• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • paul wheaton
  • Burra Maluca
stewards:
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Miles Flansburg
  • Devaka Cooray
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Anne Miller
  • Daron Williams
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Joseph Lofthouse
  • James Freyr
  • Bryant RedHawk

Does deep litter work in the extreme cold?  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 2763
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
542
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We started our deep litter coop in late spring.  There's probably 4-5 inches of litter/poop in the coop now.  It's 20F at night and 30F during the day and when I'm in there, all the turds are frozen solid.  The bedding is small wood chips and planer shavings and it is quite dry on average.  So as far as I can tell, I'll be accumulating frozen poop and bedding all winter and it is not likely to be doing any composting in place during the winter.  Is that normal for the northern climates?

If so, I'm assuming that when things thaw out in April, the melting turds may lead to some active composting.  Or I might need to add some water to get it to actively compost.  I'm guessing that would be the time to remove it from the coop so I can moisten it down and let any odors do their thing outside...

Am I on track here?  

Thanks!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Mike Jay wrote:W
If so, I'm assuming that when things thaw out in April, the melting turds may lead to some active composting.  
Thanks!



What it lead to at my house was a vile, stinking, ammonia-producing mess.  I had the same thing you had, a lot of frozen chicken shit and really deep litter until the first real thaw.  Then I had a giant mess.  That was a couple years ago, and then I started cleaning the coop in winter.  This year I am trying deep litter again, but with a much larger amount of ventilation.  I read somewhere, maybe the open air coop book, that you should have 1 sq ft of ventilation per chicken.  I still don't have that much, but I am closer.  I think if you have lots of ventilation it may be able to keep up with the moisture issues in the Spring, but if not, you will have real problems.  I am pretty convinced that cold doesn't hurt chickens at all if they are dry, but moisture is very bad for them.
 
Mike Jay
gardener
Posts: 2763
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
542
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks Todd, that's good to know about the stench.  I'll watch the spring weather really closely because it looks like it would be easy to shovel out in it's current frozen/dry state.  

In the summer I added enough new litter to cover the fresh turds each day (maybe a gallon or less of litter).  Now it only takes a handful to cover the few turds that aren't yet frozen.  I wonder if I should keep putting on more litter so that the C:N ratio is closer come springtime?  Or maybe I should just add extra carbon then?

I think I have about 9 sq feet of ventilation in my coop and 13 chickens.  When they say 1 sq ft per chicken, I'm assuming that is 1/2 foot at one side of the coop letting air in and another 1/2 foot at the other side letting it out.

I'm pretty sure most of my chickens can handle the cold (based on their parents nearby) but I do worry about the rooster's comb/wattle.  I might be a softie and turn on the heat lamp for them if it gets below -15...
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The ammonia is the big problem.  If you can smell any ammonia, it's already high enough to cause respiratory problems for the chickens.  I used a lot more wood shavings than that, usually one of the bales of it weekly.  I also turned it under whenever I could.

In the open air book, they have basically one end of the building open, and no openings at the other end.  That way the chickens have lots of ventilation without drafts at the end they roost in at night, so it should stay warmer and be ventilated well.  The way I'm doing it this year is using a big door, almost 4 ft by 4 ft at one end.  That end opens into the hoop house/green house thing I attached to the end of the chicken coop.  I closed the vents at the other end.  I'm hoping the warm air from the hoop house will warm the inside of the coop during the day and the big open door will keep any moisture from building up.  If it doesn't work and I start to get any ammonia smell, I'll clean the coop and start fresh.  
 
Mike Jay
gardener
Posts: 2763
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
542
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So your 4 foot door is open to a contained greenhouse?  I would think the concept of the open air coop would be that the exposed window is open to the outdoors.  Otherwise you'd just be simulating a much larger but unventilated coop.  I could be totally misunderstanding though...

Wow, a bale a week?  I am putting on much less than that.  I'll have to up my game in the summer.  But as long as the turds are frozen I'm hoping it doesn't matter much.  I am raking the floor every day to turn under the turd marbles.  I'll be getting some scratch grains soon so the girls can turn it under for me.

In their winter greenhouse I have about 80 bags of leaves that they can tear through all winter.  Hopefully that material plus the deep litter plus the turds will be a good compostable mix...
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Mike Jay wrote:So your 4 foot door is open to a contained greenhouse?  I would think the concept of the open air coop would be that the exposed window is open to the outdoors.  Otherwise you'd just be simulating a much larger but unventilated coop.  I could be totally misunderstanding though...

