The Crappy Composter’s Secret To Perfect Compost

Maybe you are a compost geek. Maybe you totally adore balancing greens and browns and maybe the challenge of maintaining a 155 degree pile for days on end really hits your g-spot (g for “gardener,” naturally).

If that describes you, this post isn’t for you.

This post is for those of us who basically suck at making compost. This is for all the gardeners out there who feel like secret failures because “dark, crumbly and sweet smelling in three weeks” has never once manifested in their compost pile. This is for everyone who has paid $90 for one of those plastic composter bins and then come to loathe the thing and it’s puny, pathetic, back-breaking little shovel-out holes.

True confession time: my name is Erica and I am a crappy composter. My compost is exclusively cold. No weed seeds are ever killed. I never have the right mix of greens and browns. My compost doesn’t cook, it just rots. The whole compost pile thing has been a burden to me, a reminder of my many failures, for as long as I’ve been a gardener. Based on the number of “what am I doing wrong with my compost?!?!” questions people ask me (questions I am obviously supremely unqualified to answer), I suspect I’m not alone in this.

But none of that matters anymore because I have chickens.

My chickens are master composters. Seriously, if they could just find a way to drive to Master Composter Certification they could totally teach that class. (Except they’d eat all the red wiggler worms, but whatever.) Chickens are aerating, nitrogen-pooping, humus-creation machines. I have permanently off-loaded nearly all my composting duties to the hens, and I’m never going back.

This time last year I posited that the real bounty of the coop might be compost, not eggs.

Now, a year later, I’m sure of it.

Delegate_Your_Composting

Here’s how our composting system works in practical terms: we throw almost all our scrap food and leafy garden trimmings into the coop’s run. Citrus rinds and coffee grounds are the notable exceptions. The chickens run around like manic feathered dinosaurs, freaking out about spent brewers grains and frost-bitten chard and broccoli leaves and chickweed. They chomp down and turn all that food into high-nitrogen poop.

The poop mingles with the high carbon straw bedding with which we line the run, and the sand from the coop floor. The chickens dig and scratch and turn everything up and voila: nearly perfect compost.

Now, this doesn’t happen in 3 weeks. In fact, I only harvest the compost once or twice a year. I say “harvest the compost” because that sounds much more pleasant than “shovel chicken shit” and because it’s far more accurate.

People talk about the chore of cleaning the coop. I just do not have that chore. I do not scrape poop and I do not have a manure management issue. What I have is “Hey awesome! It’s time to amend my garden beds.”

In early spring, I add a nice layer of compost and some organic fertilizer to my garden beds to prepare them for spring planting. In late fall, I top dress beds to protect the soil from rain and compaction. In the past I’ve hauled in bags of compost to accomplish these tasks, or gotten a bulk delivery and wheelbarrowed loads of commercial compost from the driveway to the back yard.

Now, I just rake up the thick layer of compost that’s built up in the bottom of the coop and haul it in buckets the few feet to my garden beds. It’s shocking how much compost comes out of the coop – 2 ½ to 3 ½ cubic yards of nearly perfect compost every six months, for free.

Within a day or two of scraping the coop floor bare, I bring in another bale or two of fresh straw, cut the bailing line, and maybe kick the bale open for the hens. They take it from there, happily tossing their nice new bedding hither and yon all the run, and the process starts again. In six months, if I want it, another several cubic yards of compost will be mine for the harvesting.

Everything about composting has changed. The whole process has been re-framed into a system that requires less work and money and effort (and guilt!) from me. This is a far lower effort and far lower input way compost and it makes for a fairly tight loop. It works.

This is the direction I want to go with my garden in general: lower cost (in time, effort and money) in maintenance, more loops that feed themselves, more reward, less effort. The coop compost experiment has shown me that easier and better can go hand in hand.

If you suck at composting, just consider delegating the whole process. That’s my secret. It turns out you don’t have to be a good composter at all if you’re a decent chicken keeper.

Do your chickens do your composting for you, too?

P.S. Since I know not everyone can have chickens, the next best way to get more relaxed about any composting inferiority complex you might have (not that you do, just sayin’) is to read The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. I love the multitude of ways composting is covered in this book, it opened my eyes to the idea that there were a lot of techniques outside the bin I could experiment with.

