How to Use the Deep Litter Method for Ducks and Chickens
Cleaning out the duck coop can be very time consuming and a lot of work. Thankfully there is an easier way. It is called the deep litter method. You can be use the deep litter method for ducks and chickens.
What is the Deep Litter Method?
The deep litter method is when you start with a thick layer of bedding and keep adding more bedding on top of the soiled bedding. This saves you time and effort. Instead of completely removing everything and putting down all new bedding on a consistent basis you just clean it out twice a year.
Depending on how large your coop is and how many ducks (or chickens) you have will depend on how often you need to top it up. This type of waste management will also keep your eggs cleaner.
Ducks can be notorious for dropping their eggs wherever. In a dirty coop that means eggs getting covered in feces as well. As you add more dry layers on top, the wet and dirty layers down the bottom start to break down. This create heat and other beneficial properties.
Why Should You use the Deep Litter Method for Ducks?
I use the deep litter method for my duck house and here are some reasons why you might want to try it:
- It keeps the coop warm during the winter. As the bedding breaks down and starts composting it will create a naturally warmer coop for your birds.
- You will have wonderful compost to add right into your garden (keep away from plants you eat) or compost pile. More on that below.
- Simple and less time-consuming. The bedding can generally be removed and replaced twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. So no need for weekly coop cleanings.
- When done properly it is much cleaner and provides health benefits for the birds
- It cuts way down on the smell.
- If you have dirt floors it attracts earthworms which your ducks will love. *if you have predators in your area that can dig, dirt floors are not recommended*
- Eliminates most of the flies
- Keep the eggs cleaner when you go to collect them.
How Do You Start the Deep Litter Method?
Start by putting a layer of bedding down over the entire floor. You want about 3-4 inches. As the bedding gets soiled and wet you want to add another layer on top. I like to use a pitch fork and mix the bedding around before I add another layer on top. I do this for several reasons.
- It helps to cut down on the smell. When it gets stirred around it allows air to be incorporated. This helps to speed up decomposition which in turn helps cut down on the amount of ammonia. If you have chickens just throw some scratch down and they will mix it all up for you.
- It helps to keep the bedding drier. Ducks have very wet poo. When they sleep and continue to poo in the same spot it creates a wet spot. Mixing the bedding around can actually help dry it out as the moisture will be dispersed amongst the bedding that is still dry.
- As the bedding and duck poo break down the beneficial microbes multiply. These microbes help keep your flock healthy and actually help fight off diseases like coccidiosis, which is a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract.
What Should I Put on the Floor of a Duck Coop?
Some people using linoleum flooring in their coop. It can be cleaned out easily and there is no wet poo sitting directly on the wood. The wet bedding eventually rots the floor of the coop when there is nothing in between the bedding and the wood floor.
I personally just use a tarp. In the spring after I’ve taken out most of the bedding I can grab the whole tarp and carry it to the garden or compost pile and dump it there.
What is the Best Bedding for Ducks?
There are many different types of bedding that can be used. Different people have success with different types of bedding. I think it depends on how big your coop is, how many ducks you have, what is most easily accessible and the affordability.
Pelletized Horse Bedding
My mother in law has chickens and has used the deep litter method with them for many years. I am now using it for my ducks and it has worked great.
We both use pelletized horse bedding on the bottom. The pellets expand and turn to sawdust when wet. You just need to lay them out (I use a wheel barrow) and spray them with a little bit of water. This will start the process. Give them a stir and let them dry out before tossing them in the coop.
When you leave them half in pellets and half crumbled it will help keep everything a bit drier as the pellets will absorb the moisture and then break apart. If you have chickens they will do the mixing for you.
If you have ducks you will want to use a pitchfork and give everything a mix around every day or so. I leave a pitchfork right beside the door to the coop so when I go let them out in the morning fluff it up so it can get air throughout the day before the ducks go back in. It takes me less than a minute to do this each morning.
Using Pelletized Bedding for Summer and Winter
In the summer with just the pelletized bedding you can use a kitty litter type scoop. You scoop out the large clumps of poo and dump into your compost pile, or directly into the garden.
I currently only have two ducks so I don’t do the deep litter method in the summer, it’s easier to just scoop out the poop and give the bedding a stir. Everything dries up quickly because of the heat. I have not had any issues with flies or smell.
We will be adding more ducks this summer so I will update in the fall as to how it went with the extra ducks and not using the deep litter method.
In the winter we add hay. My in-laws have horses so there is always an abundance of clean hay that is free from pesticides. In the fall when I clean out the coop I add the pellets to the bottom and then lay some hay on top.
As we go through the winter I fluff and mix the bottom layers together before adding more hay. We have had zero issues and the coops stays dry and warm.
Large flake pine shavings are a great bedding as well. I have used the smaller size for the brooder and it works great. Bags of pine shavings are easy to find, affordable, and typically come dust free.
Pine shavings are antimicrobial which means it stops the growth of microorganisms. This can be beneficial in helping to prevent mold and mildew growing on wet and soiled bedding. This seems to be the most common bedding choice for duck and chicken owners.
Hay or Straw
You can use hay or straw as bedding as long as you are sure that it is free from pesticides. Ducks are extremely sensitive to pesticides and can cause health problems if they are sleeping and foraging through it all.
Straw is typically sold as animal bedding and is cheaper than hay. This is because straw is the part of the plant that is left over after the nutritional part has been removed. Hay is harvested for its nutritional values when the plant is still growing before it has a chance to seed.
