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Chickens in the Garden: Eggs, Meat, Chicken Manure Fertilizer and More

Your backyard flock could be the best source of meat, eggs and homemade fertilizer around. Learn how to “recoop” much of your birds’ expenses by putting chicken manure fertilizer to use in your garden.

| April/May 2013

  • incorporate chickens into your garden plans
    You can incorporate your birds into your garden using wire tunnels, portable pens and uniformly sized permanent beds.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • manage chickens in the garden
    This well-designed garden plan makes it easy to put chickens to work in the garden. You can give your birds direct access to deposit manure fertilizer into your beds and enlist your birds for organic pest control as needed.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • chicken fertilizer
    Chicken manure fertilizer is most effective when mixed into your garden beds right away.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • chicken tunnels
    Chicken tunnels and portable pens let your birds add manure fertilizer directly to your garden beds.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • chicken gates
    Simple gates to connect portable pens will allow you better control of chickens in the garden.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears

  • incorporate chickens into your garden plans
  • manage chickens in the garden
  • chicken fertilizer
  • chicken tunnels
  • chicken gates

Fresh, nutritious eggs and homegrown roast chicken dinners are reason enough to raise your own poultry. If you use your chickens in the garden, you can also harvest rich manure to create homemade fertilizer, and put your flock to work mixing organic wastes into superb compost. Plus, if you let your birds range on your property, get ready for a big bonus: They’ll provide terrific control of ticks and other pests. 

The Cost of Raising Chickens

An adult standard hen eats about 84 pounds of feed per year, according to Ohio State University (she’ll need less commercial feed if she is free-range, penned on pasture or given lots of table scraps). Bagged feed at a retailer, such as Tractor Supply Co., currently costs about 35 cents per pound, so feeding one hen for a year will cost close to $30. This number will be higher if you pay a premium for organic feed, and lower if you buy your feed from a bulk supplier. How many eggs each bird lays will vary depending on her breed, age, and your management choices, but you should get 200 to 250 eggs per year. So, you’ll spend between $1.40 and $1.90 on feed per each dozen eggs. Not factoring in the other benefits we’ll discuss later on, comparable eggs from a supermarket would have cost you $2.50 to $5 per dozen. (The cost of raising a chick to adulthood would require some initial investment, but this expense is offset by the value of using the hen in soup after her egg-laying days have passed.) For a thorough discussion of the costs of raising meat birds, see Raising Chickens for Meat: Do-It-Yourself Pastured Poultry by Gwen Roland.

Bird Benefits: The Garden Factor

Now, what about benefits of raising chickens ­beyond eggs and meat? Some people keep chickens or guineas in the garden solely for tick control. MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers report year after year that free-range chickens are highly effective as a means of organic pest control. Read Chickens in the Garden: Organic Pest Control for their most recent reports.

Putting a value on lowering your risk of catching Lyme disease is pretty difficult — we can, however, estimate the value of the chicken manure fertilizer you can harvest from each bird. Chickens can use only a fraction of the energy from the grains they are fed; they excrete the rest in their manure. A backyard flock’s poop, if applied correctly and especially if combined with high-carbon matter — such as wood shavings, straw or leaves — adds nutrients to the soil and increases the soil’s organic matter content.

Each bird produces about 8 to 11 pounds of manure per month, as reported by Ohio State University and the Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service. Fresh chicken manure contains about 1.5 percent nitrogen along with good amounts of numerous other essential nutrients. Because nitrogen is the nutrient that’s most often in short supply, we’ll use it to estimate the value of chicken manure fertilizer.

The 8 to 11 pounds of fresh manure produced by one chicken in a month contains 0.12 to 0.17 pounds of nitrogen. Each season, most garden crops require a target range of 0.25 to 0.33 pounds of nitrogen per 100 square feet, according to Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers and Woods End Laboratory. One hen, then, ranging in a 100-square-foot plot would deposit enough nitrogen to support healthy growth of most crops in just eight to 10 weeks (assuming all of her manure, including from under her roosting area, is harvested). If you were keeping the hen in a portable pen on a 3-by-10-foot (30-square-foot) bed, then one bird would deposit the target amount of nitrogen in roughly three weeks. You’ll likely keep more than one bird at a time on your garden beds, which will require you to monitor the amount of time you leave them in one spot. You’ll only need to keep two birds on a 100-square-foot area for four to five weeks, or three hens in the same space for only two to three weeks.

4/9/2014 1:01:01 AM

I agree with your statement and these are very useful for a house holder. Plantation or cultivation now not limited in the boundary of farming. We also like to have several plants in our house, most of us like to have a lawn in front of our house. But the most important thing is to take care of these. Plant food is essential to increase the productivity of plant as well as soil. Fertilizer act as the best plant food. Choose the best one according to our need is essential as there are several fertilizer available in market.

Scott Rogers
12/5/2013 9:31:48 PM

Something is wrong with the math. If an adult chicken eats 84lbs/yr, but produces 8lbs/mo of manure, they are 'pooping' more than they eat. (8lbs/mo*12mo=96lbs/year). That has to be one of the worst feed conversion ratios I've ever seen. I worked 3 years at a Tyson subsidiary in feed conversion. Worked for them 5 years total before I left for a better career, while raising my own chickens (better, smarter, free range chickens). Backhoe44, you're correct. And that action turns the dirt over. Their manure fertilizes the ground. Don't put chickens in a garden you just started, they go into the garden at the end of the season. If you don't want then uprooting seeds and plants, put bird wire over the plants, but allow enough room for the chickens to feed off bugs, but not enough for them to reach the fruit.

5/21/2013 6:20:20 PM

I absolutely loved the ideas presented in the article!  So much so that I applied them to my own garden!  You can see how and why we did it on my gardening blog at . I posted photos too!  I will be following comments and hoping others will show their implementation too!

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