Composting With Chickens

One of the many benefits of raising chickens is composting with chickens!
By myfivegirls · Dec 2, 2012 · Updated Dec 12, 2012 · ·
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  1. myfivegirls

    One of the Many Benefits of Raising Chickens: Composting with Chickens


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    Recently delivered 30 yard dumpster of hay, shavings & manure - 8-27-2011


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    After four months of the chickens working the compost - 12-31-2011
    (this picture was taken where those trees are in the first picture)




    Regardless of whether you would like to start raising chickens or have been raising them for decades, it’s a known fact that chickens love to scratch. That’s how many once green fenced chicken yards become barren brown wastelands. If they free range, they most likely love to scratch in your garden, often digging up precious plants. They will scratch up nice dust bathing holes, eventually making a chicken-style moonscape. Some have even dug their way out of their enclosures. They scratch litter into their food and water dishes, out of the coop onto the ground, making a mess of everything. By now, you must be thinking, this article is about the benefits of raising chickens, not their downsides. Yes, that’s true, but the point is: while chickens loving to scratch can be detrimental, it can also be used to our benefit.



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    Because part of the chicken yard is on a slight side hill, the chickens kept on scratching everything downhill,
    I added boards to "terrace" the compost area.



    Chickens and compost are “a match made in heaven”, because of their love of digging and scratching. You know all that labor-intensive, back-breaking work of having to turn your compost pile? Chickens will gladly do it for you! Or if you’re like me, I didn’t bother to turn my compost, so it took six months to a year to fully decompose. But, now with the chickens doing the work, I can have usable compost available any time of the year. Not only do I derive benefit from it, but the chickens find great pleasure in digging through the compost in search of “goodies”. The high protein bugs and beneficial microbes are a favorite “snack”, as well as, the weed seeds, food scraps, and any edible green plant tossed into the compost pile. This free food not only improves the quality of the eggs, but it also reduces the amount of feed you have to buy. Because of their constant scratching, the raw compost materials break down a lot faster.


    Vermont Composting Company

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    Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company (vermontcompost.com) doesn’t feed any purchased feed to his flock of several hundred chickens. Instead, they free range on his mountains of compost, gleaning all their nutritional food from the compost made from food scraps, cow manure, and hay. Most of the food waste comes from local restaurants, schools and other institutions. Our family visited Vermont Compost Company in 2011, and it was incredible to see first-hand. These photos are ones that we took while on the "tour". The healthy and happy chickens were all busily working for their food, while helping to turn and aerate the compost. The covered area is to prevent crows from raiding the compost piles, which would spread disease and pests to the chickens. The chickens are guarded by two German Shepherd dogs.

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    Since it’s not usually possible for every backyard chicken raiser to have such a large supply of compostable materials, there are several other ways to accomplish the same thing. Whether you have a large or small chicken yard, just a couple chickens or hundreds, you can still have chickens help you with your compost. The best way is to just throw all your compostable materials right into the chicken yard. It will better utilize their manure by incorporating it with the other materials, instead of causing mud, rain runoff and compacted dirt & manure. The finely shredded materials will decompose much faster, as it allows for surface area for the micro organisms to work. It’s best to start with several inches of high carbon material, such as hay, straw, leaves, etc. Then, throw your food scraps on top, and let the chickens do their work. Whenever you have more compost material, add it to the pile. If the pile starts to get really compacted or the chickens show little interest in digging in it, throw some scratch grains on it. Even if they don’t initially show interest, they will once the pile starts getting more biologically “active”.

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    If you already have an existing compost pile, you might want to just empty it into the chicken yard as a “starter” compost pile. Yes, they’ll probably love eating all the worms and goodies they find in it, but as least it will keep them busy. As the compost pile grows in depth, the worms and other bugs will hide deeper in the pile and visit the top occasionally to provide a free snack for your chickens. Some people have provided a safe “hiding place” for earthworms by covering with food or fencing off a small section of the compost area. I have found that there are always more bugs where they come from, even when the chickens help themselves on a daily basis. The compost pile in the chicken yard won’t be like the “traditional” one that’s built up until it’s several feet thick. The chickens will spread it all out into a thick “mulch” that they will usually keep scratching through until it’s turned into dark, rich compost.

