Keep Livestock Warm with Deep Litter Composting

What is deep litter composting and how does it keep livestock warm in winter?

If you have any experience with composting, you may be familiar with how compost piles give off heat. As microbes break down the materials in the presence of oxygen, compost piles can warm up as high as 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can measure the temperature of a compost pile using a long-stemmed compost thermometer.

A deep litter pile wont’ get that hot. But it will give off significant warmth.  The residual heat can keep barns, coops and enclosures warmer.  This is why many farmers opt for deep litter composting during the wintertime.

How does deep litter composting work?

Deep litter composting allows animal waste, hay and straw to build up to thick layers in the animals’ living quarters.  As the materials compost down, the pile gives off heat.  Warmth from the pile keeps enclosures warm, reducing or eliminating the need for heating appliances.  If you want to ensure that the compost is doing its job, place a remote thermometer in the enclosure.  Using the thermometer’s wireless display, you can check the enclosure’s temperature from inside your house.  This is handy, particularly at night, to verify that livestock is staying warm enough.

Additionally, deep litter composting is easy and it does not require much maintenance. Waste is not removed from the enclosure during cold months of the year.  Manure and bedding accumulate and decompose inside the enclosure all winter.  Maintenance consists of turning over the soiled bedding and adding a new layer as needed. Turning is easy to do using a manure fork.  Livestock droppings decompose on the floor of the enclosure all winter, while creating heat to keep the animals warm naturally.

Added benefits of deep litter composting:

Beneficial microbes that break down the materials also help to control pathogens. Like probiotics, they make your chickens less susceptible to diseases.

As a side benefit, wonderful compost is produced.  As temperatures begin to warm up, remove it from the enclosure.  It makes a great top dressing.  Additionally, you can turn it into the soil in your spring garden.

School of Permaculture Tip of the Day:  Deep Litter Composting – Chicken System