Using hay from the coop directly in the garden?

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by Mammachix, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. Mammachix

    Mammachix Out Of The Brooder

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    I use hay (not straw) in the coop because it is free for me, provides feed and entertainment for the girls when they are stuck inside during the winter, and because it composts more easily than shavings.

    My question is this: can I till the winter coop hay directly into the garden in early spring?

    It is starting to break down over the course of the winter as the girls scratch through it. I have poop boards, so the majority of the poop under their roosts is collected and composted. Just wondering if anyone has ever put this rich partially-composted hay directly into soil without spending two or three months composting it first. A friend of mine thinks it possible, but I'm worried about seeding weeds into my garden.

    Thanks!
     
  2. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Chicken Obsessed

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    I keep my garden under a 6" layer of hay with the goal of never letting the soil be bare. Even though the hay is full of weed seeds, they don't sprout, b/c by the time they fall down to the soil, they are shaded and can't sprout without enough light. Your hay has the benefit of the chickens gleaning seeds from it, but I can't speak to the issue of it maybe being too hot b/c of the chicken poo. So, I guess I'd try it on a limited scale. Is it broken down to the point that it's not long and stringy? In my gardening style, I'd just throw it on top of the garden for mulch. This is my first year with chickens (in about 25 years), so a learning experience for me re: fertility with chicken litter.
     
  3. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    I just wanna know where you get free hay!
     
  4. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Chicken Obsessed

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    $1.50 - 2.50/bale here for me. Straw goes for up to 11$.
     
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I see two issues here. First is the weed seeds. Yes you will put weed seeds in your garden. I don’t know what kind of hay you are using, lespedeza, alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, clover, or maybe a mix or something totally different including pure weeds like pigweed or burdock so I don’t know how many or how bad a problem that would be for you.

    The chickens will probably eat some of the seeds, especially if the seeds are kind of big. Their scratching will thresh the hay, shake out a bunch of seeds, so that will reduce how many you have even if they don’t eat them, but I don’t know how bad a problem you are going to have.

    The other issue is whether or not it is too hot (too much nitrogen) to the point it burns your plants. With your droppings board, it may not be all that hot. You may even have the opposite problem if it is not hot enough. The carbon (hay) needs nitrogen (poop) to break down. If there is not enough poop available, the hay may tie up other nitrogen in the soil to use to break down, which could leave your garden plants deprived of nitrogen. After the hay breaks down that nitrogen is released back into the soil so it is available to your crops, but that could be later in the growing season.

    A pretty standard practice is to take that stuff out of the coop in the fall after your garden is done, spread it and let it break down over the winter. I’d be hesitant to do that in the spring unless you have another three months or so before you plant. Otherwise I suggest you compost it.

    There is another alternative but I don’t do it myself. There is a bit of risk involved but some people do it without a problem. Use it as mulch between your rows. Don’t let it touch your growing plants. It will suppress the weeds. Anything that does sprout is usually really easy to pull. It will hold in moisture. I’m a strong believer in mulch either in the row or between rows.

    If you knew it did not have much poop in it you could maybe use it as mulch directly on your plants, but I would not risk that personally.
     
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Chicken Obsessed

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    Nice idea RR. Use the potentially hot stuff between the rows, and more benign products that aren't loaded with poo directly in the rows/beds. This year will definitely be a huge learning curve for me. It's like I'll be learning how to garden all over again, finding out how much chicken poo my garden can take, and which crops will thrive, and which crops will need a much gentler touch with the fertility. In the lower level of their coop, the DL is looking awesome. It's still discernible in terms of leaves and grass clippings, but it smells nice and earthy, and is broken down into very fine mulch. I think my plan will be to take it all out as soon as the ground is all bare, and layer it all into a 4 x 12 bed along with bedding that is mostly pine shavings with not so much poo mixed in. That will be the start of a "hot bed" with an experimental crop of zucchini, squash and cukes to see how the plants respond to the extra nitrogen and heat. The following season, the bed should be perfect for leaf and cole crops. The girls will get to range the other half of the garden until just before I plant it.
     
  7. 14aviles

    14aviles Out Of The Brooder

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    Great thoughts. I'm new to gardening and chickens. Just now prepping my soil. I hope that the hens will help with my compost. So, i can line the coop with hay/straw. Then just rake it into a pile/hot bed? Will it be ok to let the hens scratch through the pile? *I'd love to see pictures of what you all did!*
     
  8. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    The only potential problem with the hens scratching through it is that they will scatter it. It won’t stay a pile long. If it is somewhere it is contained, that’s not a problem. They will love scratching through it, looking for bugs and such.

    I sometimes put a bale of wheat straw in the run and take the wires off. Within a couple of days the chickens have shredded that bale and eaten or threshed most of the seeds out of it. I use that as mulch in my garden. But that does not have any significant amount of chicken poop in it like bedding from your coop would. I still get some wheat sprouting in the garden, but not much and it’s easy to pull through the mulch. If you are using hay instead of straw, you’ll almost certainly get more weed seeds.
     
  9. Mammachix

    Mammachix Out Of The Brooder

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    Hi, thanks so much for your replies. Given that this has been a very cold and snowy winter in upstate N.Y. My guess is that there is plenty of poop mixed in with the hay this year. It is definitely broken down...very dusty in the coop! Perhaps I'll try it just in one of the beds for this year. I have wood chips in the rows, so all set there. Already have two large compost piles, so don't need a third. Maybe I'll pile the rest of it on the edge of the woods and let it slowly compost for a year?
     

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