Wow, a bale a week?  I am putting on much less than that.  I'll have to up my game in the summer.  But as long as the turds are frozen I'm hoping it doesn't matter much.  I am raking the floor every day to turn under the turd marbles.  I'll be getting some scratch grains soon so the girls can turn it under for me.

In their winter greenhouse I have about 80 bags of leaves that they can tear through all winter.  Hopefully that material plus the deep litter plus the turds will be a good compostable mix...



I'm not closing up the end of the greenhouse anymore.  I haven't even put the door back on it this year, so for now, the end is basically open, I just made the coop longer with the addition of the greenhouse.  I will put the door back on for the coldest nights, but then I will just leave it all the way open on sunny days.  Yesterday, with the entire door off, it hit 72 degrees in there.  Even with the door on on the very coldest nights, I would expect the air quality to be better.  As an example taken to extremes, if I increased my chicken coop from 96 sq ft with 25 chickens to 10,000 sq ft, the air quality would be vastly different.  I'm assuming doubling the size with the greenhouse will affect the air quality the same way, but of course to a lesser degree.  I'm also toying with the idea of doubling the size of the greenhouse.  The only reason I haven't done that yet is because the ground slopes down at the end of the first greenhouse, so it's a little more complicated than just adding more panels.  Certainly nothing insurmountable, but time is short and projects are many :)

I'm doing the same as you do except I turn the manure under with a fork.  I also added shaving to the greenhouse area, mostly so they are walking on something other than frozen ground, but I also throw grain in there for incentive for them for scratch around.
 
Mike Jay
gardener
Posts: 2763
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
542
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Gotcha, open ended greenhouse.  That makes sense to me

I have plenty of leaves in the greenhouse for them to walk on and dig through.  I still don't have the plastic on it since I want them able to go outside as long into the early winter as possible.  I'm afraid if I let them out when the cover is on, they'll climb it and poke a bunch of holes.  I should have it on in the next two weeks.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Mike Jay wrote:Gotcha, open ended greenhouse.  That makes sense to me

I have plenty of leaves in the greenhouse for them to walk on and dig through.  I still don't have the plastic on it since I want them able to go outside as long into the early winter as possible.  I'm afraid if I let them out when the cover is on, they'll climb it and poke a bunch of holes.  I should have it on in the next two weeks.



I've had good luck with that.  Even my hens that fly out of the run every day have never gone up on the greenhouse.  They haven't pecked holes in it either.  My girls hang out it the greenhouse sometimes but mostly they still go outside.  They only really stay in the greenhouse once we have snow.  Mine don't care about cold or even wet, freezing rain, but they don't like to walk in snow.  That is why I build the greenhouse on initially.  I just wanted them to have a covered place with no snow so they would still go outside.  Otherwise, they sat in the coop all the time.  My greenhouse also isn't sealed where it meets the chicken coop, so they still get some fresh air in there even when the door is on and closed.  The more I think about it, the more I'm deciding to double the greenhouse area.
 
gardener
Posts: 1504
Location: Virginia (zone 7)
347
books dog fish food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting solar trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Would you be interested in applying a homemade lactobacillus serum to the lot? Sprayed on as soon as the weather starts to warm, when the microbes will be most active, may help start the composting and reduce the smell.

I use LAB serum around the house and as a digestive aid for myself and my dog. Several weeks ago, my dog ate some disgusting mess she had found. I was glad I had plenty of LAB on hand for getting her digestive system back on track and also to clean up puke. She threw up in her outside pen and 3x in the house. Smell was taken care of by LAB. (And I have a very keen sense of smell.)

This post by Travis Schulert shares the instructions for making homemade lactobacillus serum. It's exactly how I make mine.

The original website (the unconventional farmer) has many other useful recipes as well.

Here are a few passages from the post:

Apply to places where there is odor buildup. The harmless bacteria “eat” the odor causing germs and the smell is gone! 

Outside: use to control odor in pens – pigs, cows, chickens. In barns, around the yard, etc 

Animal Bedding: 
Mix 2tbsp to 1L water. Mix with animal bedding to reduce smell and increase longevity. In natural pig farming we use at least 1 yard deep of bedding so there is plenty of space for microbes to work. Bedding consists of organic substrate like rice hulls, wood chips, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded corn cob, any other high cellulose, high lignin material. Natural pig farming is a future topic on this site. Spray until bedding is slightly damp but not wet. How much you spray really depends on your climate. If you are in a very dry climate you can spray a little more and mix in evenly. Wetter (more humid) climates use a bit less. Mix into the bedding evenly where necessary (in many cases, like with pigs and chickens, they’ll mix it themselves). How much you use is all relative. These guidelines are for pigs and chickens. More extreme smells, just use more! Want to spray less often, use more! As we notice a smell we spray. Thus, as pigs grow bigger, make more poop, we spray more often! Dosage/frequency is relative and will depend on your situation.

