On our self-sustaining, 13-acre mountain retreat, it's 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 also discovered the chickens' usefulness as our compost helpers.
If you have a garden and backyard chickens and you're not using the chickens as composters, you're 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, and fresh sprouts daily from the pile. The quality of our egg production has increased, and the health of our chickens is exceptional.
The birds also love working on the compost, and it keeps them busy during the day. In winter, the pile provides added heat to their area.
We also find that our compost decomposes more quickly because the chickens' 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. Ease of access is key. You'll want a place you can easily dump your organic material.
Additionally, you'll 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's done. If you free-range your chickens, simply place the compost pile as close as possible to the source you'll be using it for (such as your garden).
2. Add organic material to your compost. Pay attention to your mix of organic materials. You'll want a balanced ratio of carbon and nitrogen, which requires mixing brown matter and green matter. Diversity will help develop the variety of microorganisms at work in your pile and increase your chances of achieving nutrient-rich compost.
High-carbon brown materials include, but aren't limited to, leaves, shredded newspaper, pine needles, sawdust, straw, fruit scraps, shredded twigs, branches, and corn stalks. Green materials 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 it naturally and do the work for you.
3. Introduce the chickens. After you obtain your base of organic materials (we brought in piles of leaves, sawdust, pine needles, and some straw), heap it into a pile and start adding your kitchen scraps. As we added to our pile daily, 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'll have to experiment in this area. For us, we had exceptional results with the hens working the pile without heating it up first.
4. Scoop the coop. When cleaning your coop, you'll no longer need to haul the droppings away. You can now just dump them into the compost pile, and the hens will assist in mixing all that wonderful, free organic fertilizer right into the pile.
When Will the Compost Be Ready to Use?
The point at which 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'll notice the pile shrinking as it decomposes — the original, larger items will no longer be recognizable. Some twigs and branches may still be present, but that’s acceptable.
Chickens! The benefits of these creatures, as you can see, are many. Don’t overlook what these gals can do for your homestead. Gather them up, and get the troops working today!
Starry Hilder and her husband, Mark, live off-grid on a 13-acre self-sustaining homestead in the stunning mountains of Northern Idaho. Unique in their approach to homesteading, they rely on working with nature and utilizing their skills and knowledge with a back-to-basic outlook. From hunting and fishing to gardening, composting, canning, trail running, paddling, and hiking, there's never a dull moment on their property. Starry enjoys sharing her journey and all their life skills on their YouTube channel.
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