Lesson 311 – the wonders of chicken poop in the garden

(This post is dedicated to my good friend Joe who knew the difference between the Kings and the Kinks long before I even knew there was such a thing as diversity in music.)

The poop-a-maker

An average size hen produces 1 cubic foot of manure every six months. That means that our flock of 31 birds produces 62 cubic feet (give or take, we have some smaller birds) of manure a year.

That’s a lot of poop, which may I add, contains ammonia and after awhile does stink, as in “real-bad”.

Chicken poop is high in nitrogen and thankfully if there is one thing chicken poop is good for, it’s as being a great fertilizer for the gardens and plants.

But hold on there. All that poop is so high in nitrogen that if you put it directly on your garden it would literally burn your plants. So don’t do it.

This is where your trusty composter or compost pile comes in. Chicken poop needs to break down with organic material. Most people use straw or wood chips in their coop, scoop this out once a week and out it into the composter along with some greens – leaves, grass clippings, weeds. To keep things simple most composters follow the general rule of 1 part brown to 2 parts green. However, because chicken manure is so high in Nitrogen you may be more successful using a 1:1 or even a 2:1 mixture.

Once you have your mixture, wet it down (it should be as wet as a soaked sponge) and let it sit. This creates heat which will both break down the components as well as destroy some of the bacteria.

After three days start turning your pile (use the handy, dandy pitchfork you got when you had the chicken coop built) and keep turning the pile every few days. After about 45 – 60 days (yeah this is not something that happens overnight) you will have what is referred to as “black gold” a nitrogen, carbon rich nutrient that will blow Miracle Grow out of the water. It will be black and crumbly and it will smell sweet – like a good, fragrent soil.

Spread this on the surface of your garden or gently work it into the soil.

Some precautions:

  • Chicken poop comes out of the chickens’ intestines. It contains a lot of bacteria and some of that bacteria could be pathogenic (think salmonella). Don’t be stupid, wear gloves and wash your hands every time you are around it. (For that matter, also wash your hands after handling your chickens and gathering the eggs.)
  • Likewise, wash ALL vegetables that have grown with the help of chicken manure fertilizer. Older people and babies are most susceptible to getting sick from any lingering bacteria so make sure they do not eat any raw food from your garden (which is a general good rule of thumb to follow whenever you have used any fertilizer on your plants).
  • Chicken poop is not like other animal poop. Keep mammal poop (dogs, cats, the neighbor’s kid) out of your compost.

Here’s your biggest warning: Unless you want a really sad, brown, and shriveled up garden, only put aged compost on your garden. Fresh chicken poop may contain disease organisms that could contaminate root crops (carrots, radishes, beets) and leaves (lettuce, spinach), so never spread uncomposted manure on the soil in your vegetable garden.

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Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Chicken talks, New Hampshire, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Chicken Challenge

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