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Comments

  1. Woah. I have chickens. I just read this and had a hand-smacking-forehead type moment. Why do I waste energy trying to keep my chickens OUT of the compost?! Holy crap. I just need a shorter gate for them to hop over to get into the compost but tall enough to keep the compost from being spread all over the yard. Since my chickens roam the whole yard and garden, I can’t keep them composting in their run, but I can give them access to the compost without driving myself nuts.

    Revelation!!!!

  2. So, I wish I had chickens, but not in a practical sort of way – in a romantic wouldn’t it nice to have your own fresh eggs. unfortunatly, the mobile lifestyle I prefer – is more suited to finding someone else with chicken whom I can bribe in to sharing with some of my other talents (like cookies, or other homemade goodies). And I have contemplated often how nice it would be to have good compost from my own bin, but again knowing one’s limitations is important and we outsource that particular task to our local green waste recycler. Our trash company has a yardwaste option – that yes we pay for, but I can afford to save the earth and not have to manage my own composte bin at the same time. Where they haul away my yard waste (including kitchen compost) to the local green recycler – and they can figure out how to keep it hot and mix the right combination of greens and browns, figure out what could be mulch and what should be compost. We don’t buy our compost from them because I prefer an organic source but other people do, thus supporting a local family business. So I encourage those out there to investigate what options might be available where you live.

  3. I am trying this method, though I’m using pine shavings instead of straw. I have yet to harvest my coop (probably once the snow thaws) but I’m really not sure how well it’s working.. The wood isn’t breaking down very fast. I use wood pellets in the hen house (sooo much better in my climate than sand, sand got really cold) and those get moved to the actual compost pile every week, I’m not sure how that’s really going either, though mostly because it’s covered in snow every week. I also toss most of the grass clippings into the coop, which makes the chickens very happy and I think will help the compost.

    • Stephanie….from experience those pine shavings will be around a lOOOOOOng time. I used pine shaving a year or so ago in the barn, then scooped it all up and put in a compost bin that got really, steaming hot and still I have pine shavings….we are using straw this year and it is much better.

      • Augh… The bottom layer of the coop is starting to become dirt like, so maybe eventually!

        There’s really no good way to buy straw in the Boston Metro area with a car. But pine shavings come in conveniently plastic wrapped cubes!

    • You might need to lime your finished compost too. I think pine breaks down acidic.

      • Stephanie, I feel your pain. My husband is an arborist with a wood mill, so I have a comical amount of wood shavings. It doesn’t make sense for me to steal the cows hay for the chicken floor. Make no mistake, the wood shavings take a long time to breakdown in a compost. But well worth the wait.

  4. So I have read, somewhere who knows where, I read so many things on the internet, that it is possible for you to produce a chicken run with two sides to it: one where you let them scratch and create compost, as you do, and on the other side a garden. Essentially you switch the garden and the run every year or season depending on how much compost your chickens produce. I think you used raised beds (I read a lot of blogs and it is hard to keep track of everyone sometimes), so I have no idea if the idea of turning soil is possible for you in the Northwest, or even necessary with this procedure. Essentially a look at no work soil prep other than lay down straw, feed chickens, maybe turn over soil (depending on your geographic area), apply fertilizer if necessary. Have you tried this before?

    My Significant Other’s mother wants to do the above this year, so I’m wondering just how much work I will end up doing for my little balcony garden and taking care of her chicken garden. (I’m lazy, but if I have a place to grow squash, I’ll find a way to work it). As we are on the completely opposite geographic side of the country to you, the experience will be very different, like overheated chickens, perhaps…

    Anyway, enough rambling, just thought I’d wonder about the idea of do almost nothing soil prep :)

    • Stacy, this video might inspire you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHcL2fFQO54. It’s a permaculture mandala garden with chickens and it makes me breathless! We’ve decided it’s not practical in our little Oakland plot to do this, but we’re going to adjust the idea by building a triangle style moveable chicken coop that will latch on top of our raised garden beds. We’ll move it periodically to rotate the use of the bed from chicken home to garden. Now, I just need the spare time to build it! When we do, you can bet we’ll be blogging about it!

  5. I confess it! I suck at composting so much that I completely gave it up! Completely. It fills me with guilt, but, you know, sometimes something has to give. But this sounds fantastic, if only I could convince my hubby to do the chicken thing! It would be the perfect solution. DO you have a picture/post about your chiclen set-up anywhere? I would love to steal some inspiration.