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    If you don’t want your current compost pile to be “disturbed”, but you still want the chickens to have access, you can enclose it with pallets, wire, or some other structure. That way it can still “heat up” and fulfill all the normal “requirements”. The chickens won’t be able to get as much use or enjoyment out of it, but they would still enjoy scratching through the top layer. Another option is to have the compost contained on three sides, and let the chickens scratch through it. Then, if you want, you can shovel the compost they scratched around back into the pile. But, that kind of defeats the purpose of the chickens doing “all” the work.


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    My personal favorite is where the compost pile is actually a thick “mulch” on the chicken yard that’s routinely added to. My goal is to have no bare dirt in any part of the chicken yard. Preferably, at least part of the compost chicken yard should be covered with a roof, so that the chickens can “work” it through all kinds of weather. As an added bonus, I like two or more fenced off “pasture” areas into which the chickens can be rotated for grazing. With their compost area to scratch in, they will be less likely to dig up the grass and other greens in the “pasture” areas. That way the get the best of both worlds - scratching in "dirt" & eating fresh greens.

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    For “harvesting” the compost, some people scoop all the organic material out of the chicken yard on a routine basis. The other way is to move the course material on the top aside and scoop up the finer composted material beneath, on an as-needed basis, and put it directly on the garden. Others will remove it once the materials are shredded finely and move it to a “normal” compost pile to finish decomposing.

    Some people are against chickens working with compost, and they have their “legitimate” reasons. If you like a neat compost pile and one that stays in its container or heap, I’m sorry, but chickens won’t be able to help you very much. Those earthworms that the chickens go crazy for, can be a host for gapeworm larvae, so they prefer to just feed them GMO commercial feed in a barren dirt yard. They also say that you also shouldn’t let your chickens near your compost pile, because it may contain moldy or rotten food scraps, moldy chicken feed or other harmful things that the chickens may eat. What I have found is that chickens are smart enough to know what is good to eat and what isn’t, provided there are other food options available to them. If you’re really concerned about the risk, you can put the moldy food in a compost pile that in not accessible to the chickens, and later move it to the chickens compost once the food scraps have decomposed. Personally, I think if you use common sense and are careful what you put into your compost pile, it will be just fine. Otherwise, Vermont Composting Company wouldn't still be raising chickens on compost.

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    To summarize, whether you decide that composting with chickens is for you or not, it’s up to you. While everyone’s setup is different, I believe that this can be incorporated into nearly every situation. I read that it used to be in the “olden days”, many rural farms and homes didn’t have garbage disposal – they had chickens and pigs, which ate all their food waste. Talk about recycling! Plus, they got protein in the form of meat & eggs in return for their "garbage disposal". I think that's a lot better than having to pay to get rid of that food waste. About 97% of the 350 million tons of food waste generated in 2010 was thrown away into landfills, even though most of it could have been used for livestock feed or been composted. While we can't all "recycle" the food waste generated by large food institutions, we can at least do our part in reducing the local waste in our home, our neighbors, possibly even our town.


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    http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/composter+chickens.html
    http://www.permies.com/t/11693/chickens/Chickens-compost-heaps


    http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/surprising-compost-items.htm



    All photographs taken with my camera - even the ones of Vermont Composting Company


