Deep Bedding Method: A Great Way To Care For Animals

When I first heard about the deep bedding method used in chicken coops, I was intrigued. At that time, we were mucking out the the chicken coop once every 2 months.

During the summer, this isn’t so bad. But in the middle of winter, when its cold outside, I’d rather not clean out the chicken coop.

That’s where the deep bedding is a star. Not only does it lessen the workload of caring for chickens and other animals, it also helps to keep warmth in the coop, and makes for a rich compost later on.

At its core, the deep bedding method is a practice that involves the use of high-carbon materials—such as straw, wood chips, or sawdust—to create a thick, insulating layer for animals to rest on.

Over time, this bedding material absorbs waste. My rule of thumb is that if you smell a strong ammonia smell, its time to add a layer on top.

The layer becomes thicker with each addition, but as it composes, it gives off heat, which helps warm the chicken coop.

It’s a dynamic system that not only keeps your animals cozy and clean but also encourages beneficial microbial activity.

This bedding will turn into rich compost for your farm soil.

Deeper into its operation, the deep bedding method fosters a micro-ecosystem where decomposing organic matter generates heat, speeding up the breakdown process.

This naturally occurring heat is especially useful during colder months, providing warmth to animals without the need for external heating sources.

It’s a win-win: you provide a comfortable environment for your livestock and gain valuable compost in the process.

Regular turning of the bedding can help aerate the layers and expedite the composting process, but is not necessary. Chickens will naturally peck and turn it for you.

By using this method, you’re adopting a sustainable approach to managing animal waste while contributing to the overall health of your farm’s ecosystem.

Fundamentals of Deep Bedding Method

Deep bedding, or deep litter, is a method of animal waste management that involves the accumulation of bedding material like straw or wood shavings in animal stalls.

Your aim is to allow for the natural composting of waste within the coop or stall, improving the living conditions of the livestock.

Materials Commonly Used:

  • Straw
  • Wood shavings
  • Sawdust
  • Peat
  • Hemp
  • Wood chips

Steps to Implementing Deep Bedding:

Initial Layering

In the chicken coop, our floor is plywood. So we start with that. If you are using an outside shelter, the dirt floor is a perfect base.

Then choose your bedding material. We mostly use wood shavings, but straw and wood chips would work as well. Start with a thick base layer. Aim for a depth of about 8-12 inches.

Maintenance

There is little daily maintenance needed. When the bedding becomes too wet or dirty, add a thin layer of material. Depending on the number of animals, this can be weekly, or biweekly.

My nose usually tells me when it’s time. A smell of string acid means you are already losing nitrogen into the air. It is time to add a carbon material (meaning your bedding choice).

Different types of bedding will absorb and break down at different rates. Wood shavings break down more quickly than wood chips.

When feeding animals, take a quick glance at the bedding. You can tell once its time to refresh.

Turning

We don’t turn our deep bedding until we remove it from the coop. It is not necessary to regularly turn the bedding, although it can help to expose damp areas to the air, aiding in evaporation and composting.

If used in a sturdy shelter, pigs added at the end of the season can be powerful compost turners. Be careful when using outside tunnels as animal shelter.

Pigs can destroy the bottom section of a high tunnel pretty quickly.

Monitoring

Keep an eye on moisture levels. The bedding should be moist but not wet. Wet bedding needs added layers. Like previously mentioned, monitoring is as simple as seeing what needs to be done when feeding the animals.

Key Benefits of Deep Bedding

  • Comfort: provides a soft, warm surface for animals.
  • Hygiene: reduces the chance of disease by assimilating waste.
  • Insulation: offers thermal protection against cold.

Things to Avoid:

  • Overcrowding of the stalls.
  • Using materials that don’t absorb well.
  • Letting the bedding get too wet or too dry.

Using deep bedding in your farm management practices will help maintain a clean and comfortable environment for your animals.

Advantages of Deep Bedding

Deep bedding gives a lot benefits to your livestock, such as improved comfort, better waste management, and potentially enhanced growth rates in your garden. It also offers you the benefit of a little less work.

Keeping a farmstead is a lot of work, and using deep bedding is one way we work smarter, not harder.

Improved Animal Comfort

Your animals’ wellbeing is crucial, and deep bedding provides a soft, insulating layer that supports their joints and reduces the risk of injuries. It helps them keep warm in the winter, and overall is a good bed for them.

By using materials like straw or wood shavings, you create a warm environment that is especially beneficial during colder months.

Our pigs are funny. They all sleep in a hole filled with straw in their shelter. It provides the warmth for them during cold winter days.

Better Waste Management

With deep bedding, the accumulation of manure and urine leads to a composting effect. This process not only reduces odors but also turns waste into valuable compost for later use on fields.

Regular maintenance can extend the bedding’s effectiveness and cut down on the frequency of full bedding replacements.

Rich Compost

The natural heating that happens with the deep bedding method is the breakdown of the browns and greens in the pile.

This breakdown is a natural part of composting, and produces the best soil amendment for your garden and fields. I’ve been a big compost fan, ever since I physically saw the difference in our strawberry patch and corn field. Compost is amazing!

Challenges and Solutions

Implementing the deep bedding method comes with its own set of challenges, but I find the pros outweigh the cons.

Managing ammonia levels is the main one we’ve encountered, but is easily managed. You want to add layers of bedding often enough to prevent the spread of disease.

Managing Ammonia Levels

Your primary concern in a deep bedding system is the accumulation of ammonia, which can harm animal health and worker safety. To control ammonia levels:

  • Ventilation: Ensure adequate ventilation to reduce ammonia concentration.

  • Regular Monitoring: Don’t neglect your animals. Your nose is the best ammonia detector. If your eyes burn when you comes close, the ammonia levels are too high. I prefer not letting it get that bed.

Preventing Disease Spread

Infectious diseases can quickly spread in a poorly managed bedding environment. To prevent disease:

  • Clean Water: Always provide access to clean water to reduce the risk of disease.

  • Isolation Protocols: Isolate sick animals immediately to prevent the spread of infection.

Implementation in Different Animal Systems

The deep bedding method enhances animal welfare and manure management across different livestock systems. We currently use it for sheep, chickens, cows and pigs.

Here’s how you can apply this approach to swine, poultry, and cattle.

Deep Bedding for Swine

For swine, you’ll typically use straw, sawdust, or other organic materials. Ensure your pigs have a comfortable, dry area by replacing or adding bedding as needed.

Maintain this area to prevent the build-up of ammonia and reduce the risk of disease.

  • Best Materials: Straw, sawdust
  • Maintenance: Regular addition and replacement; moisture control

Deep Bedding for Poultry

In poultry systems, deep bedding assists in odor control and provides insulation. Pine shavings and straw are popular choices.

  • Best Materials: Pine shavings, straw
  • Maintenance: Adding layers when necessary; keep the bedding dry

Deep Bedding for Cattle

For your dairy cattle, the deep bedding method can be especially beneficial during colder months. Large quantities of straw or other carbon-rich materials help to insulate and provide comfort.

  • Best Materials: Straw, corn stalks
  • Maintenance: Frequent inspection, timely replacement; moisture and temperature control

While we’ve used the deep bedding method for cattle and pigs for many years, we only recently started using it in our chicken coop.

Instead of having to clean out the chicken coop multiple times a year, we only clean it out in Spring and Fall.

When I first mentioned this method to my husband, he was skeptical that it would work for chickens. But he has changed his mind and is on board now as well.

The deep litter method is am great way to provide comfortable bedding for all animals, and is a great way to care for your animals.