  6. We don’t have chickens yet, but will keep this in mind for when we finally get them. We do compost, though. Nothing formal or scientific to it. We have a couple of piles surrounded on three sides by pallets and scrap lumber. One side is usually ready or almost ready, while the other is still working. We just throw in kitchen scraps, garden waste, dried leaves, occasionally some shredded paper. Just whatever, but we don’t worry about ratios or anything like that. It always works out just fine. I think you can compost more efficiently, but I don’t think you can ever really fail at it. Like they say, “Compost happens.”

    • We do both! We throw everything willy-nilly into garbage cans that have holes drilled for drainage- it may take 6 months or a year for it to cook, but it’ll turn into good compost with little work. AND we have chickens- we put their chicken tractor over whichever garden bed we want “amended,” throw the best kitchen/garden scraps in (ours really love spaghetti!), and in a couple of weeks that bed is ready to plant!

      • I have successfully used the garbage can method.
        We learned this in our Master Composter class. I never made the compost pile–too much to deal with. But the plastic garbage can (or large plastic storage bin) buried part way into the ground with the bottom cut out works great for me. In Texas, the stuff breaks down much faster in the summer heat. In the winter, it is much slower. I just save all the coffee grounds (paper filters and all), kitchen scraps, sometimes paper and small yard trimmings. No worries about brown and green ratios, just throw it all in.

  7. Some of us have to put the chicken run right next to the house, since we live in the suburbs. Not cleaning the coop for 6 months? Is smell ever an issue for you?

    • We’ve found smell to be a complete non-issue as long as we manage the bedding properly. Mostly that means remembering to add bedding.

      It’s been our experience that 100% of the “chicken coop smell” is actually the nutrients in the chicken manure evaporating. If there’s any smell at all, add more bedding. If there’s sufficient dry bedding, all the nutrients in the manure will be absorbed, and there will be no discernible smell. We use whatever we have on hand seasonally. During the summer, we get somewhat fresh grass cuttings from the in laws. Come fall, we get at least 15 CY of leaf litter from our property alone, if we have time to get it all collected. Any other time, we’ll add straw if we don’t have another free litter handy.

      We use a very deep pack bedding, and haven’t cleaned out our current coop in the 15 months since we finished building it. We have 31 birds in 196 square feet. At that density, they are able to keep the litter turned themselves without “overloading” the bedding and causing manure to crust on the top. Since our forage is dormant for the winter, they haven’t been out of the coop more than twice in the last month and a half, but I can still stand in the coop for 20 minutes and enjoy chicken antics without a whiff of anything unpleasant.

    • Smell has NEVER been an issue for us and the husband has a very sensitive nose.

    • Nope, smell isn’t an issue. Like Chuck says, any smell means you need more bedding. To be fair, I do not know if this same thing would hold true in very hot summer climates. It really doesn’t get hotter than about 80 or 85 here for more than a few days a year.

      • We are in southeast Virginia, where midsummer temperatures are commonly in the 90°F-100°F range with 90% humidity and occasional excursions to 105°F, if that gives a useful frame of reference to my previous comment.

  8. I suck at composting, too. It doesn’t heat up. Then again, I am just randomly throwing things in. Chickens seem perfect, only I don’t have room. When I do move into a house one day (and am not sharing a compost heap with a friend), I will definitely explore this feathered option.

  9. Since our chickens have free range of the place and our compost heap is inside of the garden fence, we don’t have our chickens compost for us. But once we get a fenced-in run for the biddies, that’s exactly what we plan on doing. Right now, my composting friends are my goats. Their wasted hay and poop is swept into an area right around the barn, they mash the hay with their pointy goat hooves, smoosh it ’round when it rains, then add more poop & trample it some more. The chickens also get in on it at this point cause they like to peck at goat berries looking for munchies. Like you, about every six months I get the shovel & wheelbarrow and collect all the ready-made-and-I-didn’t-do-a-thing compost and add it to our raised beds.

  10. I have just recently had the same revelation. I thought to myself, why I am tromping all the way to the back of my property to throw out my leftovers in a compost bin that doesn’t work very well and I haven’t gotten much out of it in over a year, when I can just feed it all to the chickens (who are closer to the house) and get the best compost ever! Now most scraps go to the chickens and the rest go to the worms. I will still put my citrus and onion scraps (those that I don’t use for stock) in the crappy compost bin because I don’t know what else to do with them, but I ma much happoer with the rest of the system.

