I recently got a fantastic question from a friend about chicken manure and what is the best way to use it as fertilizer without causing pollution. A very thoughtful question and since I discussed chickens last week and touched on this issue a little bit I thought I’d expand on it some more and share more options for manure management.
The balance between manure and fertilizer depends on how many chickens you have and how much garden. You want to make sure manure composts before applying it to plants. Adding chicken waste to a compost bin is an excellent way to get it really hot, but it will take awhile for it to completely compost.
We actually put most of our garden waste (sans toxic plants like rhubarb leaves and tomato plants) and all of our kitchen scraps in our chicken yard. What they don’t eat they compost for us by turning it through scratching. Every couple of weeks we rake everything (plus additional manure from goats and chickens) back into a pile so they can continue to dig around in it. Of course they also add a lot of extra manure as well.
We add what is in that compost pile (manure and everything else) to our vegetable beds when we finish our harvest in the fall and remove old plants. This gives it ample time to continue to compost before planting in the Spring. We will also take the more broken down stuff and put it around our fruit trees in the Winter when most are dormant.
As for the barn area, we use the deep litter method, meaning we have about 6-8″ of hay down. Droppings go into it and just get mixed in and covered by more hay over time. It will slowly compost itself. We only need to clean out the barn once a year. What we remove will go into the pile in the chicken yard to be used the following year. An additional benefit of deep litter is that it provides warmth for the animals in the winter caused by the microbial activity in it.
Another option is to build a chicken tractor which you move around your yard. This helps keep manure from being concentrated in just one spot and allows the chickens to free range without destroying your plants. Their manure is in small amounts and doesn’t need to be composted and is already deposited where you need it. We used to have a tractor, but we have too many chickens now to use it and it can be difficult to herd them into it when it gets large and unwieldy.