1. Come check out hundreds of awesome coop pages (and a few that need suggestions) in our 2018 Coop Rating Project!

Chickens and compost questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by CT, Sep 23, 2011.

  1. CT

    CT In the Brooder

    Feb 19, 2010
    Great Lakes
    Sometimes I read suggestions to give chickens access to compost so they can eat any good scraps, dig for bugs, and turn the compost (while adding delightful poop to the pile). Other times I read that chickens shouldn't be given kitchen scraps of anything going bad, which is going to happen in a compost pile, whether the scraps are decent when you put them out or not. Is it a great idea--or iffy at best--to give chickens access to the compost?

    What about composting the chicken bedding, particularly if you use wood chips? Will the wood take longer to decompose than the usual stuff I throw in the compost (leaves, weeds, kitchen scraps)?

    Anyone have genius designs for incorporating compost bins into the chicken run (if, in fact, it's a good idea to do so) such that the chickens stay safe while the compost stays accessible?


  2. remuda1

    remuda1 Songster

    Jun 12, 2011
    Granbury, Texas
    I've wondered about the same thing. I'm a master gardener and I know that it's a good idea to wear a mask when you're turning your compost pile, pretty much the only thing that's going into my compost pile right now is chicken poo and alfalfa straw that is left over after the chickens have eaten the leaves. That's a lot of nitrogen and when I turn it, there is a lot of mold and mildew. I don't like breathing it and don't think that the chicks would either. It's not really broken down enough at this point for me to feel good about them rooting around in it. As far as the shavings, they would take longer to break down than leaves, but with enough nitrogen which would include chicken poo and other "green items" like produce scraps or grass clippings, they shouldn't take too long. A good mix of ingredients in a compost pile will cause it to heat up to about 185 degrees. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. So if you have a good pile cooking this winter, you may not be able to keep those hens out of it for their daily sauna!!

    The other thing is that once it starts warming and decomposing earthworms will migrate to it along with LOTS of other buggies. Then it will be a sauna with a built in snack bar [​IMG] .
  3. TheSpiceGirls

    TheSpiceGirls Crowing

    Oct 6, 2010
    Bay Area, CA
    I compost and have chickens. I have three hens that live in a 20' by 14' run. And the compost bin is in their run.

    Makes it super easy to scoop up the droppings from their house each morning and toss into the compost bin. I will also put out a big pile of leaves or pine needles on the ground in their run and let them kick those around a bit and then rake it all up and toss into the compost bin. I tried straw once but my JG was eating it and got sour crop so no more straw. So they don't have much to kick around in the summer months. But it won't be long before the leaves begin to fall again.

    As far as what else goes in there, I've made a choice NOT to put things in the composter that are toxic to chickens such as avacado, raw potato, etc. That goes into the trash.

    If you are dumping kitchen scraps into the compost bin and covering with leaves, you shouldn't have much of a mold problem.

    My compost bin is in three sections w/ a lid so the girls can't get at it until I turn it. But when they see me come into their run w/ my spade, they get SOOOOO excited. So I turn the compost from one section into another and I'll usually leave about 3-6 inches of material on the ground for them to kick around and eat all the bugs they can find.

    I do pick through that last bit that I leave for them to make sure that there is nothing icky in there like a rotting tomato that might be bad for them. And they are way more interested in all the grubs and worms that are in there. I don't see them going after the bits of kitchen scraps that are still breaking down.

    Hope that helps. If it brings up more questions, post them and I'll try to respond. I have a busy weekend coming up so I might be kind of slow to reply.
  4. farmerinKC

    farmerinKC Songster

    May 5, 2011
    Kansas City, Missouri
    I let my chickens out to run around the yard for about an hour in the evening before it gets dark-the first place they run to is the compost bin. We have three bins now and they prefer the one that is "aging". They are really intent in digging for worms. Sometimes they jump into the ones that we are currently adding scraps, pine shavings and chicken poop to, along with grass, weeds and leaves. They don't stay long and they go back to the one with the worms. It's all about the worms to them. [​IMG] I think it's gross-but, I guess they know what they like.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  5. aggie9296

    aggie9296 Songster

    Jan 28, 2011
    Panama City, FL
    I only let mine in the compost pile when I need it turned. They don't eat any funky stuff. But if they have access to it every day, it gets turned too much and nothing really composts because it dries out too much.

    They somehow know what stuff is bad and to not eat it. Like any bug with orange or any bees, won't touch them.
  6. Cleebee

    Cleebee In the Brooder

    Jan 30, 2009
    Aurora, CO
    Yeah, I find that my girls go after bugs and ignore the rotting food. That said, we do lots of things in our garden, not just run a single compost pile. We have a compost pile that they don't usually have access to. We toss green kitchen scraps, weeds, and other treats into their run, and then we scoop out dirt from their run every now and then to either add to the compost or to a bed. Chicken droppings go in the compost but not with all the shavings - I toss that on the garden paths. If I'm feeling in the mood I might sort out some of the droppings and toss them over the the compost. But mostly I let it sit. I would think that a pile totally dedicated to shavings and poo should just be left to sit for a looooong time, kind of a "cool" method compost like a leaf litter pile.
  7. kiweed

    kiweed Songster

    May 9, 2011
    Murfreesboro TN
    I have more than 1 compost pile. I usually let them access to the older pile which has no longer visible food items. The fresh compost pile is fenced. When I move in from it I will start a new one and give them access to it.

  8. SC_Hugh

    SC_Hugh Songster

    May 23, 2009
    Santa Cruz, CA
    I only let my hens into the compost pile when it needs turning or it is finished composting. They eat lots of worms and bugs from the compost piles and since the food stuffs are mostly broken down, they naturally prefer the bugs. I haven't ever let them have access to a pile that is still in the early stages of breakdown (moldy or rotten food stuffs). My solution is to have multiple piles going that are in various stages.

    A couple of weeks ago, I bought a worm compost bin that is soooooo fun to feed and watch the worms go to town on our food scraps. Imagine having 1-2 pounds of wriggly worms in a contained bin? My hens have no idea that all those worms are living in the shed [​IMG]

    Check out the worm bin on the right (link below), I bought my bin locally for $50 and a pound of worms was $15

  9. Panthus

    Panthus In the Brooder

    Sep 24, 2011
    I wont be letting my little ladies into my compost as i've studied composts and they are quite a nasty little zone to hang out in. As Remuda made mention of, they heat up to quite hot temperatures when working right and the reason for this is the bacteria buzzing away eating and breeding throughout the whole thing causing all the scraps etc to break down. My girls get dinner scraps and what they don't eat goes into the compost. I'll also be chucking the mucky straw into my compost. Once its broken down though, onto the garden it goes where the girls will have a field day with it. Ive been watching them burying themselves and flicking about the existing, broken down compost on my garden. Amusing to no end!

    In saying that, i've only had my girls for a week now so not qualified to say what the chooks should or shouldn't eat but qualified to know about composts.

    Tempted to try a worm farm though and i heard many, many years ago you can buy worm farms specifically for dog poo. My dogs a machine! [​IMG] So i might look into that.
  10. CT

    CT In the Brooder

    Feb 19, 2010
    Great Lakes
    Thanks all. I'm getting good ideas for getting the best of composting with chickens. I don't think I'll build a bin in their run. Sadly, I hit the septic field when I started digging post holes and had to shorten the run by two feet. That cost me 30sqf! So I'll keep the compost pile where it is, and periodically turn out some of the broken-down material into the chicken run (which is only feet from the compost bin as it is).

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by