Backyard Poultry

Composting Chicken Manure

Starting a Flock : Environment

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

Each chicken produces many pounds of manure per month.

Sound like a problem? Definitely not!

Chicken waste is not waste at all; it’s actually garden gold that can be used as an organic fertilizer for your lawn and garden. To make the magic happen, it all comes down to composting - a natural way to transform chicken manure and other non-toxic materials into natural fertilizer.
 image about materials you can composte
Because chicken manure is naturally high in nitrogen, it must be broken down through composting before being used as fertilizer in larger amounts.
How composting works 
Composting is a process in which microorganisms naturally break down materials into fertilizer through aerobic (oxygen-based) decomposition.
The microorganisms decompose organic materials and, in this process, the compost pile starts to heat up. Temperatures inside a pile of organic materials can reach between 160 and 170° Fahrenheit, and could stay at that level for a few weeks.
During this composting process, decomposition occurs fairly fast. As the bacteria consume the organic matter, the decomposition process slows down and temperatures in the pile decrease to around 100°F. At this point, the compost begins to cure and can be stockpiled.
What can be composted?
You can compost many biodegradable materials, like waste, from around your house once you build your own backyard composting system. Very few materials are needed to create a home composting system – just a container to use as an outdoor compost bin. Compost bins can be purchased or homemade from pallets or garden materials.
Simply add compostable items to the bin. The key is the balance of materials. A general rule of thumb is that the material be: 
  • 25-30 parts carbon-based material: brown, dry material like sawdust, wood chips, straw, dry leaves, newspaper, cardboard, peanut shells
  • 1-part nitrogen-based material: green, wet material like vegetable scraps, chicken waste, coffee grounds, garden and grass clippings, weeds. In total, chicken manure can make up one-third of the nitrogen ingredients.
Materials that can be composted at home include: manure, food scraps, coffee grounds, newspapers, cardboard, leaves and grass clippings and other non-toxic organic matter. Some household products are even listed as compostable. Avoid cat feces and litter, plastic, excess of animal fat, meat or bones, glass, metal, rubber, dairy products, fish scraps, glass and charcoal.
Setting up a compost system
Setting up a home composting system can be a fairly simple process. Just be sure to keep the essentials in mind: space, balance, moisture, heat, air and particle size. 
  • Space: Purchase or create a compost bin that is about one cubic yard in size. It is ideal to have two bins with new material added to one bin while the other bin is used for curing. Place the bins in an area with good drainage and some shade.
  • Balance: Be sure to add compostable items that balance the nitrogen and carbon levels in the bin. Chicken manure can make up one-third of the material but should be balanced with carbon-based materials. 
  • Moisture: The beneficial bacteria in the compost bin need moisture. Ensure compost materials are about 50-60 percent moisture. Rain or intentional watering helps get nutrients to the microorganisms during the composting process. The pile should be damp but not dripping. 
  • Heat: Proper composting produces heat of 160-170° Fahrenheit for a few days to kill most pathogens; you can buy a thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Air and layering: The microorganisms responsible for composting need good airflow to survive; turn the compost pile to add oxygen. This helps microbes break down materials. At the least, turn or mix the compost pile at least once per week. The amount of times the pile is turned can impact the rate of decomposition.
  • Particle size: Smaller particles heat up and decompose faster than larger particles. The best particle size is less than two inches in diameter.
  • Rodents: Composting food scraps can attract pests. If rodents are a problem, consider adding a fence or covering your composting system.   
To create organic fertilizer, feed chickens an organic feed like Purina® Organic chicken feed.
When the composting process is complete, the material should consist of a fine, spongy mass that is dark chocolate brown in color. The decomposition process typically takes six months if materials are a half-inch or smaller.  
At this time, you are ready to use the compost as natural fertilizer for your lawn and garden! Mix thoroughly composted material into garden soil 2-3 weeks prior to planting. This ensures the beneficial soil microbes become active and are releasing nutrients from the compost.
How else do chickens help gardens? Learn the answer.