  11. Lori Cochran says:

    Well done! I too suck and I was raised on a farm! Now you are officially a my hero, so when you gettin some goats?! hahahaha

  12. Our plan for chickens last year hit the fan when Troy was gone for 3 months. This is the year we get those little guys!

    My plan all along has been for an all sand floor in the run and the coop. I suppose I can just add some straw to their poop pile that I’m planning to have behind the coop. Hmmm, more research is needed I suppose.

  13. Matt Jarvis says:

    If/When I get a place with more room and I can build stuff, I intend to do the two-sided garden thing, chicken run on one side, garden on the other and every year switch. Saw the plans online (or in a book?) and thought that was a brilliant idea. Plus the coop/shed you build in the middle saves you having to construct another building.

    I think you do gotta be a bit careful with compost straight from the run though – as I’m sure you know chicken poop is pretty hot stuff so fall amendments should work since it will sit for a few months. Otherwise (i.e. the spring cleaning) I’d let it sit for a few months on its’ own to settle down the nitrogen… just my thoughts there….

    • Great plan. Wish I had gone into this property thinking more about that kind of stuff. The stuff I put on the beds is pretty well broken down and “diluted” with carbon, but yeah, I’d be very nervous with anything like straight chicken manure. I knew a guy who cleaned his coop daily and deposited the poop in a bucket. He had a five gallon bucket of straight chicken manure. When it got full he hauled it to the compost. Seems to me that’s adding a step, but to each their own. :)

  14. I had to laugh because I do this too. I’ve always totally sucked at real compost but the girls are much better at it than I’d ever be, even in my dirtiest fantasies. And the garden loves them for it.

  15. Ah yes the on going wonders of chickens! Our girls haven’t turned a year yet,and yet they have earned there keep. In the fall I threw most of the leaves into there run. It’s been amazing how much it’s broken down. Our girls do get to run about the yard so they have more interesting places to till. ( Some of those areas will be fenced) I am using them right now to weed and till my garden beds, and am looking forward to ‘harvesting’ the magic compost. I have taken a class on compost,and know I’m failing. At this time,since I have an abundance of free “compost” from my goats and Llama I’m oddly comfortable with being a failure :)

  16. Unfortunately my compost pile was evicted by my landlady who was/is convinced that termites will breed in the compost. I tried explaining that termites don’t really go for squash guts, apple cores, or coffee grounds, but she didn’t accept my response. Now I give my compost bucket and food scraps to a friend who farms outside of town. His piles get the coffee grounds and anything else the chickens and pigs won’t eat, and I don’t have to throw out all my food scraps. It’s a pretty good solution, although I still wish I had my little compost pile, even if I wasn’t very good at tending it.

  17. Ha! I am so with you. I AM a master composter and I’m still terrible at it. Really terrible and actually uninterested I’d truth be told. Chickens have been the greatest garden addition ever! They geek out on composting!

  18. I have never been a good composter either because it takes up too much time. I have a large garden and I’ve been gardening for over 30 years. All I do is dig extra ditches in the garden and throw all my kitchen scraps in it and when it’s full I bury it. During the summer when the garden is full there is always room in between the rows for a ditch or in the back of the garden. The real composting is in the fall when I dig a ditch and throw my corn stalks, tomato plants, etc. in the ditches. I try not to pack them too full and then I go right beside that ditch and dig a new one. While I’m doing this I’m burying the last ditch. When I’m all done I can cover the whole garden with leaves for the winter and let the worms do the work. In the spring when we til up the garden I very rarely see anything that didn’t get composted. You could also plant a green manure crop on top of the covered ditches too. I learned this technique from my dad. He always put everything in ditches and buryed it. Hope this helps for people who don’t have chickens.

    • Very cool!

    • Really good advice. This is one of the techniques I learned from that book I linked to at the end of the post. In the book they call it trench composting. I have also used it with just high nitrogen kitchen scraps under where I know I’ll be planting tomatoes or peppers. The idea is the fresh break-down leads to heat to warm the soil from below. I don’t know if it worked but the tom’s transplanted well that year.

    • This is brilliant! I am a former city girl, transplanted to country life, and although I have loved my two years of having a 1500 sq. ft. garden, there is just so much I don’t know. The land we live on came with a three-bin composting system built out of wooden posts and mesh wire; it is currently in shambles, and while trying to fix it one day, I came across a snake lair. That ended my attempts at composting.