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Comments

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  1. rdcowman
    Great Article, and awesome pictures!;):D
      myfivegirls likes this.
  2. MrsMumMe
    On a small suburban block on the Sunshine Coast, my chicken pen IS my compost heap! Grass clippings, ALL kitchen scraps (including meat), gardening weeds, torn up cardboard, and collections from my travels - including cow manure, leaf litter, horse manure, roadside grass. We have dense clay, so I do turn over the floor of the pen twice a month, hoping to get the good stuff down deeper. After 2 months, I move the 2.7*1.5m pen to it's new location (a now spent and weedy garden patch). I then garden in the now dug and mulched patch. "They" tell me it may not be aged properly, however I figure that digging some of the mulch in will help to age it, and some of the nutrients will be available to this crop, even if the rest will become available for the next crop in the rotation. One long garden bed, divided into 6 patches, so each patch has the chooky treatment for 2 months every year.
      myfivegirls likes this.
    1. myfivegirls
      That sounds like a great set-up! Very similar to what Geoff Lawton did in his video, in that he made compost with his chickens, moving them every so often, creating garden beds after they moved on.
  3. chicksunderwing
    I LOVE this article! It is my favorite! Years ago I saw a similar article in Geoff Lawton - which was my very favorite of his! Somehow it is so heart-warming! Thank you!
      myfivegirls likes this.
    1. myfivegirls
      Yes, I saw Geoff Lawton's article & video based on what he saw at Vermont Compost Co. & scaled it down to a "backyard flock" size. I was surprised that someone so "famous" in the permaculture world had the same idea, vs when I first started, there wasn't much info on "composting with chickens".
  4. Ruth Rivera-Pérez
    Thanks for the info
  5. Abriana
    Great article! The chickens in the pictures all look so happy on their piles of goodies.
      myfivegirls likes this.
  6. gypsy767
    I use DE also and always add the shavings from the chicken house to the compost pile. I put everything in the compost except apple seeds, citrus, etc. Everything else goes in and what they don't eat they shred into black gold for the garden. My compost pile is in and 8 X 8 frame of 2 X 6's inside the chicken pen and get's a daily addition of everything that come out of the kitchen. I also add large baskets full of leaves as needed and it takes them about 2-3 weeks to break them down and ready to go into the big compost storage pile. I also save all egg shells. I microwave them to dry and kill any bacteria them crush them and feed them back to the hens and add crushed oyster shells as needed.
      thunderclast and myfivegirls like this.
    1. jeannedeaux
      how long do you microwave the eggs shells? is this necessary if one just throws them in the compost heap?
    2. myfivegirls
      @jeannedeaux - for me, I don't microwave or bake the egg shells that go into the compost. They what they want & the rest just decomposes.
  7. FlyWheel
    I have a question: Can the used bedding from the coop be thrown on this pile? Most of the pictures show piles of hay, which I assume were once bedding material (I can't think of many other uses for it). If so, what about any Diatomaceous <Sp?> Earth that may have been used to keep the bad bugs away while it was in the coop? Wouldn't that also kill of the good bugs you want composting the material in the pile?
      thunderclast likes this.
    1. myfivegirls
      Yes, I put the bedding from the coops in the chickens' compost pile, usually covering it with more leaves, weeds or something. I don't use DE, so wouldn't know first hand.
      marierod and thunderclast like this.
  8. sunflour
    I read your article awhile back, it was my inspiration to add a compost "play yard" for my hens. They love it and my compost requires no human attendance for aeration or turning now. Glad to see you hit the banner.
      thunderclast and myfivegirls like this.
  9. SueT
    Every time I walk out the door with my little bucket of kitchen scraps, the chickens come running and follow me to our small fenced-in compost pile. They like to hop in and dig thru to find goodies. (fence is only 18" high) One afternoon, they didn’t notice me, so I emptied my bucket and headed back to the house. Suddenly Sheila, the Australorp, spotted me and came running. I kept walking toward the house. She stopped, looked at me, then looked toward the compost, then back at me. Using her chicken logic, she deduced that I had already emptied the bucket and she ran toward the compost. Soon after, the others saw her and followed. They are doing a good job turning compost gleanings into eggs. (they are much less interested in their layer feed.)
      myfivegirls likes this.
  10. Nardo
    I really appreciate your article. You made me think outside the box - of compost. LOL
    I have a garden, a compost bin and chickens but for some reason I have working OT trying to divide our waste between what goes to the chickens and what goes into the compost bin. Crazy, I know, but that's what I have been doing. So now all I have to do is move the compost bin/area inside the chicken run. Wryly, he adds underneath his breath, "Thanks for adding to my to do list." Seriously, thanks for jump starting my brain with this great idea!
  11. dcourington
    Indy, I have tried my best to get grocers to allow me to have the scraps and stuff they are throwing out but they say it is an insurance issue for them. They are afraid that a person will consume the stuff and possibly get sick and sue them. I do get the bags of bread from the day old bread store and feed them to my girls and they love the bread. Every afternoon I throw a shredded up loaf of whole wheat out to the and they devour it before heading in for the night. It is economical and what does not get eaten by the girls ends up as either worm food or breaks down as compost. I also throw all my garden scraps out to them and all my kitchen scraps and they consume it all.
      Nardo and LizzieCavanNZ like this.
    1. myfivegirls
      I've run into the same issue with larger grocery stores afraid of being sued. I've written up a liability release form but they still said "no". But that was a few years ago, so I'm not giving up!
  12. smarsh
    when I first read this title I thought it said "composing". My chickens like to sing, maybe I should try a collaboration with them.
  13. Independence
    Hello Country Dreamer. Welcome to BYC!

