Using Chickens to Fertilize a Garden - How Many Square Feet Per Chicken?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by westes, Sep 19, 2016.

  1. westes

    westes Out Of The Brooder

    If you want to use your chickens to provide ongoing fertilizer to a garden, what is the general rule of thumb for how many square feet of garden one chicken should be fertilizing? Assume that one garden has all the chickens running across it every day of the week, so I am not alternating different gardens on different days.

    I was playing with the idea of having the chicken coop inside an outside building (like a barn), and then having the outside run during the day be a garden fully enclosed by fencing, attached to the barn. The ladies can spend their days running among the garden plants and their constant pooping becomes an asset instead of a liability. Having the outside run fully enclosed would take care of the predator problem, as long as the barn itself was secured.
     
  2. sunflour

    sunflour Flock Master Premium Member

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    I love those arrangements with a coop in the center and garden areas surrounding it - but they usually use a rotational plan to exclude the flock from the in use growing areas for reason.

    If you are growing for the chickens to have fun, go for it. But if you plan to get some produce - bet you'll be disappointed. They will eat the produce and plants, and scratch enough to kill the other plants. If you are planning a landscaped garden for them, you will need to protect all young plants to give them a chance to survive the explorations.

    "Most poop is found in the coop" - they do poop everywhere, but not constantly. A little is ok, but a lot of "raw, hot" poop will kill many plants.

    Good luck with your plans.
     
  3. westes

    westes Out Of The Brooder

    The chickens will eat the produce. Good point I guess. :) Is there any vegetable that chickens will not eat?

    I guess one strategy here would be to grow vegetables that grow vertically on a vine? That way the chickens only eat what is at the bottom, and the vegetables above about two feet they cannot reach? I am thinking things like Chinese eggplants, maybe berry bushes, etc.

    Could you address the "too much hot poop directly kills plants" issues by putting a small fence around the base of each plant, so then the poop will get into the soil around the plant and affect the roots as they grow out?

    If you grow a tuber, like potato or turnip, will the chickens attempt to dig that out of the soil?
     
  4. SueT

    SueT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    My hens didn't bother my green beans, peppers, okra, basil, asparagus, broccoli, onions, eggplants, or zucchini. The kale and parsley got nibbled slightly, but it's good for them. I kept my lettuce and small plants under removable tunnels, and the tomatoes in mesh cages up high enough to protect the fruit. My chickens ate the bugs off the plants and did not dig them up as long as I protected the seedlings.
    Berry bushes will have to be protected, but you are probably also protecting them from birds as well.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2016
  5. westes

    westes Out Of The Brooder

    Great information, thanks. What breeds are you raising that the above comments apply to?
     
  6. SueT

    SueT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, SL Wyandotte, Bl Australorp.
     
  7. westes

    westes Out Of The Brooder

    Wyandotte's are attractive. What is the temperament? Quiet or noisy?
     
  8. SueT

    SueT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    westes, I had just one of each breed, but my Wyandotte was quiet and polite. I suggest you look up forums on the breeds you are interested in, there are reviews and tons of info that would be a lot more valuable than my experience with one hen.
     
  9. sunflour

    sunflour Flock Master Premium Member

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    Glad that @SueT jumped in with experienced advice.

    RE: "fences" - just some chicken wire around the tender plants.

    RE: poop - it is high in nitrogen and too much at one time could burn a plant. But that's not likely to be an issue if they are just "working" your garden. Just don't collect coop poops and dump next to tender plants. I have dumped mine in off season and tilled it in the next spring. Love being able to use it. But I heard that Blueberries can tolerate and love chicken manure - but likely it still needs to age.

    I tend to be overprotective and would worry about potatoes, beans, tomatoes - the leaves of all are toxic, uncooked beans are a no-no as are potato skins and green tomatoes. But if they have opportunity to taste what they wan't likely they will leave those alone.

    But root veggies are likely to get dug around and injured or dug up - wish I could video my Road Runner excavating [​IMG]

    I am still quite jealous of your plans, would love to see what you come up with and hear how it turns out:)
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2016
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  10. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Don't hold me to it as gospel, but in checking on my resources, I came up with around 500 to 800 SF per bird per year.

    Here is yet another source that says 100 SF per bird.

    http://poultryone.com/articles/chickenmanure-html

    So without much effort, you can find published resources that vary as much as 8X. Ouch.

    Note the % of nutrients the poultryone folks use. the N-P-K values of 1.8%-1.5%-.8%........I found one source that suggested at least double those values. The old school rule of thumb was 50 birds per acre on something like grass sod or grain fields. That equates to about 875 SF per bird. That sounds like a lot of land, and it is.

    The tricky part to doing these calculation is how much manure is actually in a pound of "litter" and what is the water content? Most references don't really say. You get numbers like 1,000 laying hens will produce 20 tons per year of "litter"? Litter or manure? Considering the source, I'm thinking it was manure and that would be manure stockpiled in the end of a commercial laying house. Manure of course contains both liquid urine and solid feces and it comes out together as one. So is this dry or wet litter? Fresh wet litter will be nearly double the weight of stockpiled litter that has been allowed to dry. That may explain the differences in % per pound? Wet or dry? It does make a difference.

    Manure is widely thought to be high in N, but a lot of that quickly gets converted to ammonia gas and blows off into the air. But what is left and what quickly gets out of hand is the phosphorous (P) and a lessor extent potassium (K). So the "crops" planted need to be heavy feeders of those two. Composting is going to help shed a lot of the excess N, but not the other two minerals. Over time, what looked like a good thing early on starts to become a problem as excess starts to build up. Long term, the put and take have to reach an equalibrium or things start getting toxic. And again, it is not always the Nitrogen that gets going too hot.

    For yet another reference, here is a guide bulletin from U of Missouri (lots of broilers and turkeys in Missouri)

    http://extension.missouri.edu/p/WQ203

    When you get down to the part about how many pounds of broilers and 2 acres of land........when I convert pounds of birds to layers, at 5 pounds per bird, I come in around 435 SF per bird.

    If you were one of the big boys, with thousands of birds to deal with and the need for a CAFO permit, this is how much land area the State of Missouri would want you to have lined up with spreading rights. So that might be a good place to start.
     
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