding-chickens-winter
 
Jay Green
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Chris, I've been using deep litter for years now and, when properly cultivated, will produce its own cultures and bacterias that are beneficial to the composting of the manure and to the health of the bird. The feces resulting from fermented feed seem particularly quick to break down in good litter and seem to disappear in a couple of days of being turned under. As with the fermented feeds, I'll never go back to a dry coop...too many health benefits of deep, cultured litter to ever pass it up.

Keeps my coop smelling sweet, cuts down on flies, provides healthy bacteria underfoot that inhibit the overgrowth of more harmful pathogens, provides a place for predatory bugs to thrive..and these prey on parasite larvae, cuts down on chores, produces valuable mulch for the garden and inoculates my chicks on the day they arrive.
 
Dayna Williams
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Jay, my chickens thank you for revolutionizing their lives.
 
Jay Green
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My chickens do too!!! Can't credit me, though...I learned from a lot of methods of others, try it out in my backyard lab, weigh the results and just spread the news if it's all good.
 
Vida Norris
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Kevin MacBearach wrote:After I watched the video, "deep chicken bedding with christmas trees in the chicken coop" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwjPj1p1Azo , I started pruning pine branches around my property and filled the coop with the small twigs. Instantly the strong ammonia smell was gone and in it's place was a nice pine-scent which lasted over a week. Even after the pine-scent dissipated, the ammonia smell never returned.

At this point I can't say enough about how well this has worked out. I feel that this is the first thing I've done at my farm that's felt like I'm doing permaculture since I don't leave the property to buy straw anymore, and just use what's on my own property, which works ten times better.

The lady in the video used old Christmas trees, and gave the impression that either because the chickens spend more time in the coop in winter, or she hasn't many conifers growing where she lives so it could be a seasonal thing, for her anyway. I on the other hand am cutting fresh ones and using them, and I'm wondering what else it would work, pig bedding, or cow? I have yet to use the finished product of broken-down pine needles and chicken manure as a compost on the soil so I have no idea how it will be for growing stuff. It's strange that, besides this one video, I've seen nothing else on mulching pine needles with manure to make good compost. If it's so great, then why isn't there more chatter about it?


Hi Kevin,

Thanks so much for posting this. It's exactly the confirmation I was looking for! I am surrounded by conifers so it would greatly reduce my bill if I could use them instead of sourcing out wood shavings. One question though - can this be done in a coop that has a wood floor? I am setting up my system, which involved a mobile coop in a paddock shifting scenario, but the coop will be where they hang out at night. The floor unfortunately is made of wood, (I've heard earth is the best) so I am just wondering if you think this system will still work in an elevated wooden floored coop?

Thanks in advance!!!

 
a wee bit from the empire
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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