Aids digestion in animals. This is critical. You can raise animals on less food, and see the same and greater growth rates. Amazing results in pigs . The principal is that the microorganisms help digest the food coming in – better digestibility means better nutrient absorption. Save on feeds, better feed to growth conversion ratio! 

TIP: If you really want to boost growth, mix 2tbsp to 1L water and soak the food in this solution for a few hours to a few days. Food is pre-digested when animals eat it, AWESOME! 

Great results in livestock and poultry. 

 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Karen Donnachaidh wrote:Would you be interested in applying a homemade lactobacillus serum to the lot? Sprayed on as soon as the weather starts to warm, when the microbes will be most active, may help start the composting and reduce the smell.

I use LAB serum around the house and as a digestive aid for myself and my dog. Several weeks ago, my dog ate some disgusting mess she had found. I was glad I had plenty of LAB on hand for getting her digestive system back on track and also to clean up puke. She threw up in her outside pen and 3x in the house. Smell was taken care of by LAB. (And I have a very keen sense of smell.)

This post by Travis Schulert shares the instructions for making homemade lactobacillus serum. It's exactly how I make mine.

The original website (the unconventional farmer) has many other useful recipes as well.

Here are a few passages from the post:

Apply to places where there is odor buildup. The harmless bacteria “eat” the odor causing germs and the smell is gone! 

Outside: use to control odor in pens – pigs, cows, chickens. In barns, around the yard, etc 

Animal Bedding: 
Mix 2tbsp to 1L water. Mix with animal bedding to reduce smell and increase longevity. In natural pig farming we use at least 1 yard deep of bedding so there is plenty of space for microbes to work. Bedding consists of organic substrate like rice hulls, wood chips, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded corn cob, any other high cellulose, high lignin material. Natural pig farming is a future topic on this site. Spray until bedding is slightly damp but not wet. How much you spray really depends on your climate. If you are in a very dry climate you can spray a little more and mix in evenly. Wetter (more humid) climates use a bit less. Mix into the bedding evenly where necessary (in many cases, like with pigs and chickens, they’ll mix it themselves). How much you use is all relative. These guidelines are for pigs and chickens. More extreme smells, just use more! Want to spray less often, use more! As we notice a smell we spray. Thus, as pigs grow bigger, make more poop, we spray more often! Dosage/frequency is relative and will depend on your situation.

Aids digestion in animals. This is critical. You can raise animals on less food, and see the same and greater growth rates. Amazing results in pigs . The principal is that the microorganisms help digest the food coming in – better digestibility means better nutrient absorption. Save on feeds, better feed to growth conversion ratio! 

TIP: If you really want to boost growth, mix 2tbsp to 1L water and soak the food in this solution for a few hours to a few days. Food is pre-digested when animals eat it, AWESOME! 

Great results in livestock and poultry. 



That sounds like an excellent thing to try.  Thanks for posting it.
 
gardener
Posts: 2320
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
289
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
biochar will absorb the excess moisture, and smells, while enabling the chicken droppings to inoculate your char for later use.  There are several threads that have posts mentioning this, if you search it.  I tried to find one in particular where a permie went to work on a farm (I think in Germany), and the farmer used a rather rich mix of char to straw in the mix with great end results.  I didn't see the particular thread come up in my search right away, but you may be able to find it.

I think that deep litter can work anywhere, but I've not tried it here yet, so I can't confirm that yet.  My friends (who use loose straw, not super deep) insulated their chicken coop so that the body heat of the chickens did the all of the heating.  When I looked after their farm for 2 weeks last January the droppings were not frozen solid.  It was a mess, and going into the coop was my least favorite part of my duties.  The eggs were worth it though.  
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
93
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I make and use quite a bit of biochar. I consider putting it into the chicken coop one of my failed experiments. A dry coop is a healthy coop, esp in the winter. When you put charcoal into a dry chicken coop, it creates a lot of dust. Black dust. The kind I imagine would give a miner black lung disease. And i put it in the coop in the summer when the humidity is high here. There was so much black dust I would have to wash it off the eggs when I brought them in. I can't believe it's good for the chickens to breath it when they are scratching around. I use it in their run only now.
 