    You will probably have a better response rate if you start a new thread with the new topic. This thread is pretty old and the topic is about composting with chickens.

    Good Luck!

    Indy
  14. countrydreamer8
    Hi everyone & Happy New Year. I've been going over several of the forums and this one caught my eye. I'm a first time chicken keeper and I'm loving. They are now 10 mo. old and very active. I ordered 6 Buff Orpington hens and ended up with 5 hens an a rooster! I love my rooster [Arthur] and he really protects his girls. I have Coyotes, fox, raccoons, weasels' ,skunks & the list goes on. Knock on wood I haven't had any issues. However, this was the main reason why I came onsite tonight and that was to find out what exactly what I would do if one of my chickens got attacked and wasn't killed. How would I know #1 if it can be helped or #2 if it needs to be put down and better yet how do you go about doing what you have to do humanely?
  15. countrydreamer8
  16. Independence
    Coffee grounds are like candy for worms. I doubt the chickens will eat any of it but it will certainly attract worms.
  17. Independence
    It would be very helpful to hear from those who have been successful working with local grocers and restaurants to source food scraps.

    Regarding botulism - botulism is an anaerobic growth caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Most likely you will not see this bacteria if your compost is properly aerated and not waterlogged.
    1. Trellinius
      Starbucks will give you a free pound of used coffee grounds just for the asking. Great for non-coffee drinkers like me!
      There is also a food pantry near me that sometimes has produce it can't get rid of before it goes bad so they let folks have it for chickens and other critters...
      I have never asked a retail grocer.
  18. gracies 4 girls
    Great artoc;e amd enjoyed the pictures. Thank you for posting this.
  19. wilmascluckmom
    I was just wondering if it is safe for them to get meat scraps also or is it just veggies my grandma used to just scrape out her plates before washing them into a bucket for the chickens but some one told me no meat scraps what is your take on this..
  20. DesertChic
    Love the article and the photos! One question about composting with chickens though....Do you need to wet the compost pile at all as you do with non-chicken-powered composting?
  21. tntchix
    Great info, now I'm not so intimidated about compost, silly I know. The girls are gonna love me next spring!
  22. judie928
    I'm wondering if certain scraps whether in a compost pile or not, will give the eggs a different flavor or scent?
  23. CentralOregon
    This article states that if you don't want your chickens to eat moldy scraps, the scraps should be moved to a part of the pile that is less accessible. That isn't good information. Moldy scraps should only *ever* be placed in the center of a compost pile -- and chickens should never be allowed to eat moldy scraps.

    The article also stated that people who don't want to let their chickens have earthworms for fear of gapeworm larva feed their birds GMO feed in barren dirt? That statement was so ridiculous -- and so obviously aimed at trolling people -- that I really can't listen to anything you have presented here, even if there happens to be some good information within.

