Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
On our self-sustaining, 13-acre mountain retreat, it is a priority to maintain a self-contained, resourceful, and organic homestead. When we incorporated chickens into the mix, we were pleased not just with the daily egg production and Mr. Rooster waking us up every morning, but we discovered the usefulness of them as our compost helpers.
If you have backyard chickens and you are not using them as composters and you have a garden, you are missing a valuable resource right at your fingertips. There are so many benefits to using your chickens, and it’s such a natural process for composting.
Benefits of Composting with Chickens
We save tons of money on chicken feed. Our hens are feasting on high-protein bugs, microbes, fresh sprouts daily from the pile. The quality of our egg production has increased, and the health of our chickens is exceptional.
They also love working on the compost, and it keeps them busy during the day. In the winter, the pile provides added heat to their area.
We also find that the compost decomposes more quickly because their continued efforts facilitate the composting process. They scratch and tear and work at the pile all day long. While doing so, they also add their own droppings to the pile, which is an additional bonus.
Getting Started Composting with Chickens
1. Create a composting area. We started our compost pile right in the center of the chicken coop run area. It was convenient for us and the chickens. Keeping in mind ease of access is key. You want a place you can easily dump your organic material.
Additionally, you want to ensure ease of removal. If you keep your hens in a fenced-in area, pick a spot that allows you to easily remove the organic compost when it is done. If you free-range your chickens, simply place the compost pile as close to the source you will be using it for (such as the garden).
2. Add organic material to compost. It is still imperative to pay attention to your mix of organic materials. This means you want a balance of carbon and nitrogen ratio which involves mixing browns and greens. Diversity helps develop the variety of microorganisms at work in your pile and increases your chances of achieving nutrient-rich compost.
High-carbon browns will include, but are not limited to, leaves, shredded newspaper, pine needles, sawdust, straw, fruit scraps, shredded twigs, branches, and corn stalks. Greens will include alfalfa, coffee grounds, garden waste, kitchen scraps, clover, grass clippings, hay, and manure.
Don’t worry about mixing the pile — your chickens will tear into this naturally and do the work for you.
3. Compost with chickens. After you obtain your base organic materials (we brought in piles of leaves, sawdust, pine needles, and some straw), heap it into a pile and work on adding your kitchen scraps. As we added daily to the pile, the chickens quite instinctively headed for the pile and began working it.
Some gardeners will cover the pile and "heat it up" before releasing the chickens to do their laborious task. You will have to experiment in this area. For us, we had exceptional results with the hens working the pile without it being heated up.
3. Cleaning the coop. Also, remember that when cleaning your coop, you no longer need to haul the droppings away. You can now just dump them into the compost pile, and again, the hens will assist in mixing all that wonderful, free organic fertilizer right into the pile.
When will Compost be Ready to Use?
The point at which the compost is ready varies. Generally, compost is ready when it's rich, dark crumbly and smells like earth. We noticed that, by using our chickens, the decomposition rate of our organic material appeared to be faster than the cool pile we had by the garden that we managed ourselves.
Patience is a virtue. You will notice the pile shrinking as it decomposes — the original, larger items will no longer be recognizable. Granted, there may be some twigs and branches that are still present, but that’s acceptable.
Chickens! The benefit of these creatures, as you see, are many. Don’t overlook what these gals can do for your homestead. Gather them up, and get the troops working today!All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.