Mike Jay
gardener
Posts: 2763
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
542
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Good points on the char/biochar.  I'm thinking I could save up some char for the spring, move the bedding out when it's still frozen into a big compost pile and incorporate char at that point.  Then as the pile thaws and starts to compost the char can help with smells and absorb biological goodness.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 2757
486
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I had the same sort of experience that Todd had, and I ultimately went back to cleaning out frequently too. My coop is different in that it is insulated and only got frozen water (not the bedding) when it got down to below zero (f). Most of the time it was a mess, and an old trick we used to use was to use lime. I even tried that to kill the smell and was not happy with it.

For what it is worth, and not much I suppose, I do not deep litter my sheep any more either for the same reason. I will admit that I do vary my clean out time. Normally I clean out every 3 days, but it has been 6 days, but the temp went from 47 degrees (f) this morning to 12 degrees (f); a record low for this day in history. The sheep are not accumulated to it, so the deep bedding helps. In the next day or two when it warms up, I'll clean it out. They scatter enough bedding down in 24 hours to cover the floor from the managers so bedding for them is part of feed waste. For the chickens I use sawdust from the sawmill.
 
master steward
Posts: 6824
Location: Pacific Northwest
2124
cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I use deep littter for my ducks, and while it doesn't get that cold for that long here (we're zone 7b/8a), I have had the bedding freeze for like a week in a row. I've never had a problem with ammonia smell, though. Here's what I do with mine:

  • I feed my ducks most of their feed during the day so there's less poop in their house. Ducks have WET poop, and so I don't want too much of it in there freezing and being nasty. I feed them just a few cups to lure them into their house at night.


  • I use a pitchfork to break up/flip the bedding every other day. My ducks don't turn it, as they aren't chickens, so I have to do the turning, regardless of the season.


  • I sprinkle dry pine shavings on top of their bedding every day so that they aren't walking/sleeping on frozen poop. I go through a "bag" of pine shavings about 1-2 weeks. I usually first clean out their nesting boxes, since ducks poop in them. I put new bedding in the nesting boxes, and use the old bedding to cover the rest of the house. If I need more, I get more from the bag.


  • The ducks only get a pail of water, half full. That way they can't splash as much around or try to bath in it. The pail is also placed on the floor of their house (I move the bedding out of the way) and the bedding is tucked around it for more insulation. I get them new water everyday. Outside of their house, they have either the pond or trays of water to bath in.


  • My duck house is well ventilated. The bottom 6 inches of the "wall" are made of hardware cloth so the bedding ventilates more, and the walls of the house are made of cedar with slight gaps between each shingle. The top of the walls are also made of hardware cloth, for more ventilation.


  • You can sort of see the hardware cloth and gaps in cedar in these pictures (more pictures here: https://permies.com/t/37721/critters/Ducks-Safe-Fed-Affordably#316150)





  • Sometimes my husband persuades me to turn on a heat lamp for them. This helps with the bedding under the light, but not much anywhere else, so I don't think it really has much of an impact.


  • I actually find my bedding easier to manage in the freezing temperatures, because it dries out the bedding!
     
    Posts: 206
    Location: ALASKA
    8
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I also use the deep litter method and my experience has been a stinking vile mess come the first real thaw of spring.  I've gone from a once a year clean out to a twice per year clean out.  Once as soon as it is thawed out enough to shovel out the coop in spring and a second time in the late fall just before freeze up.  This has helped tremendously, but it still stinks pretty good come spring time.  I'll add more shavings all along throughout the year to help with moisture, but everything freezes up solid by this time of year.  
     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Thanks Walt!  So if you clean out the vile mess in the spring, what is the need for the fall clean-out?  Are you just trying to keep the litter from getting too deep?  

    I'm imagining that if I do a once a year cleanout in March I'd keep the vileness out of the coop and only have to deal with it once a year.  I'm probably missing something though...
     