    More information, less inflammation.
  24. ChickInDelight
  25. chiklee
    You have a great article .Mine is a small compost area I get to use the dirt this yr. . I throw all my rabbit and chicken dodo in it. I wont have to worry much about the fertilizer this yr. I lived in the city and did it the hard way for many yrs. Now I live on a farm. Learning every day . Thanks for the article.
    what a wonderful feeling.
  26. tomofhb
    I'm trying the same thing, just on a smaller scale. So with the time change and spring coming I'm busy trying to get my composters going again, they really compost slowly in winter and fall. So I let my girls go through one compost pile because I'm moving the composter. They couldn't be happier.
      funnyfoshay likes this.
  27. chickery-do
    I had read about this a few years ago but it goes without saying. "Chicken's Dig It"!
      funnyfoshay likes this.
  28. Fentress
    Pick up yard debris that others have gathered up, bagged and put on the curb. Leaves in the fall, grass in the summer. I never turn the compost. the chickens break up the leaves and by summer they incorporate the grass. By fall it has decomposed sufficiently to support a cover crop that becomes part of the free range pasture. I rotate between two locations.
  29. WindStep
  30. Joan71
    You put it very well. I have my compost pile in the chicks run. I do the deep litter in their coop. When it is time to change out the straw, I just rake it out of the coop into the corner of their run. They know what to do. They are happy and busy day after day scratching and moving the compost around. I throw their greens, vegs, etc for the day in on top of their composting area. They don't leave any vegs so I don't worry about mold. The compost won't mold if it is put in their run and they have room to move the material around freely. A compost pile only molds usually when it is not turned. This method, the composting material is moved around every day. Thanks for your article. Very informative.
  31. kateybee
  32. Mom12x
    Great article - so many useful tips and ideas!
  33. chickwhispers
    Great article!! I have a pile I compost and put their old straw from their deep litter. I just dump the wheelbarrow full of straw into piles and they girls spend all season turning it and spreading it out. By the end of fall, it's pretty well leveled off for the the fall coop clean out. Then we start all over again! they love it. Now they have a nice big run I'll have to put some of that compost in! I'm sure they'll love it. And it will help keep them occupied when they have to stay in the run. Again, great article.
  34. Jeniep
    Let me try this again. Great information and I now have a better idea as to where my chicken house should be located!
  35. Jeniep
    This arctic I is very informative. We are just starting chickens this spring and I now have a better idea of where to locate their coop. Thanks!
  36. countrydream7
    love this article wish more lots more people would think like this
      funnyfoshay likes this.
  37. dcourington
    I just built a chicken composter this last weekend. I used 1x8x12 and drove some stakes in the ground around the 12x12 foot box i constructed. I dumped in a large wheelbarrow full of shavings that i had removed from the coop to get it started and am putting all the kitchen waste in it also. I will add leaves and grass clippings when we start mowing again this spring. They love it. I just take their scratch and the scraps over there and throw them in and they all ( 11 hens) jump over the boards and get to work. I will be using this to amend my garden soil this spring as they are fast at tearing it all apart. Thanks for the wonderful idea on this. it is a great thing and i get to reuse all that wonderful compost to grow more food for me and my daughter and new girlfriend that also loves chickens and gardening. This is a real Win/Win for us. I will attach pics to this thread later when I get a chance to get some good ones of my girls working in their new box.
  38. kymmie816
    This is great! My chickens have been raiding my compost pile and I wasn't sure if it was ok. Now I'm going to set it up so it's more chicken friendly. Thanks
  39. Jeniep
    This makes so much sense!
  40. Nutcase
    Very interesting and loved the pictures.
  41. trinar
    We have a portable pen, takes 3 or 4 people to move. We put it over the garden all winter the compost we give them and the manure from them makes a great garden spot, and the pecan tree we put the pen under for this summer way out did any of the other trees. Learned a lot from the article, thanks.
    TR
  42. gypsy767
    <<<Joan1708-Seems to me that leaving food scraps out in the open like that would also welcome mice and rats, which would them bring in raptors and other predators. This has not been a problem for you?>>>

