Compost troubleshooting

gtaus

Free Ranging
Mar 29, 2019
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Northern Minnesota
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My Coop
How I’m managing is a mix of not sifting compost before using it, and because I’m in no rush, letting compost stockpile in the run.

Understand. If I was just adding compost to a ground based garden, I'd probably not worry too much about sifting my compost. I sift my compost for potting soil mixes with the 1/4 X 1/4 inch screen for a very fine product. For my raised beds, I use the 1/2 X 1/2 inch screen. If I just need some compost for top dressing around plants, then I don't have to screen at all.
 

Red-Stars-in-RI

Crowing
7 Years
Mar 24, 2014
1,319
3,084
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Rhode Island
Understand. If I was just adding compost to a ground based garden, I'd probably not worry too much about sifting my compost. I sift my compost for potting soil mixes with the 1/4 X 1/4 inch screen for a very fine product. For my raised beds, I use the 1/2 X 1/2 inch screen. If I just need some compost for top dressing around plants, then I don't have to screen at all.
Yeah, I’d like to screen but unless it’s really dry it’s a challenge. I just replanted a roughly 20x10 area of my yard with grass…put down maybe a dozen wheel barrow loads of compost…unsifted (I took out biggest chunks when I saw them).

For yards, flower beds, etc…I think unsifted is fine…although if I had your sifter, I’d likely lift everything!
 

DonyaQuick

Chirping
Jun 22, 2021
83
196
86
Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
Oh man. I just discovered that not only did my chickens do better than my compost pile with what's inside their run, they also somehow composted stuff for about a 12" radius around the outside of that - where they don't even go. Not exactly motivating for carrying on tending to my lackluster compost pile lol.

I was walking around the coop noticing that my couple inches of mulch over the predator skirt seemed to have been replaced with dirt in a lot of places. It didn't get scattered either; I have a perimeter of stones that's held it in very well. I thought maybe dirt just got washed into it and it was still mostly mulch, but nope - very little wood left, just crumbly dark brown and black, full of worms and other wigglies! Mulch outside that 12" radius is still intact, so the magic chicken compost powers only extend so far.

I dumped most of this newfound mixture into the daytime run extension for bug snacks since I don't have an immediate use for it elsewhere with temperatures rapidly heading to freezing. I also carved a hole in my compost heap and put some of the new material it in the middle as an experiment.
 

gtaus

Free Ranging
Mar 29, 2019
3,033
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Northern Minnesota
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Oh man. I just discovered that not only did my chickens do better than my compost pile with what's inside their run, they also somehow composted stuff for about a 12" radius around the outside of that - where they don't even go. Not exactly motivating for carrying on tending to my lackluster compost pile lol.

Yep, I have noticed the same thing. I have a small spillover running alongside my chicken run fencing. It is mostly broken down fine compost type material. I have been raking/shoveling that stuff and use it as more or less finished compost. I still have pallet compost bins, but mainly for old moldy food that I will not feed to the chickens. Every once in while I'll throw in some extra leaves or grass clippings on top. Mainly, my pallet compost piles just sit and age and I never bother to turn them. All my active composting takes place in the chicken run. There the chickens turn the compost everyday.

Speaking of which, I just bought another bag of chicken scratch this afternoon. I like to throw a bit of scratch on top of the chicken run compost everyday so the chickens will scratch and peck that area to get their treats. I use deep litter in the chicken coop, and in the winter time I throw the chicken scratch into the coop. The chickens will scratch and turn over the litter to get their treats. As long as the litter is not frozen solid, it's like the chickens are self cleaning the coop.
 

DonyaQuick

Chirping
Jun 22, 2021
83
196
86
Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
Speaking of which, I just bought another bag of chicken scratch this afternoon. I like to throw a bit of scratch on top of the chicken run compost everyday so the chickens will scratch and peck that area to get their treats. I use deep litter in the chicken coop, and in the winter time I throw the chicken scratch into the coop. The chickens will scratch and turn over the litter to get their treats. As long as the litter is not frozen solid, it's like the chickens are self cleaning the coop.
I started doing that recently in my run too - initially I did it to give them something to do for longer when I had to stop letting them forage outside. Now that you mention it, the substrate has definitely improved since I've been throwing the scratch on areas that aren't bare soil (which is where I used to put it since I was worried it wouldn't get eaten otherwise). I often had trouble with areas getting packed down and staying wet after a heavy rain but it's been staying dryer with more turning. This week I've even started throwing a bit of regular feed in there when it's dry/sunny since I've got one chicken that always prefers to forage for food rather than eat out of a feeder.
 

gtaus

Free Ranging
Mar 29, 2019
3,033
11,517
637
Northern Minnesota
My Coop
My Coop
I often had trouble with areas getting packed down and staying wet after a heavy rain but it's been staying dryer with more turning.