    Walt Chase
    Posts: 206
    Location: ALASKA
    8
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    One thing is yes, to keep the litter from being too deep and less volume to shovel out as well.  Second is there will just be that more moisture, manure etc in the litter come spring time if I don't clean it out in the fall.  It was a noticeable difference to me anyway if I did the twice a year clean out.  When i clean the coop out it all goes into my quite large compost pile comprised of my fall leaves, grass clippings etc and the chicken coop contents.  Makes for a really hot pile and really nice finished compost.
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 214
    Location: Denmark 57N
    20
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    We don't get extreme cold but the coop does freeze for a couple of months, we do not use deep litter in the summer but do use it in the winter, I know that sounds odd but there is a reason. In winter the birds are inside a lot more and with a mixture of chickens and ducks (and a leaky roof on the barn) the bedding gets wet, so in winter we put 2-3 slices of straw in every week, this keeps the top layer nice and dry for feet and the ducks to sit on, my chickens do not turn their bedding after their first exploration when I put it in. We don't use deep litter all year as I'm not a fan of the work of emptying it, I would rather muck them out every couple of weeks and have it take 15minutes, than twice a year and take an hour. sure it's more time over all but it feels like less!
     
    Posts: 2005
    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
    97
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    How deep is your deep litter? It should be around 12 inches or more of woody material. If it is deep enough you can just use your fork and turn the frozen poop under where it will thaw and start decomposing.

    I have seen "deep litter" that was only an inch or so thick which is no where near enough for the composting process to get going.
     
    Todd Parr
    pollinator
    Posts: 1793
    Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
    93
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Michael Cox wrote:How deep is your deep litter? It should be around 12 inches or more of woody material. If it is deep enough you can just use your fork and turn the frozen poop under where it will thaw and start decomposing.

    I have seen "deep litter" that was only an inch or so thick which is no where near enough for the composting process to get going.



    Mine starts out at 6 or 8 inches and by spring is at least 18. It more than 2 feet in places. I don't think people from warmer climates can really understand what it's like when it stays frozen for 4 or 5 months.
     
    Karen Donnachaidh
    gardener
    Posts: 1504
    Location: Virginia (zone 7)
    347
    books dog fish food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting solar trees
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    To add a bit more to my suggestion of spraying with LAB when the weather begins to warm (as discussed in my previous post), if it were me, I would be adding it to their water and feed throughout the winter months as well (also mentioned by the Unconventional Farmer in my post above). Here's an interesting read:

    The National Center for Biotechnology Information/National Library of Medicine/National Institutes for Health website has a link to this article in the British Poultry Science journal.

    They conducted a study on the suitability of wet lactic/acetic acid fermented feed on laying hens, comparing it with others fed dry mash.

    My understanding from reading this is that if you try to switch to fermented feed when they aren't used to it they'll soon turn up their noses at it and be pissed off. I probably would be too because fermentation significantly reduces the sugar in the feed. But, if you start them on it at an earlier age and get them adapted to it you won't have such a rocky start as they did in the beginning of this experiment.

    However, if you read further, they concluded that lacto fermented feed was beneficial in increased body weight, increased egg weight, increased shell weight and stiffness, increased intestinal health (therefore, reducing  E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter), and the total egg production between the study groups remained about the same.

    In my opinion, the benefits are great and, if you follow the Unconventional Farmer's LAB serum recipe in my post above, the added cost is minimal.
     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    My deep litter is only 5" deep...  I guess I should be calling it shallow litter.  My coop floor is off the ground on a perimeter of cinder blocks.  So it's nearly earth tied but not quite.  I do realize that you need more thickness to really get active composting going but I kind of doubt it would compost here in the winter unless it was 4' deep and much moister.  Maybe to put it in perspective, two days ago (in early November) the high was 20F and the low was 6F.  For most of January I expect the high temp won't get over 10F and will likely hover around -5F to 5F with lows in the 0 to -20F range.

    So if I'm correct in my assumption that my coop won't actively compost (seems to be verified by Todd and Walt), then maybe the depth doesn't matter and I can save money by putting less bedding in there all winter.  As long as I clean it out before it thaws I may be ok...
     
    Walt Chase
    Posts: 206
    Location: ALASKA
    8
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Mike Jay wrote:My deep litter is only 5" deep...  I guess I should be calling it shallow litter.  My coop floor is off the ground on a perimeter of cinder blocks.  So it's nearly earth tied but not quite.  I do realize that you need more thickness to really get active composting going but I kind of doubt it would compost here in the winter unless it was 4' deep and much moister.  Maybe to put it in perspective, two days ago (in early November) the high was 20F and the low was 6F.  For most of January I expect the high temp won't get over 10F and will likely hover around -5F to 5F with lows in the 0 to -20F range.

    So if I'm correct in my assumption that my coop won't actively compost (seems to be verified by Todd and Walt), then maybe the depth doesn't matter and I can save money by putting less bedding in there all winter.  As long as I clean it out before it thaws I may be ok...



