Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chickens Make Compost

Chickens love to scratch.  Therefore chickens are the perfect source of easy compost because they can take organic matter and veggie scraps and shred and turn them and poop on them until they are compost.  When I first read about this idea of putting egg-laying chickens to work for the garden in Harvey Ussery's The Small Scale Poultry Flock, a lightbulb went off.  Wow!  This is great!  Chickens can turn large amounts of coarse dead matter from the garden into compost.  But the benefits don't stop there!  The chickens are kept interested digging, their run space is covered with shredded organic matter so it doesn't get muddy or eroded, and the gardener gets out of compost-turning-duty.  PERFECT!

While figuring out exactly where to place the compost piles in the chickens' habitat is a work in process...I must say I am very impressed with their work over the past 2 years.  And it really does keep them entertained.  A chicken that cannot scratch is a bored and sad chicken.  And as compost starts to get going and worms and bugs start hanging out in it....they just have a field day shredding and turning that compost, in search of an elusive earthworm.  

Many folks have figured out a system that works for them, and many more seem in the experimental phase like me.  Here's a fun gravity based composting run .....  Milkwood Gravity Run.  The key of all of them seems pretty simple...add organic matter and let them go to town!

Scritch Scritch, Scratch Scratch
"C'mon it!  Move those legs!"
1 season's worth of organic matter turned to compost
Chickens can handle even tough stalk vegetable plants like brussle sprouts and tomato vines.  The compost pictured above once included over 200 tomato vines!  When the compost looks done, I let it age by building a new pile somewhere else.  The chickens ignore the old finished compost for the newer stuff, especially if there are some veggie scraps thrown in.  They seem partial to kale but I know they miss the summer tomatoes.  We would throw them all the cracked fruit and little mini chicken riots would break out, chasing whoever had the tomato in her mouth.  

Compost dug out and ready for bed application

Deep leaf chicken bedding composting's warm!
If you need to keep things tidier than just piling up dead plants in your yard, there are ways of keeping the compost process contained with a simple bin in the chicken yard...made out of pallets or straw bales perhaps.  Just as long as the chickens can access it, they are good to go to work for you.  

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