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Does deep litter work in the extreme cold?

 
steward
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True, a row of bales would be prettier than a pile of leaf bags...  Here's a photo of the East (right side in photo) and South side (door/window side).  The cinder blocks are continuous and the siding covers the top 1" of them so the air isn't whistling under the coop.  But the cold is only kept at bay by the mediocre R value of an empty cinder block.
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pollinator
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Very nice looking coop.
 
pollinator
Posts: 111
Location: South Central Indiana
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Hi Mike,

It's hard to say for sure, but 4-5 inches since late spring (May I'm guessing?) seems very shallow to me.  Don't know your number of chickens, or the floor dimensions of your coop, but here's how I do it.

Two  coops, each 8'x 10' floors.  Almost sixty lineal feet of perch in each.  Number of birds varies in each coop, from 20-40.  Right now 32 in one, 38 in the other, some are young.   I start with at least a foot of litter each time I clean the coops.
I throw in an inch or two of litter just about each week, either wild collected grass and leaves, or store bought hay or pine shavings if I'm running low on time.  Scrape the perches and sprinkle a little bit of DE.  Every four months I pull all of it out.  Usually is about 2-3 feet thick.


I do the final cleaning in late October and put in a foot of new litter and just keep adding until a warm March day. I spread this around everything that I want to grow better in early November.  A little less on younger plants, but chicken mulch isn't super hot, so you can put quite a bit on. The May and June cleanings I put under a tarp and save for fall.  Never really had any trouble with freezing.

I think the biggest key is getting layers of litter down between manure build-ups.   That way you're alternating on a regular basis and the result is damn good fertilizer.  The litter you use isn't really an issue as long as it's biodegradable but I don't like to use pine or cedar all the time because they take a long time to break down.  Now, don't get me wrong, after four months, the stuff on the bottom does not look like soil.  I've tried going longer and using more moisture but you still won't get potting soil, just a rotted floor or walls and higher ammonia levels.

I look at like this, the first job of coop litter is to keep the coop sanitary.  I don't know of anyone who get what I'd call "composted" material out it, but a little of the nitrogen heat from the manure has subsided and the plant matter in it helps suppress weeds and provides future fungal and bacterial fodder to develop around the plants you use it to fertilize.  My blackberries were only so-so before I started putting this stuff under them.  Now I can't control them.

Hope this helps!
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Thanks Walt  It cost about $650 for the coop and run.  The majority of it is free pallets and disassembled pallet wood.  

Hi Marcus, I am probably under supplying the litter.  I had 20 chickens in there this summer (now down to 13) and it's 8x11.  Under the perch I have a shelf that most of their poop lands on.  I sprinkle 1-2 gallons of wood chips or planer shavings on their turds every morning.  In the summer I let them free-range from 8am till they go in at night.  So much of their summer/fall poop is in the yard/woods.

It usually doesn't smell at all in there so I don't think there's an excess of ammonia.  I know if you can smell it the levels are too high for the birds.
 
Mike Jay Haasl
steward
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Ok, it's time for an update!  

I carefully watched the temperature in the spring so I could clean out the 6" of wood shavings and frozen turds just before they thawed and turned stinky.  Then I forgot about it and it warmed up and there wasn't a problem at all.  I still haven't cleaned the coop out and it smells just fine.  If I didn't care about the bedding getting up to 12" by next year I'd think about leaving it in there all summer.  But I'll probably pull the majority of it out this summer and let it compost in the elements for a few months.  

So I don't know why other frigid weather folks experienced a stinking mess when the turds all thawed out.  My "recipe" is a 9x12' coop, 12 birds worth of poop per night (they're in the greenhouse during the winter days) and about 2 quarts of pine planer shavings sprinkled over the newest turds each morning.  Rake the turds around a little each day.

As for the leaves in the greenhouse, that was a mixed success.  They didn't even come close to composting over winter so they generated zero heat for the "greenhouse".  They were frozen solid until Mar 1.  But then they suddenly started composting down in the middle of the pile.  I had a daily routine of digging a hole in the leaf pile in a different spot each day in order to "turn the compost".  I'd sprinkle some wheat to give the girls something to scratch for.  After a few weeks the pile was really cooking.  Later in the month I started adding water to the tune of about 50 gallons per week (since there was plastic sheeting on the greenhouse).  Eventually I'd put wheat down in the hole I dug so that when I came back to the same spot there would be sprouts to dig up for the chickens.

Today I've been removing the composted leaves and turds and it is pretty nice stuff.  I'll let it finish cooking in the garden compost bin for a month before applying it to the garden.  Here's the "before" picture with all the leaves in the fall and the "after".
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Chicken compost after
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Chicken greenhouse leaves before
 
gardener
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Wow!  Success!  Great work Mike!   Thanks for the thorough update.  Looks like you have found a great method.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I wish I could generate that volume of leaves on my land.  My forest is mixed and the birches, poplars, and pines drop too many small branches that are impossible to separate from the leaves.  Unless I get a chipper shredder, the amount of sticks is too much to deal with for good composting.  
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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None of those leaves came from my land.  The nice people in the city near me collect them up in the fall and put them at the side of the road in bags for me to collect.  If their lawn looks green and weed free, I pass on those ones.  I think it took about 100 bags to create that pile.  

I do have plenty of leaves of my own, but we mow them up along with the grass clippings to mulch the garden with.
 
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I have a friend who uses this technique successfully in sub freezing conditions. Although he does have a heat lamp in there to keep the microorganisms working, and provide light since in the winter we get maybe 6 or 7 hours of light. He tries to keep the interior just above freezing.