      This idea of trench composting is so logical given our land, lives, and schedules. Building a coop and keeping chickens is not feasible now, but digging trenches to bury kitchen and garden waste absolutely is! I cannot wait to start implementing this system in the spring. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  19. I like to pile up the grass clippings (and we have a TON of those) for the chickens to spread. They do an awesome job of it. I can make a pile of clippings 10 ft wide x 3 ft tall and they will spread it. For some reason they always eat a lot of it too. Very odd seeing as they have at least an acre of varied grassland to roam. Anyway, in the spring we remove whatever beautiful black compost is there and then pile up the clippings on the same spot again.

    Normally, piled up grass clippings would make a horrid stench, but not with chickens on duty constantly moving it around.

  20. We are trying a similar thing in our goat stalls. We laid down a huge layer of straw and instead of cleaning daily (like we do in summer) we are just letting their natural goodness pile up…the composting floor gives off some heat for them at night and in a month or so we will do some spring cleaning and have a lovely pile of compost.

    We do the same in the chicken coop, but I also confess to being a compost nerd who hoots in delight when I discover steam rising from my actual compost bins!!!!

  21. Love this!

    Our chickens saved us some hundreds of dollars lass fall when we were considering buying a leaf shredder. Our girls were like, “naw people, put them leaves in our coop, we will shred them, poop on them and turn them into the finest mulch in the land by spring.”
    Thanks, girls.

  22. chicks with bricks says:

    Wow, really? Like the first commenter, I spent way too much time keeping my chickens OUT of the compost… and usually failed. But I also never really had a good system for ensuring that they would stay in the same area and concentrate the fertilizer (we also had a ton of feral chickens, a problem in itself). Unfortunately, I live in an upstairs unit now, with no yard… so no chickens for me at the moment. But anyway, good to know for the future.

  23. What a perfect solution! I can safely say my compost bin is a disaster area right now–it’s topped with a tangle of dead tomato vines that make it super hard to bury anything, for one thing, and it’s too full to really mix besides. Not so great! Maybe it’s time to look into getting chickens…

  24. Our chickens, and the compost are both in the garden. We use one of the beds each year as a compost, and let the chicks do their thing in it. The next year we switch to another bed. The chickens are happy, I don’t have to shovel compost, and the soil is gorgeous.

  25. This is exactly what I do. I got a compost tumbler thinking I would be much better at turning compost if I could just swing a lever, but no. My chickens do a much, much, much better job than I do!!!

  26. My worms do the composting for me. They are awesome at it. And it doesn’t matter how rotted things are before they go in the bin.

  27. I do this with cow poo.

    My husband feeds our cows the big round bales in bale feeders out in the pasture, and moves where he feeds them every winter. When the cows eat the hay/alfalfa/whatever, they waste some and poop all over the place right by the hay. He also rolls out straw for them to lay on when it gets too cold. They stomp on it, pee on it, the straw gets mixed up and it is a huge mess during that winter. But by the spring after that, it is gloriously composted and ready. I just ask him to load the truck up from the feeding area from last year.

    He loaded some up that hadn’t gone the year resting last year, though, and I picked up a bunch of pig weed seeds. Make sure you wait the year so it properly ages!

    But! I still want chickens. We live in town and the farm is 6 miles away, so I can’t get the kitchen scraps out to the farm easily, and my garden is in town. The chickens would be right in town with us, cause I know my hubby isn’t going to take care of chickens and remember to bring the eggs in with him :) I tried making a composting bin with holes drilled in it and using scraps and shredded paper, but it just rotted and didn’t work at all. I think the holes were too small. What a waste. Since then, I have just been burying the kitchen waste in random spots in the garden.

    • Did you know that you can eat pigweed. It is in the Amaranthaceae family and Italians’s love it. There’s a lot of recipes online. I also get these weeds every year in my garden but haven’t cooked any yet. Maybe this year!

      • I think that the ones called “Red Root” are poisonous. That is the kind we have, with the red coming right up the stem. Any idea if this is correct?

        • Here is a link that says that Native Americans cooked the young leaves and used the seeds for flour. http://extension.usu.edu/weedguides/files/uploads/Amaranthaceae.pdf

        • I think your plan to let the chickens eat the seeds is solid. :) Actually check out what Salatin does with his hens – he has a whole thing about how birds follow grazers in nature. So he has his chickens follow his beef in rotation. It’s all pretty genius. The hens eat parasites and undigested grain and scratch the compost/poop into the field.

