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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Manure - The Other Big Benifit

The Joy Of Chicken Poo

As a gardener I take advantage of my chickens’ droppings whenever I can.

First, I get all dressed in my chicken cleaning uniform, gloves and boots, then trudge out to the coops with shovel in hand. When I clean the coops I make sure nothing is wasted and it all gets moved right to my compost pile. This helps cut down on waste sent to the dump, helps my garden thrive and makes the coop cleaning process multipurpose (they get a clean coop & I get fertilizer). Chicken Manure
The important thing to remember is chicken waste is considered “hot” when fresh, this means it’s high nitrogen can damage the root system of the plants. Letting your newly found fertilizer age is the best solution.

You can do this in one of 2 ways:   1) Load your chicken manure onto your compost pile to turn and age over time before adding to your garden.( See composter article below)  or  2) Add the manure to the garden at the end of the season, such as fall, when nothing is growing. Turn the soil then, and allow to age directly in the soil for spring planting.

If your manure is mixed in with a heavy amount of pine shavings, its a good idea to choose the “add to compost pile” option. The pine shavings need a lot more time to break down due thickness and also have a high acidity level.

Straw breaks down fairly quickly and you can choose to add that to your garden in the fall if its your choice of bedding in the coop. I prefer pine shavings over straw or hay, as it’s more absorbent (chicken poo is wet!).

When straw gets damp it can become moldy quickly, though both straw and hay break down much more quickly in the compost bin. I’ll happily put either one into my compost pile!

Chicken Manure Tumbling Composter

What does a  composter have to do with raising chickens? Well, if you have chickens, you have chicken manure … and if you’re a gardener (like me) this unlimited supply of manure can provide you with an endless supply of the world’s best organic fertilizer! 
In fact, out of the fluffy backside of an average-sized hen, 1 cubic foot of manure is produced every six months! All you have to do is a little simple math to realize that it doesn’t take long before you have to contend with a mountain of chicken poop! There’s an advantage to this abundant supply of waste, though. Unlike many other backyard animals (such as cats and dogs), chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. To a gardener, this “black gold” is a highly sought after organic fertilizer … but to a chicken keeper who enjoys gardening, it has another advantage: It’s free! Even if you’re not a gardener, composting the coop bedding and manure will result in a rich soil amendment that can be incorporated into established landscapes.

Fresh chicken manure, however, should never be added to the garden without first being composted for two to six months (depending on the method of composting). In the past, I’ve been a lousy, lazy composter; I would throw the coop bedding and droppings into the compost bin, and that was about the extent of my effort. Successful composting requires turning the compost, keeping it moist, checking the temperature. I failed at all of these requirements. This year, however, has been different thanks to my:
Composting Basics
As a Master Gardener, I like to refer to the University of Missouri Extension as a reference for all gardening-related topics; click on the following link to view the university’s guide on understanding, making and using compost: “Making and Using Compost.” Mother Earth News also has a helpful article this month, “How to Make Compost.” In a nutshell, here’s my general summary of composting: Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed by a process of aeration, heat, moisture and microbes. In a chicken coop, this organic matter consists of coop bedding and manure. 

When composting, the general rule-of-thumb is 1 part carbon (brown, e.g., coop/run bedding) to 2 parts nitrogen (green, e.g., chicken poop). However, because chicken manure is so high in nitrogen, a 1:1 or even a 2:1 mixture might be more appropriate. How long it takes to produce compost depends on the method of composting and how diligent and devoted the gardener is in turning, watering and monitoring the temperature of the pile. If done properly, the compost could be ready to use within two to three months. Otherwise, it’s probably wise to let it age for six to nine months before incorporating it into the garden soil.

A common method of composting is a simple heap or pile, or a constructed compost bin. Coop bedding and manure are added in layers to the bin and a third layer of microbe-rich soil or compost can also be added to help start the decomposition process. Adding moisture or water to the layers (material should be about as wet as a well-wrung sponge) will increase the internal temperature of the pile. It is recommended that the compost pile heat to 130-150° F and maintain that temperature for three days. Continue turning, watering and monitoring the temperature until the entire pile has been through the heating process. Then wait … Let the compost continue to age another three to six months; it should be dark, crumbly and “earthly” smelling (there should be no odor of manure).

Benefits of Composting Tumblers
A compost tumbler is simply a container that can be rotated to mix the composting materials. The fact that the organic materials are in a sealed container also helps contain the heat generated by the composting process. The added heat, combined with the ease of turning the material, produces compost quicker than traditional methods. Here’s a list of proposed benefits of a tumbling composter:
  • As mentioned above, it’s fast. Some sources boast that, “in as little as three weeks, you’ll have dark, rich compost!”
  • It will keep rodents and raccoons out of the compost.
  • Eliminates composting odors.
  • As compared to a heap of rubbish, a tumbler has more curb appeal.
Even though the benefits seem appealing, Mother Earth News did a review on compost tumblers a few years back and came up with the conclusion that a properly attended compost heap worked just as well. However, if you’re similar to me, you don’t have the time, desire or the muscle it requires to properly attend to the compost bin! With this easy-to-do method, I’ve produced better compost in three months than I have in all the years I’ve been gardening!

Pros and Cons …
Even though I’m thrilled that I’m finally composting using a fast, easy and efficient method, I’ve already learned a few strategies to make the compost even better. Adding more than just straw and manure (i.e., kitchen waste, garden extras, leaves) to the barrel makes for a richer, higher-quality compost. Also, shredding the material before adding it to the tumbler speeds up the decomposing process. (I use a push mower with a leaf bag attachment.)

As for the tumblers … Why two? When one tumbler is full, I water it down and then start turning it for a few months. During the months that I’m spinning one tumbler, I’m filling up the other one!

   DIY: Chicken Manure Tumbling Composter!
 Visit for details
If your skills and resources are limited, I did find a few similar DIY instructions that might be easier to accomplish.

Click on the links below:
DIY Spinning Composter
Compost Tumbler
Make a Compost Tumbler
Very Simple Homemade Compost Tumbler (No carpentry skills needed!)
To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit …the garden-roof coop.

The need for composting is unquestioned.  To see complete details of various composter designs, features and sizes please visit this comparison site for compost tumblers.


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