If you are in a hurry and want to get right to the point, you can jump down below and read how to use the Deep Litter method to keep your animals warm in the frigid winters.
I’m not gonna lie, in the winter it gets pretty cold in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
So cold in fact that it can be downright miserable for my animals. Because of this, I am always looking for ways to keep them warm when the temps get really cold. If you are just starting out, you can read my post How to Keep your Animals Comfortable in Frigid Temps. for some other tips.
One surprising thing I did find out over those first few winters is the ground is where the cold really gets intense. My barn is half dirt and half concrete. When the wind chills are in the negatives, there really is no difference.
Both grounds are rock hard and both grounds are ice cold.
That first winter, I remember going out to feed my animals in the morning. I discovered all of my goats standing in a bunch all huddled together with their tales tucked tight. I realized the ground was so cold, they could not lay down and slept standing all night long.
Yep, it was time to come up with a new plan.
A few years ago a friend told me about the deep litter method. I had never heard of it before but after talking to her I knew this was the solution I was looking for.
What is the deep litter method?
It’s simple really. You start out with a fresh layer of bedding. You can use straw, sawdust or wood chips. As the animals soil things up, rather than clean out the bedding you just add a fresh layer on top. About every week or so. Throughout the winter the added layers of bedding creating a nice barrier between your animals and the cold ground.
The deep litter method does two things. First, it saves you from doing the tedious chore of cleaning pens in miserable weather. Second, it provides a nice soft bed for your animals.
How to use the deep litter method to keep your animals warm.
Step #1 Start with a clean pen.
It is important to remove all the soiled litter before you begin. This will keep the smell down throughout the winter. A nice thorough cleanout in the fall will do the trick nicely.
Step #2 Put down a fresh layer of bedding.
Using your choice of bedding, put down a good layer to start. I like to use a nice layer of sawdust in the fall. This helps to dry things out quickly and smells pretty nice too.
Tip: You can also sprinkle a bit of food grade Diatomaceous Earth before you add the sawdust or bedding of your choice. This will keep pests down and away from your goats. Just make sure you use food grade. This can be bought at any feed store.
Step #3 Add as you go.
Every week or so you can add more bedding. I used to do this but no longer. I have found that my goats waste enough hay that there is plenty there to deep litter without my having to add anything. Remember whatever you add now will need to be removed later. So keep things to a minimum and you will be grateful come spring.
Step #4 Spot clean.
I like to spot clean up poo piles as I go. This is especially helpful if you have quite a few goats in your barn. Things can go south pretty quick so doing just a little shovel out of nasty areas will keep things smelling just fine.
Also, that poo will freeze into little rocks in winter and can not only trip up you but your goats as well. Remove things as you go and keep those hazards to a minimum.
Spot cleaning is super easy if you have a manure rake like this one. I love my rake and use it every single day.
Step #5 Keep the gate clean.
I found pretty early on that using the deep litter method where you enter your pen is not the best idea. Remember not removing litter means you will have a good foot of bedding by spring. There is just no way to open a gate against that! Keep things cleaned out by the gate and you won’t have any problems.
Now, there is a downfall. Be prepared come spring for a heavy cleanout job. The good news is, that the lower layer of bedding will be perfect for your garden. Incredibly potent and perfect.
When I am cleaning things out I will take the lower rank layer (not kidding here, wear a bandana and you will thank me later!) toss it into my wheelbarrow and head straight to my garden. Just dump it and let it sit for a week or so.
Let me just stop here and say if you are older like I am, having a good wheelbarrow is the key to keeping back pain to a minimum. I got this wheelbarrow for Valentines Day from Hubs 4 years ago and it is the best thing he has ever gotten me. The two wheels make it easy to move no matter how full I fill it up. Invest in a good one and your back will thank you for it.
If you have chickens you can even let them at it. They are pretty amazing and efficient workers and can spread out a large pile of manure in less than an afternoon.
If you do not have chickens then you can simply rototill it into the ground. Once tilled I like to let it sit and rest. In another few weeks, it can be tilled in one more time and you are ready to plant.
Since I have begun doing this, my garden has thrived. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Free all natural fertilizer just waiting to be used.
Deep litter is not just exclusive to goats, this little trick works well with chickens, sheep, horses, and other livestock as well.
My favorite part of homesteading is learning to reuse and recycle as much as I can. The deep litter method will not only keep your animals comfortable, but it will ensure you have an organic start to your garden.
If you are new to goats, you can find all of my post at Raising Goats: A Beginner’s Guide for everything you need to get started.