          • I have heard mention of using the chickens to make the pasture better, but haven’t done in depth research. If only the meth heads that lived in the house out on the farm before we bought it hadn’t seen purple dogs in their meth dreams that chased them to the roof and apparently persuaded the meth heads to chop holes in the roof and tear the, well, everything, apart in the house, we could be living out there and doing some of this stuff in conjunction with our farm after work instead of doing it in town. :(

  28. Awesome! We are finishing up our coop to get our chickens and are still working on getting a compost set up too. Now we can combine our projects!! Excellent idea!

    • Heather there is a great book called Free-Range Chicken Gardens that talks about designing a coop/run type area with an edible garden. I learned a ton from it and recommend it to anyone who has not yet finalized their coop planning. It’s been out for about a year now I think – your library may have a copy you can check out.

  29. I love this, it is firmly placed in reality. My chickens thoroughly adore their time-share condo (aka compost bin) and are work-a-holics who only return to their house at sundown; they’re working girls! And today, I found an egg in the compost bin! Who else but a gardener would think crawling into a compost bin to retrieve and egg would be an awesome Valentine’s gift?

  30. Matt Jarvis says:

    By chance I saw this going thru some old newsletters and stuff today. Thought I’d share it:

    http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/composting-with-chickens

    M Jarvis
    Eugene, Oregon

  31. Alas, no chickens here. I *can* have them (I’m zoned “rural residential”) but I can’t figure out how to have chickens and leave town for 4 or 5 days a year. Even if I could find a “chicken sitter” to feed them and do whatever, I’m not sure I’d want them to be “unsupervised” for the better part of a week with their “sitter” only stopping by a couple times a day. I think maybe you can only have livestock if you never go anywhere. In lieu of chicky-poo, future plans include comfrey plantings in strategic locations for use as mulch. It’s said to have a nutrient content that’s as good or better than many kinds of manure.

    I do have a compost “pile”, cobbled together from some free pallets (photo here: http://tinyurl.com/ckc4ozy). As a permie-wanna-be, I take nature’s view: rot happens. I look at the woods and fields around me and don’t see “hot” composting anywhere. So, that’s good enough for me. The hot-and-quick method depends on having massive amounts of materials available all at the same time, which never happens in my garden. So I just pile the stuff up as I get it and it works fine. I never turn the pile. I’ve recently taken to adding a lot more household stuff too, especially toilet paper and paper towel tubes, and various forms of paper. In the end, I do get a surprising amount of compost, though I’d love more.

  32. So I’ve got chickens that are my wife’s project. My job tends to be coop building/ remodeling. we tend to also be lazy and uneducated about composting. I was wondering what it is about citrus peals and coffee grounds that are no good in the run/compost, and what you do about them if you don’t want them to go in the trash? We tend to generate a lot of both in our household.

    • I have a post about coffee grounds in the works, actually. Coffee grounds have a zillion good garden uses. Look for it in the next two weeks. Citrus peels I’m still working on a perfect solution. Sometimes, depending on my time, they get further processed into dried peel or (easiest) citrus vinegar. Just pile up citrus rinds in a big jar and top with white vinegar. Use for cleaning. I put some citrus in with my worm bin, and some go in yardwaste, and some get tossed behind a bush in the backyard to rot in place, and some get thrown into the coop by accident and I find them essentially unchanged 6 months later. I’m open to suggestions. :)

    • Jeanmarie says:

      I don’t think citrus is a problem in a compost bin, in reasonable amounts, but they’re not good for chickens. We put coffee grounds in the compost. The chickens used to have free access to the compost bin but lately I’ve kept it covered in the interests of having a hot bin. It’s true that compost just happens, but it can be fun to help it along a bit by tweaking the conditions. Chickens and red wiggler compost worms are a great combo.