    As mentioned above I have never seen a single mouse around the compost pile...they may come at night and I would expect they might but I haven't seen them during daylight hours. We live in a rural area and there are woods on all sides and we actually have hawks that nest on our property. I have netting over the top of the chick run and have never had a problem with the hawks...they sit in the trees nearby at times and make their shreiking calls but they have never tried to get into the run...of course when the chickens hear them they head into the chick house straight away...ha! When the food scraps go into the compost pile, always in the mornings and the chooks scratch thru it all day there is very little food scrap left for mice/rats...it has been shredded, pecked, covered and uncovered so many time there is little if anything left. This method works really well for us.
    MORE
  43. joan1708
    Seems to me that leaving food scraps out in the open like that would also welcome mice and rats, which would them bring in raptors and other predators. This has not been a problem for you?
  44. gypsy767
    We have a compost pile inside the chicken run and all scraps, EVERYTHING goes in there except citrus and apple cores. We start with with a base of leaves that have been raked into a piles in advance and rained on at least a couple of times...this softens them up nicely and keeps them from blowing out of the compost bin.

    The shavings/litter from the coop goes into the pile. A plastic cool whip tub of mixed 50/50 cracked corn and BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) goes in morning and evening and they literally shred EVERYTHING, including coffee grounds/tea bags, into very rich compost in 2-3 weeks, depending on how much rain we get. More rain means faster breakdown. When it looks right we take it out in wheelbarrow loads and pile it into another pile to continues working, it doesn't require turning any more unless you just want to. In the fall this is tilled into the garden and and the garden is covered with mulch for the winter. In the spring everything is tilled in for a VERY rich garden spot.

    The chicks eat very little of the actual food scraps...they eat what the composting food scrap/leaves environment produces, worms, bugs, larva and micro organisms.

    When I turn them out in the mornings it is a flying-squawking-melee trying to get to the compost pile...I just open their door and step to the side out of the way or I would get run over...! They stay there for hours and drift a few at a time into the house to visit the nest boxes.

    This works great for us and produces the best, richest compost I have ever seen...!

    Good luck...!


    I have never seen a mouse around the compost pile. Thinks me he wouldn't survive long there...they would catch/eat him if possible. There is no smell, even from the secondary pile where the compost from the chick pen is stored.
      LizzieCavanNZ likes this.
  45. Daniale
    This is awesome! I give my chickens scraps, but didn't even think about doing this with a compost pile! Thanks!
  46. chickenchacha
    Good post Scott Cooper. Let us know what happens with your winter lodgings. I'm moving from the West coast to the East coast next January and will have a lot to learn about raising chickens in a winter climate! There will be pros and cons like serious grass growth v dry dry dry. It will be an opportunity to try a few new ideas found on this great forum.
  47. ScottKCooper
    Last winter I went out every saturday morning and turned a years worth of goat stall debris, kitchen scraps and a couple of wagon loads of the neighbors best horse manure into a cubic yard of fantastic compost. Each weekend, my wife and daughter would hang out there and watch me work away, joking that I needed an I heart compost t-shirt.
    This Summer I set up my first chicken tractor. I have 3 red start (having split out the initial purchase with a neighbor as she didn't want to move a tractor on her week with the entire flock).
    Now, I've been researching deep bedding in a more protected winter enclosure, and found this article. I think I have a solution to my compost needs, and a workforce to take care of the process for me, so I can spend less time hefting all winter.
    Thank you for the article! I am going to incorporate these ideas into my winter lodgings and skip the work myself.
    Hopefully the chickens will get an i heart compost t-shirt instead.
  48. tnspursfan09
    My problem is that my compost is full of rotting apples that have fallen from our trees this time of year. Are the seeds ok for them to eat?
  49. miquwid
    I was wondering how they could work the compost pile and keep the bugs down, this so great to know!!!!
  50. cmerk
    Great article. Compost pile here they come

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