Rotating Litter Method for Backyard Chickens

July 18, 2015
 A rotating litter method helps to keep eggs clean.
We have twelve chickens and I have tried many things over the years. Using a rotating litter method is what works for us. We have snow in the winter, and average days of rain. We have humidity in the summer and we live in a wooded area. The run is covered but open on all sides.One of the first things that you try and educate yourself about when you keep chickens is waste management. As with keeping any animal, it is important to properly manage their waste to keep your animals healthy, prevent disease, prevent rodents, eliminate odor, prevent flies and so forth. Over the years, I’ve had many people ask what techniques I use in my chicken coop. This topic always seems to be a source of great debate. So, here is what I do.
Tilly's Nest- chicken coop inside outdoor runwp
To prevent boredom, add some stumps, branches and even ladders.

Every morning, we scoop up the chickens’ droppings from underneath their roosts. It takes no more than a few minutes.  In general, this keeps the coop pretty tidy over the weeks.

Then once per month we:

Clean out the entire run. Rake it out until you have removed all of the waste. Thank the chickens, you will find that they have already kickstarted the composting process with their continual scratching and digging in the dirt and shavings!

Take the soiled shavings from inside the coop and toss them out into the run. Spread them out evenly on the ground of the run or let your chickens do it for you.  They love scratching and looking for treasures!

Finish cleaning out the coop.

Vacuum up all the cobwebs and dust with a shop vac.

Wipe down surfaces with a chicken coop cleaner or a water solution with 10% bleach.

Remove the roosts and scrub them down and set them in the sunshine to dry.

Mist the coop and nesting boxes, including the nooks and crannies, with Poultry Protector. Let it dry.

Once the coop is dry, sprinkle food grade DE lightly on the coop’s floor and in the bottom of the nesting boxes.

Add a couple of inches of kiln dried pine shavings to the coop and nesting boxes.

Sprinkle the nesting boxes with nesting box blend.

I believe that this technique has kept pests such as mites and lice at bay as well as other internal parasites such as worms. By recycling the coop’s shavings to the run, the pest repelling products remain in the litter.  We rarely have flies or any coop odor. I also don’t like to wash my eggs. Clean nesting boxes keeps eggs clean. Lastly by adding the shavings in the run, we avoid pools of water from rainfall. Even with the covered run, the rain does get in, especially during periods with heavy rain and wind.

The soiled dropping from the run as added to the compost pile to finish curing for a couple of months. Then we add it to our gardens. Chicken manure makes beautiful compost!

I’ve recently added a new product to our routine called Dookashi.  Stay tuned for my impressions. 

Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest


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19 thoughts on “Rotating Litter Method for Backyard Chickens”

  1. Hello! My 6 girls are now 8 weeks old and I am still a little unsure as to what to do in the run. I am letting them mow down all the greenery, but once it is gone should I just leave it raw dirt, and when I clean out the coop toss the pine shavings in the run? It drains well and is approximately 12'x12', half of which is roofed. I am reluctant to use sand. Should I clean out their droppings daily or is longer ok? Please help!

  2. This is perfect- thanks for sharing! We have 8, they haven't started laying yet, and I'm still trying to figure out a cleaning routine. I'd love a list of tools you use as well! 🙂

    • I have a few reasons why I avoid straw:
      1. Straw is hollow. I find it is a perfect place for mites and poultry lice to hide.
      2. Straw does not rapidly compost like pine shavings. Makes me wait longer to put the compost in my garden.
      3. My hens eat the straw and it gets caught up in their crops and it has led to impacted crops in the past.

      I hope this helps.

    • Thank you very much….We completely emptied the coop of the straw the very week I asked this question..and laid down the pine shavings on the floor and in the nest boxes….Wow, what a difference in smell and everything is dry…no moisture whatsoever. As far as mites, I can see where that is coming from. We have mites for the very first time ever….might be from the extremely hot weather and rainy season we are having this year….taking your suggestions of using the poultry Protector and the DE…plus dusting each and every chicken with the DE…

  3. I have my first chickens this year and pretty much am following what you do. I clean the coop out every 2 weeks because we flood irrigate every 2 weeks and the shavings just get to wet, found this out the hard way or heavy way I should say!! So do you use the shavings in the nesting boxes as well? I'm about a month or so from getting our first eggs and am unsure which to do. I have the nesting herbs. I haven't thought about putting the shavings spread out in the run but I like the idea so at least if we get rain hopefully this winter (northern California!) theres a pretty good base built up and it won't be so muddy in the run. I think that cleaning the roost droppings everyday has helped a lot with the flies and it takes under 5 minutes! Thanks

    • Yes, we do use the pine shavings in the nesting boxes too. I find that I clean those maybe every 2 to 3 months. They stay pretty clean as no one sleeps in them 😉 Can't wait to hear about your first egg. Share it with me on Facebook!

  4. I live in Texas and it has gotten up to 102 and I'm worried my 8 hens (about laying age) are suffering from heat stress any tips?
    Also I one of my buff Orpingtons has a slightly pale face and wheezing a bit does that have to do with the heat?

  5. Thanks for sharing your system! Love your blog.
    I'm building a run and have a similar setup for my three girls (secure coop for nighttime, covered run for daytime), and am debating whether I should bother with an apron around the run. Did you dig hardware cloth around the sides of your daytime run, or is digging really only a nighttime concern? And if there are digging daytime predators, would we be talking about big animals like dogs, where 2×4 welded wire would be sufficient? Or smaller animals where hardware cloth is necessary?
    Thanks so much! (And sorry if this posted twice…not sure if it did.)

    • Hi Emma, Thanks so much for your sweet words! Yes, you definitely should bother with the apron around the run. Plenty of predators dig including large ones like coyotes and smaller ones both during the days and nights. Things such as rats can easily get through 2 x 4 wire, so I would definitely go with the 1/2 inch hardware cloth. I hope this helps. Share a pic of your coop and run on Facebook! We'd love to see it.

    • Thank you! Turns out I should have some extra hardware cloth from covering the sides of the run, so I'll add an apron. I don't know if I can dig down a foot due to tree roots, so if I lay it out on top of the ground, do you recommend 12, 18, or 24 inches out?
      I appreciate all your help!

  6. Thanks for your question! Yes I did dig an apron all the way around the coop. I do recommend using the smaller 1/2 hardware cloth as that also deters smaller diggers including mice, rats and chipmunks. Even these smaller critters can spread disease. They prey on your flocks’ health, eat the feed and rats will eat baby chicks and eggs. I hope this helps.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.