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Ask anyone what the number one benefit of keeping chickens in your backyard is and the vast majority will say it is the almost endless supply of fresh, tasty eggs. Ask them the second significant benefit, and they will probably struggle to answer you.
The truth is, the poop we get from our chickens is a goldmine of nutrients we can use to improve our soil and ultimately improve the quality of fruits and vegetables we grow.
In this article, I will give you a step-by-step guide to composting your chicken poop and share some of the tips and tricks I have learned while keeping these beautiful birds for the last 20 years or so.
What is chicken poop made up of?
So when I refer to chicken poop in this article, I am of course referring to everything we remove from our chicken coops when we clean them out, including the poop, the chicken’s bedding, any pieces of leftover food, pieces of dirt the chickens have brought into the coop on their feet, and any feathers shed by the hens either while sleeping or nesting.
Essentially we are looking at what to do with the waste as a whole that we remove from over chicken coops when we clean them out.
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The chicken poop itself is typically very watery, although hens do occasionally drop large, smelly, dry poops, especially if they have been sitting on their eggs.
When chickens go to the bathroom, they do not urinate and poop separately as mammals do, but rather pass one single poop containing all their waste.
As a result, chicken poop has a very high nitrogen content. In fact, the nitrogen content of chicken poop is so high it must never be added to the flower or vegetable beds before being composted.
The great thing about the waste we clean out of your chicken coops is the poop is high in nitrogen, and the bedding material, which is typically straw, shavings, or shredded paper, has a high carbon content.
To create great compost, we need roughly 30 parts carbon (bedding material) to 1 part nitrogen (poop).
The rest of the bits and pieces like feathers, uneaten food, eggshell, etc just enrich the whole mixture.
Why Bother to Compost chicken poop?
Whether you have a full-on homestead creating a good proportion of the fruit and vegetables you eat at home, or just a small patch in your backyard, homemade compost is the engine that drives food production.
Most gardeners can not get enough good-quality homemade compost.
By adding homemade compost to the vegetable plot or your flower beds, you will improve drainage whilst simultaneously improving moisture retention of your soil and you will increase the number of nutrients available in the soil for your plants.
At the end of the day, you have to clean out your chicken coop, and the poop and bedding have to go somewhere, so why not add it to the compost pile? After all, composting requires very little effort from the chicken keeper providing the compost pile is set up correctly.
Can Chicken Poop Be put straight onto the garden?
As mentioned above, chicken poop is very high in nitrogen. Whilst all plants need nitrogen to grow, if they receive it in quantities that are too high the nitrogen can actually burn the plants, and it will certainly kill off young seedlings.
If you were to scrape all the poop and bedding out of your coop and go and tip it straight onto your vegetable plot, your plants would either die or become stunted and fail to grow properly due to the excess amount of nitrogen.
There are some methods of composting that essentially involve digging a trench, filling the trench with the material that you want to compost (in our case the bedding and poop from the coop), and then backfilling that trench with the soil you dug out.
This is a great way to compost without having potentially unsightly compost piles, however, you still could not then plant directly above that trench as the plant roots would get burnt once they venture down into the chicken bedding mix.
How to compost chicken poop?
In my experience, the best way to compost the poop and bedding material we pull out of our chicken coops is using a dedicated compost pile.
There are many types of compost piles. You could literally just tip the waste in a heap directly on the ground, and then cover that heap with a piece of tarpaulin or an old bit of carpet.
When you next clean out your coop you pull back the cover and add the next lot of bedding to the pile.
This method works well but can look unsightly. If you have a very large garden or you live on a farm, then it is not such a problem. However, if you are keeping chickens in your backyard, you probably want a slightly more elegant solution.
One such solution might be to use a large plastic compost bin that has been designed for the job (the one pictured is available from Amazon.com).
Large, 80-gallon (300 liters) composting bins are not too offensive in your backyard, and they will keep the poop and bedding material nicely contained whilst it is breaking down.
Personally, how the compost pile looks is not too much of a concern to me, so I simply nail four old pallets together to make a box, and I use an old scrap of carpet to cover the pile.
The poop and bedding itself do not care what sort of a container it is kept in whilst it is composting. Providing the worst of the rain is kept off the pile, the heap will quickly warm up and start to break down.
To convert the heap of poop and bedding material into homemade compost is a miracle of nature.
We do not need to do anything. The process is taken care of by microscopic organisms. These invisible helpers get to work almost immediately, breaking down all the organic components of the chicken’s waste.
Providing the organisms have access to moisture and oxygen, they will reproduce extremely quickly and start to break down the waste.
If you wish to speed up the rate at which your chicken waste breaks down, you can turn and mix the pile, thereby introducing more oxygen. This is not always necessary, and the heap will eventually break down on its own given enough time.
How long does chicken poop take to compost?
How long it takes for chicken poop to compost is a tricky question to answer as there are a number of variables.
Essentially, a heap of chicken waste left to its own devices will take between 6 and 12 months to break down into homemade compost.
This process can be sped up by adding additional ‘green’ material that is high in nitrogen, such as grass clipping from the lawn or scraps from the kitchen.
Turning the heap every couple of weeks, thereby adding fresh oxygen, will also cause the heap to break down much quicker.
I have managed to turn a 3′ x 3′ pile of bedding, poop, and grass clippings into useable compost in as little as 8 weeks before, but that required a lot of input from me, turning the heap once a week and adding extra water when it looked a little dry.
This took a lot of effort and was part of an experiment I was running with members of my local poultry club. I do not put that much effort into composting normally.
What can you do with composted chicken poop?
The resulting compost that is created by composting the waste from your chicken coop is like a miracle product.
Homemade compost can be spread around the base of your plants or dug directly into the soil to improve both drainage and moisture retention of the soil.
Adding homemade compost to the soil also increases the amount of humus (which is basically broken down natural material) in the soil, allowing for better air circulation beneath the soil and making it easier for plant roots to grow and penetrate the soil.
I recently took part in an experiment at my local high school whereby we grew a row of tomatoes in one patch of soil that had no compost added, and then another group of tomatoes in a patch that had a large quantity of homemade compost dug into it. The difference in the resulting crop was astonishing.
Composted chicken poop can also be mixed with regular potting soil, giving your pot-grown plants an injection of nutrients.
Making homemade compost by composting the contents of your chicken coop is such a simple process that has almost no downsides.
To make good homemade compost that can be added back to your garden or vegetable plot, you simply pile up the waste from the coop every time you clean out your chicken coop.
As a result, over the next 6 to 12 months, the waste will break down into a sweet-smelling, friable material that improves the quality of your soil and helps you grow larger, more productive crops.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Chicken Lice – What are they and how to get rid of them’.
- Soil Is Not Dirt treehugger.com