Do you wish you could create perfect compost the fast and easy way without breaking your back? The secret is to add some chickens and your wish is granted.
Several years ago I wanted to start raising and keeping chickens for food, eggs, and as pets because I just love watching them. The problem was that like any animal pet or otherwise it can get expensive to care for and feed them. You need a place for them to sleep, a place for them to eat, food, and water.
So I started researching ways to reduce the cost of having chickens and most of the suggestions I found had to do with selling the eggs, selling the meat, or growing your own chicken feed.
One suggestion that really caught my eye though was to use your chickens to create compost. This compost can then be used in your gardens which in turn reduces the cost of keeping a garden or gardens and some people sell the compost for a nice profit. Several yards of compost can sell for $40 to $100 depending on where you live and even more if you are willing to do deliveries.
So how does it work? How do you put your chickens to work to earn their food and shelter?
I will tell you how but first a few things to consider, learn from my mistakes if you may.
First mistake I made when first starting out with composting with chickens was containment or lack thereof. In order to best utilize your chickens for the purpose of breaking down compost is you need to be able to keep the scraps that you want composted, the chickens, and the compost that has been or is being created in a manageable and contained area.
If you don’t contain the compost in some way it won’t take long and your chickens will have it spread all over your acreage and though great for the yard it is very difficult to retrieve after that happens without a lot of raking and shoveling which equals a lot of back breaking work which is what we are trying to avoid by having chickens do the work in the first place.
So you need a contained and designated spot for this composting project.
Since my chickens free range most days I was able to convert our chicken run into our composting site. I think this could work for anyone if you have a big enough chicken run. Just make sure to think ahead which leads us to the second mistake I made.
The second mistake I made was I failed to create an entrance into my chicken run big enough to get my wheelbarrow into. You will want to be able to get your wheelbarrow, trailer, or tractor whatever your preferred method of moving the finished compost from the chicken run to where you will be storing it or using it, into the composting area or as close to the composting area as possible.
So I upgraded my chicken run with a big enough door to get the wheelbarrow in and out of. While you are planning this out keep in mind the height of your composting area if it is a covered area, half of my chicken run is covered by a lean-to which is high enough for me to stand up straight under.
If you build your roof, lean-to, or overhang to low and you can’t stand up straight you will be very upset with yourself when it comes to shoveling time or pitchfork time. It is nice to be able to stand up straight and not hit your head when doing that kind of work.
One other suggestion to consider when planning out where to have your composting operation is to have it connected to your chicken coop. I have found this to be useful for days when I am going to be away from home for more than a few hours at a time and unable to keep an eye on my flock. This allows me to be able to still let the chickens out into the secured run in relative safety, still do their composting work, and have access to their coop, food, and water.
Once you have established a proper place for your composting operation you can start working on the actual composting itself.
I live in clay country. This has proved to be a huge pain for me in many ways when it comes to doing projects like gardens, building, installing fencing, and any number of other projects. One thing I have found it to be great for however is doing my composting. Especially when it comes to removal time. When I dig out my compost from the chicken run I always know when I have gone deep enough because it is when I hit clay.
If you are lucky enough not to live in a high clay area and don’t have this natural base this is something you may want to consider adding before you start composting. Some base, or marker, or other way of knowing when you have gone deep enough. Now this is not required. If you are on a limited budget then don’t worry about it but having that marker or base has been very helpful for me when removing the compost.
What to compost? I compost as much as I can. Depending on what blog or website you visit opinions vary on this but I am not that technical or picky and my compost has always done what it is meant to do..grow stuff that is planted in it.
Some of the things I compost are as follows:
- Old bedding from the chicken coop. It all comes out of the coop right out into the composting area (another advantage of having your compost operation connected right to your coop).
- Grass clippings. I don’t do this every time I mow but several times over the mowing season I will collect all the grass clippings and put them in the compost area. I have an acre of yard I mow so that adds up to a very big pile of clippings. I collect it with my lawn sweeper which connects to the back of my rider and works like a dream. If you want to check out the lawn sweeper click this link to go directly to it on Amazon.com.
- Food Scraps. Pretty much anything that is left over from the house from making and eating meals. Except for a few things which are:
- Greasy scraps – Don’t break down well.
- Raw potato scraps – Bad for chickens.
- Bones – Don’t break down well.
- Corn cobs – This is a personal preference for me because they don’t seem to break down fast enough and I always have to pick them out of my compost.
- Coffee grounds and coffee filters.
- Whole egg shells – Crush them up to little tiny bits. I have read that if chickens relate the egg shells in the compost to the eggs they lay in may lead to them trying to eat their eggs. So I don’t take the chance, I crush them up.
- I am sure there are more kitchen scraps that should probably not be put into the compost but these are the main ones I avoid and I have never had a sick chicken, duck, or turkey due to diet.
- Recyclable items that break down easily. What I compost is:
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper and paper towel rolls (in moderation as they break down a bit slower than regular paper).
- Paper trash. I avoid newspaper though, does not break down well in my experience.
- Leaves. I also use the lawn sweeper for this.
- Apples that have fallen off the apple tree.
- Garden scraps and weeds that have been removed from the garden.
- Ashes from the fireplace, grill, and fire pit.
My chicken run is rectangle shaped so I pile all the fresh scraps on one end of the run and the chickens go to work pretty much immediately scratching, and pecking, and arguing over who gets what.
Every few weeks I will take my pitchfork into the compost area and turn over what the chickens have been working on and loosen up any areas that have been trampled down.
I recommend the Truper fiberglass handled pitchfork which can be found by clicking this link. I have been using this pitchfork for several years and it has worked perfectly for me. I feel it is money well spent for it is lightweight, durability, and requires very little maintenance, basically just a good cleaning after the job is done will keep it in good working order for many years.
Loosing up the trampled down compost allows your chickens to have access to everything that was trapped under the hard packed ground. The girls flock around me when it is time to loosen up the compost too and once I have everything turned over and loosened up they will spend hours scratching around in it.
That is about all there is to composting with chickens. It is a simple, relatively fast way to create amazing compost for your backyard gardens and farm.