A little-known fact is that chickens poop every 30 minutes. Chickens can produce up to a quarter pound of manure per day. Backyard chickens will provide you with eggs, and you will also be swimming in manure. Composting with chickens will save you money, time, and allow you to grow large, healthy garden crops.
What is Chicken Manure?
Chicken manure, also known as chicken droppings, is an underrated fertilizer. Many use it to amend the soil in their gardens because of its high nitrogen content. Some crops, such as tomatoes, corn, and peppers, remove nitrogen from the soil that must be replenished annually.
Using chicken manure is a natural way to amend garden soil. However, chicken manure cannot be used in a garden without composting for at least 6 weeks. Depending on your composting method, chicken manure can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to be “garden safe.” The high nitrogen content will kill or severely stunt young plants in its raw form. As chicken manure breaks down, its nitrogen content will also be lessened.
How to Compost Chicken Manure Safely
Chicken manure can spread deadly diseases, such as E. Coli or Salmonella. Hot compost piles decompose organic matter by reaching high internal temperatures between 140 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range is high enough to kill off internal pathogens and reduce the ammonia content. When handling raw chicken manure, you should take adequate safety procedures to avoid exposing yourself to diseases inadvertently.
Use Chickens to Speed up Composting
Rather than spending your Sunday playing in the compost pile, you can enlist your chickens to help. Not only can your chickens provide eggs and manure, but they can also be used to save you valuable time. Compost piles must be turned over every 2 – 3 weeks to ensure they evenly decompose.
Chickens will naturally seek out a compost pile because they are rife with microorganisms and bugs. You will not have to entice or attract chickens to the compost. As long as your compost pile is within 100 – 300 yards of the chicken coop, your chickens will happily turn it over for you.
Rake the compost pile to approximately 3 feet tall and let the chickens have at it. They will fan out the compost to about 6 inches tall. Every month, you should rack the compost pile back together.
What is the Deep Litter Method?
The deep litter method uses the chicken coop as your initial compost pile. Rather than cleaning out the chicken coop monthly or bi-weekly, you will leave the litter in the coop for 6 months at a time. The litter in the chicken coop will begin to compost during this timeframe. To implement the deep litter method correctly, you must:
- Start with organic matter, such as pine shavings, pine needles, leaves, or grass clippings. The starting litter must be dry and free of mold or fungus.
- Monitor the litter in the coop for excess moisture. The bedding will not decompose properly if it is too moist. Keeping moist litter in the chicken coop is also a recipe for introducing respiratory diseases into your flock.
- Add new organic matter as needed. As the chickens turn over the litter, it will break down over time. After approximately 6 months, you should move the chicken coop bedding to your compost pile. Clean and sanitize your chicken coop prior to starting the process over again.
Adding Chicken Manure to Garden Soil
Hot composting chicken manure should kill off most harmful pathogens under ideal conditions. As an added safety precaution, you should add chicken manure well in advance of your harvest date. Crops that do not touch the ground, such as tomatoes, corn, or peppers, can be fertilized 90 days before harvest. Crops that do touch the ground, and by proxy the chicken manure, should be fertilized 120 days before harvest. Any leftover pathogens in the chicken manure will be significantly reduced or eliminated by the end of the 90 – 120 day period.
When it comes to fertilizer, you must be careful with how much you add to your garden soil. Check your soil’s nitrogen and phosphorus levels with a soil test kit at the start of every growing season. This will give you an idea of what your soil is missing.
You should add no more than 20 to 40 pounds of chicken manure per 100 square feet of soil. Adding too much fertilizer can lead to unfavorable growing conditions. Plants exposed to excess nitrogen will put on large, leafy growth, but they will not develop flowers. Any crops that develop on these plants will also slowly mature.
Brewing Compost Tea from Chicken Manure
Not all plants need excess nitrogen. Rather than amending all of the soil in your garden, you can opt to create a compost tea using chicken manure. This makes a liquid fertilizer that you can use to target specific crops in your garden. To create chicken manure tea, follow these steps:
- Retrieve a food-safe 5-gallon bucket
- Mix a ratio of 25% chicken manure compost to 75% water. It is vital that you use composted chicken manure in this recipe. Fresh chicken manure is too nitrogen-rich and will create a toxic liquid fertilizer.
- Allow the mixture to steep anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. The water will take on a hazy brown appearance.
- Strain the chicken manure from the water and safely discard the manure.
- Take caution to apply the liquid fertilizer straight to the soil. Applying the compost tea to leaves runs the risk of plant damage. You could also expose yourself to harmful pathogens in the compost tea if it is applied to crops.
It’s Never Too Late to Begin Composting with Chickens
Use your chickens to your advantage by composting chicken manure. There are several methods for composting with chickens. Some prefer the deep litter method, while others prefer hot composting. No matter your composting method, the end result is the same. Your garden will be thankful for the nitrogen boost and reward you with large crops this growing season.