    My deep litter is similar to yours.  Maybe an inch or two deeper.  It always freezes solid in winter.  I do not heat my coop, only the waterer.
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 6824
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    2124
    cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Michael Cox wrote:How deep is your deep litter? It should be around 12 inches or more of woody material. If it is deep enough you can just use your fork and turn the frozen poop under where it will thaw and start decomposing.

    I have seen "deep litter" that was only an inch or so thick which is no where near enough for the composting process to get going.



    I think the problem is that it gets so cold so long that the GROUND freezes 12 inches down...and so the bedding does to. Not much decomposition can probably occur when temps are freezing. In places that cold, I'm thinking that there really isn't any depth of bedding that is deep enough to keep composting and from freezing.

    Mike Jay wrote:My deep litter is only 5" deep...  I guess I should be calling it shallow litter.  My coop floor is off the ground on a perimeter of cinder blocks.  So it's nearly earth tied but not quite.  I do realize that you need more thickness to really get active composting going but I kind of doubt it would compost here in the winter unless it was 4' deep and much moister.  Maybe to put it in perspective, two days ago (in early November) the high was 20F and the low was 6F.  For most of January I expect the high temp won't get over 10F and will likely hover around -5F to 5F with lows in the 0 to -20F range.

    So if I'm correct in my assumption that my coop won't actively compost (seems to be verified by Todd and Walt), then maybe the depth doesn't matter and I can save money by putting less bedding in there all winter.  As long as I clean it out before it thaws I may be ok...



    If that's the case, perhaps the remedy would be to keep the bedding more like 3-5 inches deep, scooping out bedding when it gets more than that (put the bedding as mulch on garden beds, or to build up new garden beds, or in the compost pile). Also, adding a bit more carbon material to keep it from freezing solid, and reducing the amount of water splashing around (probably not as much a problem with chickens than with ducks). The beneficial bacteria sounds like a good idea. And, from my days of yogurt keeping, I learned that a lot of strands can withstand freezing. So if it's in there when it starts thawing, and you're able to get it turned and aerobic, perhaps it won't go anaerobic and full of ammonia?

    But, I honestly have never gone more than maybe 2 weeks with my bedding (or soil!) frozen solid, so I admit I really don't have enough experience to talk...

    I'm really grateful for this thread, because I might just have a reeeeally cold winter one year, and will need everybody's tricks!
     
    Posts: 48
    Location: nw ohio
    1
    bee chicken
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I'm in the same camp with the greenhouse folks.  I have between 4-7 birds over winter and they have there four by six portable coop on a wagon and a 8 by 16 a frame greenhouse.  I give them their water and feed in the greenhouse so they have no choice but to go in there.  I usually throw a couple of bales of straw, leaves and other stuff.  There sure are happy in there and scratch  like the dickens in there and have plenty of room.  I don't notice any ammonia build up in the winter. I can't image having birds without a greenhouse in the winter months.
     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    What if pretty much the entire floor area of your coop was a compost, say three feet deep, purposefully built at the beginning of your winter, and then you added dry straw or wood shavings on the top, as needed to keep the system relatively dry/absorb excess moisture from the chicken waste.  The compost would be thick enough to be generating a bit of heat for the coop and keeping things from freezing deeply (particularly as, being in the coop, it would be protected from wind and penetrating frost); the chickens would get food (worms, bugs, uncomposted veggy stuff), a place to scratch, while contributing their droppings to the system.  

    The entire heap could be removed and turned upon the arrival of spring.  

    The entire system could be inside of a greenhouse.  

    The biggest concern would be to ensure that there was a place where the chickens could dust themselves as this is how they keep clean.  
     
    Walt Chase
    Posts: 206
    Location: ALASKA
    8
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Personally I dont think that even three feet of composting litter would stay thawed over winter here.  While outside and exposed to the weather, my compost pile freezes solid each winter.  The pile is approx 16X16X6 or bigger.  It is generally working very well in the fall as I add the fall leaves and chicken coop contents to it and it is very active.  My coop is well built and insulated, but unheated.  The litter still freezes solid. Someone in a warmer climate could most likely make it work, but someone in colder climates will still have a poopsickle come spring.
     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    While outside and exposed to the weather, my compost pile freezes solid each winter.  The pile is approx 16X16X6 or bigger.  

     That is a big heap!  If you built that heap just before your winter begins, how long does it stay cooking?  Awesome for you that you have a compost that big.  