The critical thing is moisture control. Especially around the watering station. The bedding needs to be dry, and the watering station spill proof.

I've been at his coop in the winter and in the spring when the thaw comes. There is no mess, and the ammonia odor is low.

I usually take away some of the bedding in the spring to put on the garden. There is no muck or muddy material. It's actually quite dusty and I have to wear a mask.

If you're having trouble with deep bedding it's probably because the bedding was damp when you put it in and it never dried out, or your watering system needs an upgrade.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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If you're having trouble with deep bedding it's probably because the bedding was damp when you put it in and it never dried out, or your watering system needs an upgrade.

 People do have problems with deep bedding, but it may also be the type of bedding that is used, and not simply that it was damp or a watering system issue.  Mike's deep leaves are very different than someone else's deep straw or hay, and while he is successful with leaves, in my opinion the system remains to be tested fully with more material types than this.  I'm hopeful that you are correct, Nick, and that deep bedding can be used successfully, as I think it's much healthier for the birds.  What does your friend use for bedding, and how deep is it?  
 
Posts: 9
Location: North central Illinois
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Hi, I have a question for y'all, strongly related to the topic here. 1st, my set-up : We just got chickens again ( after moving to another state ) & have only housed them in 100% stationary ( all year, they had either various combinations of truly free-ranging & a large pasture, or were in a chicken tractor in the past, the chicken tractor only being used 1 summer) coops in the past. I currently have them ( only 4 hens & 1 roo ) in a small chicken tractor ( which I move daily) in a large yard & let them "truly" free range most of day, most days ( its fall, garden is pretty immune to them - I have tomatoes above ground level in half barrels which is whole other story- & fenced off a part w fall plantings. They only just discovered the deck & don't poop on it much yet. Hey Paul, wow, I've never had the problem of them trying to roost on car windows ! For this winter, I am planning on building them a chicken tractor like seen on Lumnah acres' you-tube vidoe of " why I dont like the joel salatin style chicken tractors " & placing it on deep mulch on my garden. I've only recently learned just how much ventilation that chickens can supposedly handle in winter & am contemplating leaving an end of it completely uncovered for last few feet ( from even above) OR just leaving 1 end un-covered ( I mean, chicken wire incl. a people door w it,  but nothing else) & a louvered (?) Or closeable (? Even needed ? ) "window" on other end. Also, we're in northern IL, gets plenty cold ( I'm from west central WI, am familiar with everything being very frozen most of most winters ) .  My idea is to keep them in the  floor-less chicken tractor/coop, on the garden, on deep mulch, with idea of possibly moving it to new part of garden ( which is pretty big) whenever it isn't frozen down.
Question #1: Can I & if so should I, try to make 1st spot I place it, an active ( heating) compost pile w tractor on top, so they can have un-frozen ground to find things in as until it potentially freezes solid at some point ? Or will ( as mentioned in this thread) the needed moisture levels for that to even happen for long, combines with enough enclosere to keep out winds ( windy here) make a too-moist enviroment for them ?
Question #2: Is that ( described near bottom of above) enough ventilation at all /even if not on moist, heating compost ( have yet to search for ventilation topic or Google it & do more research ) ?
I have unlimited access (in summer, could stock-pile now) to wood chips from neighbor & am currently letting my lawn ( 1/2 acre-ish) grow longer between mowings & can layer that in with it. Possibly can (afford the gas) to fetch free horse manure locally. Might move bavk to WI ( sister moved back there from TX & other reasons) next spring, too, is a consideration, as far as how much to invest in this now, but I will be wanting Info to try this ag in, there. Sorry if I sound weird or stupid. I have had 3 day headache. Hubby may have time to help me make new coop this weekend, why I typing now. Any ideas on overwintering them in the most ideal way ( I totally agree w Paul's views in article on pros & cons of different ways of raising chickens/rotational paddocks etc. ) much appreciated. Thanks.
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Hi Angela, I'm guessing keeping a compost pile warm through a northern IL winter will be very very hard to do.  So while I think you "can" do it, I doubt you'll be able to.  

Once there's snow on the ground you won't be likely to be able to move it anyway, right?

I'm not sure how much ventilation they can handle when it's below 0F.  I keep mine fairly snug and they still get some frost bite.  Maybe that's from it being too humid but I don't think that's the problem.
 
Angela Burton
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Location: North central Illinois
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As far as moving it, whenever it's not frozen down - which , if this winter isn't much worse than last winter, will probably happen fairly often. Moving it is just an idea for like, hygiene. If they're "compost" spot is frozen by then anyway, won't matter if I move it ( if not, don't move it ? Add mulch/turn w fork ? ).  Since chickens we've had don't really venture out onto snow much, I fig. the only place they'll be hanging out is inside & where they'll be pooping all the time. Thought moving it whenever I can could be a nice change.. . Frost bite : We had some issues w it back home in real cold snaps. Our coop was a corner of the (unheated, uninsulated) garage. The 2 walls of chicken wire. When we realized the frostbite was happening ( combs & a couple toes), we took the chickens to our basement, in the half-full wood-room ( window near it) where they happily spent a few weeks. Was worried about them re-acclimating to outside temps ( basement wasn't too warm at least) but disnt know what else to do. They took some coaxing to leave basement, but did fine.  Their coop still coulda used more ventilation though, so now I wonder if it (frostbite) had been a humidity factor. Cant remember now, but I think I did have plastic - left in garage from a painting project- M/L covering the chicken wire walls in an effort to block out the wind when we opened big garage door.
 
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