Because hay is harvested when it is still fresh, if it does not dry enough before being wrapped into bales there is a chance of mold growth. Straw is typically already dry with no moisture left. You can use either but you just need to be sure that there is no mold or pesticides.
Bedding to Avoid
- Dried and fallen leaves – When they get wet they can turn moldy and they don’t hold onto moisture as well as the other options
- Cedar shavings – Although they have antimicrobial benefits, cedar is a known allergen to many people and animals. The dust from cedar can also cause respiratory issues, and not just for the ducks. If you’re spreading the bedding and you breathe in the dust you could end up with your own health issues
- Shredded paper – It absorbs the moisture and does not dry out quickly. It should only be used in last resort type situation and should be mixed with wood shavings.
- Sand – Deep litter method needs carbon and nitrogen to be successful. The dry bedding is the carbon and the feces are the nitrogen. Sand is not a carbon, thus it will not help anything break down. It is difficult to keep clean and dry without removing all of it.
Although it is not a type of bedding, I have heard of many people adding DE (Diatomaceous Earth) or lime to the bedding as it has insecticidal properties. The problem with this is that it also kills off the beneficial microbes that are growing. They help the composting process and provide health benefits to the ducks and chickens.
What Do You Do with the Duck Poop?
You can toss it into your compost pile or you can add it as mulch to your garden. If you place a thick layer in the garden it will help to cut down on weeds growing. It will eventually compost down fully into the soil providing plenty of nutrients for your plants. It is best to keep it around perennials and not to use it on food crops, although there are some exceptions.
In the fall when you are cleaning out the coop and getting it ready for winter, you can add the bedding right on top of your garden beds (as long as you’ve taken all the food crops out). Over the winter it will compost down and provide you with nutrient packed soil, perfect for planting in. I add horse manure to my garden beds and then cover with duck bedding.
In the spring when things aren’t so frozen I mix everything into the top layer and let it decompose further. I also allow the ducks into my garden beds at this point and they help mix stuff up and eat all the bugs they can find.
Why Can’t you Add Soiled Bedding to All Plants?
When emptying out the coop some of the bedding will be composted down enough to go right into the garden. This is great and the plants will love it. However, it needs to be kept away from any plants that are low to the ground and you will be eating food from within 6 months.
There are pathogens in duck poo that will make you very sick. You can put it around plants where the food is kept away from the ground, like fruit trees, matured blueberry bushes etc. You want to make sure the produce is high enough that when it rains it will not splash up off the soiled bedding and get onto the food. If it does come in contact with food and you plan to eat it, it needs to be cooked. The high heat will kill off the pathogens.
This goes the same for water from the duck pond/ pool. If you use the water from the pond to water your garden you want to keep it away from any food crops. It is great to use as it is full of lots of nutrients that your plants will love but you just need to be mindful when using it near food crops.
What are the Disadvantages of Using the Deep Litter Method for Ducks?
- When the deep litter method is not managed properly it can cause health problems for the birds. If the bedding becomes waterlogged and does not have enough air circulation it will begin to break down anaerobically. This means as it starts breaking down it will begin to release gases like methane. Ammonia will also be released into the air. This can cause serious respiratory and eye problems for the birds, or any livestock.
- A deep litter bedding that is not managed can create a pest or fly problem.
- Your coop needs extra ventilation. This isn’t really a disadvantage unless you did not provide enough air flow when building the coop. Ducks naturally need more ventilation than chickens just because they are typically more humid and without adequate ventilation the inside of the coop will grow mold and mildew.
- When ducks and chickens have to walk on wet and soiled bedding constantly they can end up with problems like bumblefoot.
What is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot is an infection in the pad of your duck’s (or chicken’s) foot. It can be caused by many things, one of them being they are living in unsanitary conditions and not letting the feet dry out. If ducks are constantly walking through their feces and mud they can end up with bumblefoot.
Can You Use the Deep Litter Method in a Duckling Brooder?
Yes, you can use the deep litter method in a brooder as well. You need to make sure the area you are keeping the ducklings in has high enough sides that it can accommodate 6+ inches of bedding.
I did a modified deep litter method in our brooder. I filled the bottom with several inches of shavings and every couple days (or as needed) I would scoop out the top layer where it was wet (mainly from their drinking water) and any large clumps of poo.
Then I would mix up all the shavings and add a fresh layer on top. This helped to keep it drier and allowed me to not have to fully change out the entire brooder. For a more in depth explanation on how to keep your duck brooder mess free check out How to Make a Mess-Free Duck Brooder.
When the ducklings were getting closer to full size they were out growing their brooder. They would spend all day outside but the nights were just a bit too cold. This meant that I did have to do a full change of duck bedding more than once. This was due to the amount of moisture and the side of the brooder could not accommodate that much bedding.
This year when I do ducklings the coop will already be set up with the deep litter method. This will be provide some warmth so they will be able to get outside earlier than last year. If you have a big enough brooder for the amount of ducks then you shouldn’t need to change out the entire bedding until it’s time to put them outside and clean out the brooder to be put away.
What is the Best Bedding for Ducklings?
Small – medium sized pine shavings are the best for ducklings. They are small enough that the ducklings can get over them and won’t struggle to move around. They are also big enough that the ducklings won’t ingest them. You may notice them testing them but they usually shake their heads and drop the shavings.
There are so many different methods used for the bedding of duck coops and this is just one way. Some people use the deep litter method for ducks in a modified way that suits their situation better. But at the end of the day you do what is best for you and the health of your flock.