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Deep Bedding Method for Livestock (Cleaner Barns & Healthier Animals)

During the winter months, our animals are in much closer quarters inside the barn and their stalls. This makes management of the barn a bit more difficult. However, with the deep bedding method for livestock, we not only keep our barn in good condition, without the stinky “barn” smell, but we’re also building future fertility for our gardens and pastures.

A man picking up cow manure in a barn.

Why We Love the Deep Bedding Method

When our animals have to be confined in the wintertime, there’s manure accumulation that we need to manage to keep from turning into biological and environmental health risks.

We’ve used this deep litter method with our chickens inside their static coop for years with great success.

Not only does this method keep the barn smell down, keep our animals in healthy and clean conditions, but the future fertility we build for our gardens and pastures is an incredible by-product. Then, by layering in seed and grain for the pigs, they’ll turn up the deep bedding for us before it’s time to spread it out to pasture.

It’s a win-win for the pigs and for saving my back.

Homesteading Hack: You may wonder if you can utilize chickens to scratch, peck and spread the deep bedding in the barn. The answer is yes, they’ll do a fantastic job, and we’ve used this method in the past. However, the chickens loved to roost in the barn at night, and their poop would end up all over the place. We didn’t like that, so now we just let the pigs do the work in the spring.

A pile of deep bedding in a barn.

What Is Deep Bedding for Animals?

Deep bedding is a system of adding carbon materials to the animal’s barn area to create a proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen. By continuing to add layer after layer, a “deep bed” of fertile material builds up.

We love utilizing this deep bedding method because we’re creating future fertilizers for our gardens and pastures. Since the deep bedding is already an even mix of carbon to nitrogen, this eliminates the need for a large compost pile that builds up throughout the winter (that’s also generally stinky due to the higher levels of nitrogen).

And finally, by adding in layers of seed and grain, we’re creating a way to encourage the pigs to root and break up the deep bedding once it’s time to spread it around the pastures and gardens.

A tractor dumping wood chips into a barn with cows.

What Is the Best Material for the Deep Bedding Method?

We use wood shavings, but that’s because we have a local source for them and we like to use the options available to us. That doesn’t mean it’s the best or the only option. Our ultimate goal is to create something as close to compost as possible come spring, and since wood shavings break down faster than wood chips, we’ve found this to be a great option.

You want to aim for a 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. I don’t have a formula for this, and everyone’s barn setup will be different. So it’s up to you to figure out how much carbon needs to be added to your specific barn setup (tips on how to manage this ratio below).

  • Wood Shavings – We like wood shavings because they’re small and break down quickly. They’re also very light, making it easy for the children to help manage the barn chores.
  • Wood Chips – Wood chips would also be a great option if you have them available to you. They’ll break down more slowly than wood shavings, but that can be a good thing depending on your needs.
  • Straw – Another option is to use straw. Though this may be more difficult to mix up and use right away in your garden or pasture, it will still work to add into your compost pile to allow it to continue to break down until ready to use.
A man picking up deep bedding in a barn.

How Do You Know if Your Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio is Correct?

Without accurate measurements to create a 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen, the best thing you can do is to use your nose. Your nose will tell you when the nitrogen is getting too high. It will smell stinky, like urine or sulfur.

Next, you can go by look and feel. For us, there’s a happy medium of wood shavings that have done their job to absorb the excess moisture. They’re not dripping wet when squeezed, but they’re also not too dry, where they won’t hold together (and will take longer to break down). If it’s too fluffy and won’t clump, that means too much carbon materials were added.

Grain on deep bedding in a barn.

What Seed is Best to Spread Throughout the Deep Bedding?

If you’ll be utilizing pigs in the spring to break up your deep bedding, you’ll want to spread seed throughout the deep bedding. The goal is to spread the grain horizontally and vertically.

Start by adding a nice layer of seed all over the base of the barn. Then, every few days (or each time you add a new layer of carbon), add another sprinkling of your seed.

There are many options when it comes to the seed you spread throughout the deep bedding layers. We’re still experimenting with what works best for our long winter season here.

  • Corn – Joel Salatin uses corn. I learned this deep bedding method from him. Corn is a large seed and very dense when dried, so it will last a long time. We simply can’t find non-GMO and non-sprayed corn near us. So this isn’t an option we have at the moment.
  • Barley – All whole grains and seeds have a hard coating on them to make it through the season until it’s time to sprout again. Don’t use something like cracked grain. It will disintegrate too early. We used barley throughout most of the year with great success. The pigs love it and it ferments over the winter months and is ready come spring.
  • Wheat – I also use wheat (when the Barley runs out) and spread it later in the season. It doesn’t need to be in the ground as long, so it works just fine in late winter or early spring.
Close up of a cow's face.


There are many ways to manage a barn to keep the smells down and create a multi-purpose byproduct. This deep bedding method has been working well for our family for years. Between the cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, we use this method for them all.

A barn with snow.
A man and wife smiling.

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