    Your statement/situation also has the possibility of verifying what I was getting at, about the compost being indoors, and not exposed to the weather.  You have an insulated coop, and so the compost would be in an insulated space, not just out of the weather, but insulated.  There is a huge difference there, even with a shallower depth of compost.  But for sake of discussing it further, imagine that you are able to build your normal sized compost  (16X16X6) inside your coop (obviously modified for the purpose of dealing with a compost system of that magnitude) that is insulated and out of the weather.  What would happen to the compost then?  Would the compost generate heat longer?  Would the chickens be happier?

    Someone in a warmer climate could most likely make it work, but someone in colder climates will still have a poopsickle come spring.

     I am slightly warmer than you, but it can be pretty cold for outdoor critters here too.  And I'm actually considering something like this when I get some birds in the future.  

     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    oh, by the way:

    biochar. I consider putting it into the chicken coop one of my failed experiments. A dry coop is a healthy coop, esp in the winter. When you put charcoal into a dry chicken coop, it creates a lot of dust. Black dust. The kind I imagine would give a miner black lung disease.

     Black Lung, bad.   My bad.  I stand corrected.    I think the farm in Germany that I was reading about was using the deep bedding for cattle, but I can't find it anyway.  
     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Roberto pokachinni wrote:the chickens would get food (worms, bugs, uncomposted veggy stuff), a place to scratch, while contributing their droppings to the system.  

    The entire heap could be removed and turned upon the arrival of spring.  

    The entire system could be inside of a greenhouse.  



    This part is what I'm aiming for, kind of.  My chickens are in a draft free coop with shallow wood chip bedding that gets cold.  Attached to it is a cattle panel greenhouse with a 3' by 3' by 15' leaf based compost pile.  My goal is for the chickens to scratch and worm mine in the greenhouse.  The composting leaves and poop will hopefully help keep the greenhouse warm overnight while the sun will help during the day (if it's not cloudy).  The pile is bermed against the North wall and I have about 50 leaf bags on the outside of that back wall as insulation (more were added after the photo was taken).

    My current plan (based on feedback in this thread) is to harvest the shallow bedding from the coop in March while it's still frozen, unstinky and easier to move and put it in a compost pile in the garden with some char.  If the greenhouse is in good shape, I'll harvest this leaf compost as well and mix all the compostables together.

    I do think that if you have a big enough compost pile in a decent greenhouse, it could cook in the winter.  I hope I've ticked those boxes.

    One thing I haven't done yet is cover the greenhouse with plastic.  I'm going to do that this week.  I wanted to give the birds free range access without worrying about them climbing the hoop and tearing up the plastic as late into the year as possible.  Hopefully I haven't waited too long...
    DSC03845s.jpg
    [Thumbnail for DSC03845s.jpg]
    DSC03848s.jpg
    [Thumbnail for DSC03848s.jpg]
     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Cool project you got going on there, Mike.   Just an observation:  It looks like your chicken wire is on the outside of your cattle panel fencing.  I think that the chicken wire might be a lot more abrasive than the cattle panel, and if that is the case, I would personally do it the other way, for the sake of your plastic's longevity.  
     
    Todd Parr
    pollinator
    Posts: 1793
    Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
    93
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    For people that haven't live in a climate like Mike and I do,  the frostline average for our state is 65in.

    Roberto, I just had a bid accepted on some land I am buying. I've been trying to figure out how my next coop will be built when i move to it. I had an idea like you mentioned with compost several feet deep in the chicken coop going into winter, but I keep coming back to the same issue. Moisture. It's very bad for chickens, but without it, you have no composting action, which means no heat from comoost. I was thinking it may work with a true open air coop with tons of ventilation, but i dont know.  It may be that Mike's idea of compost in the greenhouse area may be the way to go. Im anxious to see how it works out, but i think it will still be too cold to compost. Either way, i have to think the chickens will be warmer and more content will all those leaves.
     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Thanks Roberto, yes it is on the outside.  I think I actually thought it would be better for the plastic with the chicken wire on the outside.  I guess it depends if the cattle panel "lengthwise" pieces are on top or if the "crossways" ones are.  If the "lengthwise" ones are on top it probably would be relatively smooth.  I also was looking at the ease of putting the chicken wire on.  Wiring it up to the inside of the panel would've sucked big time

    Todd, I agree.  The moisture needed to have active composting in the winter may be too wet for healthy birds.  I have no direct knowledge of this as a new chicken keeper but that sounds logical to me.  I will have to keep an eye on the moisture in that greenhouse to make sure it doesn't get too humid.  I do plan on leaving a triangle of plastic open on the NE corner and having the door window partially open on the West end for some ventilation.

