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Composting with Chickens: How your flock can help dispose of waste and make great soil

Learn the different ways your backyard flock can help you manage waste by implementing one of these methods of composting with chickens.

Dealing with livestock waste in urban and suburban areas is much different than it is in the country. Urban dwellers can’t simply pile all their chicken poop in a far off, non-obtrusive space. In fact, there are no such far off places on a city lot.

When we were raising chickens in the city, we were constantly asked, “What do you do with all the poop? Throw it in the trash?”

We have to get more creative when it comes to chicken poop. There are a few options to dealing with the inevitable piles of poo that come with raising chickens, but in short, your only option is some form of composting. Even a tiny chicken flock will produce way too much waste to toss in the trash, so turning that waste into soil with the magic of composting is the best thing you can do! 

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Urban and suburban chickens are fun, but what do you do with all the poop?! Composting with chickens is totally the way to go to turn all that poo into glorious soil! #homesteading #homestead #backyardchickens #chickens #raisingchickens #poultry

Composting with Chickens to Make Great Soil

Compost Method #1: Direct to Garden

Gardens and chickens go hand in hand. Chicken poop is one the best fertilizers you can get, in fact many garden centers are now selling aged poultry poo to add nutrients to gardens.

Chicken poop fresh out of the bird is full of pathogens and too high in nitrogen to put directly into the garden. It needs to be aged and composted so it won’t “burn” the plants or cause illness.

The easiest way to age chicken waste is to apply it directly to the garden at the end of the season and let it sit over the winter. We like to clean out the chicken coop and run in the fall, then layer it onto the vacant garden beds. The manure ages over winter, and in the spring, worms work the wonderful chicken waste into the garden soil, and it’s all ready to work in your favor come planting time.

Urban and suburban chickens are fun, but what do you do with all the poop?! Composting with chickens is totally the way to go to turn all that poo into glorious soil!

Compost Method #2: Bin/barrel compost:

This method of composting with chickens takes the same amount of time as option #1, but it takes a bit more effort. This option is great if you’re cleaning out the coop in the spring or summer and don’t have a vacant garden to place it in.

The chicken manure and litter is cleaned out of the coop and run, and placed into the compost bin, along with food and yard scraps. The compost gets turned every few weeks and slowly breaks down to the point of becoming soil. Then it is then added to the garden to boost the nutrient levels.

Urban and suburban chickens are fun, but what do you do with all the poop?! Composting with chickens is totally the way to go to turn all that poo into glorious soil!

Compost Method #3: Composting with chickens in the run

A popular new method of composting involves conducting the entire process right inside the chicken run. This includes tossing kitchen scraps and yard waste right into the run. The great thing about this method is it provides free food for the chickens as they can chow down on kitchen scraps, weeds, and insects in the compost pile.

Another bonus is that when you’re composting with chickens, they do the work for you! Since you don’t have to turn the pile, it’s lazy composting at its best.

 The big downside to this method, especially in the city, is that it draws pests and predators right to your chicken run. The aromas of decomposing food will bring rats and mice out of the woodwork, along with raccoons looking for a tasty treat. Definitely not a feature on a predator-proof chicken coop!

If you choose to use this method, be sure that your coop is on total lock down, and is protected from predators on all sides.

Urban and suburban chickens are fun, but what do you do with all the poop?! Composting with chickens is totally the way to go to turn all that poo into glorious soil!

Compost Method #4: Slow Pile

This is the ultimate lazy composting for super busy chicken keepers. We currently use this method and love how low maintenance and simple it is.

To  utilize the slow pile method, simply find a spot in your yard for your compost pile, usually a back corner or other tucked away spot is best. Whenever you clean out the chicken coop, dump all the old bedding in that spot, piling it up high. The microbes and heat that naturally occur in a compost pile will slowly break down the material over time and turn it into soil. If you want this pile to break down quicker, you can flip and stir the pile every few weeks.

Compost Method #5: Deep litter method:

This last method of composting with chickens is our personal favorite. It’s perfect for busy people who don’t have time to clean out the coop constantly, and even better, it’s actually really healthy for your birds. The Deep Litter Method can be the ideal choice when you’re deciding which chicken bedding to use in your coop

The Deep Litter Method in a Nutshell

What is it?

This method consists of starting with a few inches of litter on the floor of the coop. As the chickens deposit their waste into it, the litter is stirred up and more litter is added on top. The litter is naturally turned by the chickens rooting through it, and if they need a little help with the turning, it can be flipped by a pitchfork every few weeks.Turning the litter results in the nitrogen rich waste getting buried in the carbon rich litter, resulting in a great compost.

Why do it?

Using deep litter means you only have to clean out the coop and replace the litter a few times per year. If you buy the litter for your chickens, this method will save you money. The other major perk is saving time and energy. We like to call it ‘the lazy farmer’s way,’ because it drastically cuts down on the time and work required when keeping chickens.

Black and white chicken by a straw bale

Some Other Great Reasons to Try Deep Litter Bedding:

  • Clean and sanitary
  • Remarkably un-smelly
  • Results in healthier chickens, less likely to get coccidiosis
  • Helps to insulate the coop making it warmer in the winter
  • Saves time
  • Much less work
  • Creates amazing compost for the garden
  • Scratching through it gives the chickens something to do when they’re contained
  • The microbes in deep litter prevent parasites and illnesses
  • It’s completely natural

How to use the Deep Litter Method:

Start your deep litter method in the spring, right after doing a good deep clean of the coop. It’s best to do deep litter on a coop that has a dirt floor, but it can be successfully done on concrete or wood as well. Before beginning deep litter, make absolutely sure that your coop has adequate ventilation. This will allow ammonia to flow out of the coop rather than poisoning your chickens.

Steps:

  1. Lay down about five inches of litter onto the bare floor of the coop. The best litter to use is anything that’s absorbent and finely chopped and will break down quickly. Reminder: Never use cedar shavings in the chicken coop, it can cause respiratory problems in chickens.
  2. When the first layer becomes soiled, stir it up and turn it over so the waste is buried. Depending on how big your flock is and how much time they spend in the coop, they may have already done this step for you.
  3. Add another few inches on top of the first layer.
  4. When that layer becomes soiled, turn it again and add another layer.
  5. Continue in this fashion until it’s time to clean out. Some deep litter users only clean out their coop once a year, some clean it as many as four times. We clean our coop in the fall and the spring and spot clean in between.
  6. When it’s time to clear out, you’ll remove most of the litter, leaving a one to two inch layer on the bottom of the coop. This thin layer holds microbes and nematodes that will help the next layer of litter get started composting. If you’re doing it right, your coop should not smell like ammonia. If it does, you need to increase ventilation and use more litter or turn it more frequently.

Still have questions? Check out our Deep Litter Method FAQ Page!

white chicken scratching through leaf litter

That’s really all there is to it. If your chickens are lazy, they may not do enough turning and you’ll have to fill in once in awhile, but it sure beats cleaning out the coop every week, doesn’t it? Do yourself, and your chickens a favor and give the deep litter method a shot. You just might love it! At the very least, your chickens and garden will love you for it!

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