My chicken run compost litter is currently about 12 inches deep. That is made up of layers of wood chips, grass clippings, and leaves. All my kitchen scraps and other organic matter that the chickens might eat also get tossed into the run. The chickens are constantly digging into the litter and breaking it down for me. That also keeps the litter fluffy. Even after a heavy rain, the chicken compost litter is like a wrung out sponge, not wet, not muddy, and no offensive smell. I tell everybody that my chicken run compost smells like the forest floor after a heavy rain. In my case, I think all the leaves prevent the litter from getting packed down.

This time of year I use my riding lawn mower with the grass clipping bins to mow up the leaves on the lawn. I just dump everything into the run. The chickens love to level out the piles of leaves and just tear it apart. At the end of fall last year, the chicken run litter was just over 18 inches deep, but that broke down over the winter and was about 12 inches deep by spring. I just keep adding material to the litter and the chickens naturally mix everything together.

Like your chickens, my chickens prefer to eat just about any kitchen scraps I can feed them before they will eat their commercial feed. They love to forage for food. I'd probably get more eggs if I confined them to a wire cage and only fed them a well balanced commercial feed, but I prefer to treat my backyard flock differently. I enjoy watching them scratch and peck for food all day out in the run.
 

DonyaQuick

Chirping
Jun 22, 2021
83
196
86
Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
This time of year I use my riding lawn mower with the grass clipping bins to mow up the leaves on the lawn. I just dump everything into the run.
A bit of a random question, but how high do you have the mower set for that and/or do you rake a bit first to fluff the leaves up so the leaves are easier for the mower to get? I have been trying to chop/collect leaves with my mower and its very hit and miss. I usually mow at 5-6" because I keep the grass on the long side (trying to let it outcompete some other shorter stuff) but maybe one shorter mow is worth not having a royally big leaf-collecting job if that's what's needed.
 

Red-Stars-in-RI

Crowing
7 Years
Mar 24, 2014
1,319
3,084
316
Rhode Island
A bit of a random question, but how high do you have the mower set for that and/or do you rake a bit first to fluff the leaves up so the leaves are easier for the mower to get? I have been trying to chop/collect leaves with my mower and its very hit and miss. I usually mow at 5-6" because I keep the grass on the long side (trying to let it outcompete some other shorter stuff) but maybe one shorter mow is worth not having a royally big leaf-collecting job if that's what's needed.
I happened to do some leaf pickup today.

My neighbors have a nice mower with a bagger, but it’s just a widow and her adult daughter and they don’t feel comfortable running some of her late husband’s equipment, so I help out where I can.

So, today we got the tractor running and I hit their yard and ours. It’s early in leaf season here, but we’re in for a week of rain so I figured I’d better get after it.

I ran the mower at it’s second highest level and it worked well. It’s been dry here, though, so the leaves weren’t matted down. If they were, a quick fluff with the rake.

I think they two keys when mowing leaves with a bagger is doing it when it’s dry and doing it often. If they get too deep, it’s going to be slow going, and wet leaves tend to clog.

Turns out the mower bagger holds almost exactly one 32 gallon barrel of leaves/grass. That came in handy.

Its been dry for a bit here, so the dust was insane. I had my 9 year old son driving the mower and I was emptying and dumping the leaves. By the end of it, we were both a special kind of dirty!

I told my son that when he’s a bit bigger, I’ll get to sit on the tractor and HE can empty leaves and haul leaves. He said “maybe in 5 years, when you’re 50”. I should get that in writing…
 

Red-Stars-in-RI

Crowing
7 Years
Mar 24, 2014
1,319
3,084
316
Rhode Island
I’m hoping to get my load of wood chips this week. Since I was already dirty from the dusty leaf job, I dug 3-4 wheel barrow fulls of run dirt out of the run.

To make room for a nice thick layer of wood chips, some of the dirt had to go. Digging uncovered a LOT of worms, which the chickens got to enjoy as I was digging.

I dumped the dirt in my former goat pen which I plan to seed regularly for the flock to occasionally snack on, but not have access to enough to totally scratch it barren.

The flock won’t know it, but the nutrient recycling will be in full force! A few chickens followed me into the area and went to work leveling out the piles I dumped from the wheelbarrow and devouring more worms and whatnot.

My run is big, so this was a drop in the bucket…between dirt out and chips in, the wheel barrow and I will be getting quite well acquainted!
 

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