    Regarding frost depth.  I think in my area building code requires us to go down a mere 4'.  But last January I moved aside a foot of snow and the ground was 36 degrees.  So I'm hoping that with decent snow cover, the ground under and around the greenhouse won't be frozen.  My coop floor may actually be colder since it's off the ground by 8".  It's enclosed by a ring of cinder blocks but those probably don't hold out the cold as well.

    Congrats on the accepted offer!
     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator



    For people that haven't live in a climate like Mike and I do,  the frostline average for our state is 65in.  

     I agree.  I remember having a discussion on this site about hugulkulture having this great time decomposing in the winter and I stated that my compost was frozen solid by mid November and I thought that a hugulkulture would not fare much better in my climate.  

    We generally, on an average year, are not so extreme as you are deeper in the continental interior, but the old timers recommend 5 feet minimum for waterlines.  If we get a lot of cold before we get snow, or if we have a dry cold windy winter with little snow cover, they say that 72 inches of frost is not completely unlikely, and that I should prepare for it as a possibility.      

    I had an idea like you mentioned with compost several feet deep in the chicken coop going into winter, but I keep coming back to the same issue. Moisture. It's very bad for chickens, but without it, you have no composting action, which means no heat from comoost. I was thinking it may work with a true open air coop with tons of ventilation, but i dont know.  It may be that Mike's idea of compost in the greenhouse area may be the way to go. Im anxious to see how it works out, but i think it will still be too cold to compost. Either way, i have to think the chickens will be warmer and more content will all those leaves.

     It could be that the composting under the coop might not work, or it might work only if there is deep litter on top of it, to keep it from cooling down, and to provide the dry material for the birds.  I think the chickens will love that greenhouse full of leaves.  I doubt the leaves will gain enough moisture to be an issue, but... winter is long and chickens poop often.  :/  

     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Roberto, I just had a bid accepted on some land I am buying.

     Awesome, Brother.  Good luck on the new land!
     
    Roberto pokachinni
    gardener
    Posts: 2320
    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
    289
    bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    My coop floor may actually be colder since it's off the ground by 8".  It's enclosed by a ring of cinder blocks but those probably don't hold out the cold as well.  

     I see that you have some bags of leaves on the outside of your greenhouse; those will help keep the frost from penetrating under the greenhouse edge.  If you did the same around your cinder blocks for the entire winter, it would make a big difference.  I'm assuming that you will use these leaves as part of your litter as the winter progresses and they will not be there all winter?    
     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I actually do have the bags of leaves on the North side of the coop as well (farther away in the picture, before the truck).  I'd've put them on all sides of the coop but it was veto'd by the boss due to looks.  I'll probably just shovel snow up against the East and South sides once we get a bit more.  The West side should be protected by the greenhouse.

    I may use them as litter or to add to the greenhouse leaves if needed.  But I'll be balancing that against their usefulness as insulation.
     
    Todd Parr
    pollinator
    Posts: 1793
    Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
    93
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Mike Jay wrote:I actually do have the bags of leaves on the North side of the coop as well (farther away in the picture, before the truck).  I'd've put them on all sides of the coop but it was veto'd by the boss due to looks.  I'll probably just shovel snow up against the East and South sides once we get a bit more.  The West side should be protected by the greenhouse.

    I may use them as litter or to add to the greenhouse leaves if needed.  But I'll be balancing that against their usefulness as insulation.



    Mike, if the boss allows 😊 a row of straw bales around the bottom of the coop makes a huge difference. Mine is like yours, and the air coming under the coop makes it much colder than being on the ground would. I haven't put bales around mine yet this year because I have a skunk living under the coop right now and I don't want to trap it. I may put bales around soon anyway and just leave the skunk entrance open.

    Thanks all for the land well-wishes. I'm going from 2 acres to 80 so I'll have lots of room for projects.


     
    Mike Jay
    gardener
    Posts: 2763
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    542
    books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    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.
    DSC03815s.jpg
    [Thumbnail for DSC03815s.jpg]
     
    Can you shoot lasers out of your eyes? Don't look at this tiny ad:
    please help me create BB wiki pages, and other PEP pages
    https://permies.com/t/98467/create-BB-wiki-pages-PEP
    • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
    • New Topic
    Boost this thread!