  33. We keep ducks and have simliar results. This will be the 2 year we will use wood chips as mulch and already the ones used for bedding in the duck house are well on their way to becoming compost in just 3 weeks time. Animals have tremendous function in a system if you are able and willing. *Noticed your comment on citrus peel; We dry and then burn ours because it make the potassium and I think the phosphorus bio available and burns off the oils. We’ve read that worms don’t especially like them in the “un refined” state and as a raw rind in compost or bokashi, citrus peel is an anti fungal/ bacterial preventing or slowing beneficials from proliferating, which is why you can use it for cleaning. It does seem odd to me that lemons and such are often used to promote good ferments in food for human consumption but ought to be avoided in compost. Guess it depends on the volume over all. It just made sense to us the dry and burn as the best option.

    • Lemon peels: step 1, buy organic only. Step 2, use the juice for whatever. Step 3, slice the empty lemon halves into thin rings, or strips, whatever. Step 4, put them on a plate on some paper towel anywhere they will not be in the way. Top of the fridge works for me. Cover with cheesecloth if you have fruit flies around. They will dry in a few days, a week max. Step 5: GRIND them in the coffee grinder you use for spices. They will rattle and make a racket, but after a while they will turn to powder. Step 6: add to baking as zest, or make into a delicious lemonade that has more vitamin C than the juice.

  34. Matt Jarvis says:

    RE: Citrus peels

    You folks are totally missing the whole point: FLAVORED VODKA

    Seriously though, would/could you dry them and make a citrus tincture by soaking them in either vodka or grain alcohol? Not sure what you would do with it (hic) but I’m sure (hiccup) I could (hic) figger shumfing outt….

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………..

  35. Suggest you look into
    using biochar in your compost
    I don’t have chickens
    but I hear they will ingest it
    and their droppings
    are compost when they come out
    :>)

  36. I suck at compost too, which is why I was so pleased to discover COF. That was before I read Dr. Huber. I am not so sure I want GMO anything in my garden. Made my latest batch with organic alfalfa. Anyway……I can’t wait to get some hens again. The floor of the coop is dirt, that takes care of the sand. This will be the year I get the coop electrified, so it will be easier to keep water from freezing in winter. Give me a few months.

  37. P.S. Compost is also like Woody Allen’s take on sex. When it is good, it is fantastic. When it is bad it is still pretty nice.

  38. My compost pile is in the chicken run. The designated compost area is just defined by a cinderblock border. The hens love to hop in there and get their snacks. I never turn it or anything, just go dig out a couple bucketfuls as needed. It does get some overspray from the lawn sprinklers so that keeps it moist.

  39. The less effort, more reward loop is something I think about a lot. Work and kids tend to force innovation in this area. Last summer I let several mache plants go to seed. In the fall I took those mache plants and shook them over all my naked dirt. BAM! Edible winter cover crop with very little effort.

  40. Well now I know what I’m doing wrong! LOL! Whenever the bedding got dirty I’d haul it to the compost heap and throw fresh stuff in. Couldn’t figure out why it never got broken down into beautiful brown compost. Must leave it in there longer!

    You’re sure that if I just add more bedding on top there won’t be a smell? *twitches at the thought of throwing clean straw on top of poopy straw*

    (And if that works, why I can’t do it in the house! Throwing dirty laundry on top of the pile should create clean laundry on the bottom!! Just saying… ; )

  41. Now you’re talking about a REAL controversial topic. Out here in rural Virginia, we let our chickens do most of the work, and it’s incredibly easy to persuade them to “do the right thing.”

    We rotate table scraps into different 4′ x 8′ boxes, and they seem to cruise the neighborhood, hitting the high points before moving on to the free range. We’re lucky to have 3 acres for them, and they are absolutely amazing at self regulating.

    Another cool thing I tried was using the girls to separate straw bales or giant pile of leaves. If you just leave it in the general area you want it spread, they’ll do the work for you!

    Easy to see that I absolutely love our chickens, and there are tons of benefits to keeping them.

    Cool ass blog, Erica. Thanks for the topic. Of course, as gardeners, it’s a year-round venture and this reminds me I have about 150 things to do tomorrow.

    BTW, I used to be stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter MELLON at pier 36. I miss Seattle terribly, and hope to get back next tour. Take care, my friend.

  42. Love the blog. I wanted to give my 2 cents on composting. My husband and I use worms to compost most of our biodegradable kitchen scraps. We are apartment dwellers and worm composting is doable in a small space. There is no smell, and if a minimum amount of attention is given, there are no issues with fruit flies. We get wonderful compost and it is super easy!

  43. I love this idea and want to make this happen in our yard. I have a coop now that is sitting in a really big run, so there is no contained area to put the straw and have them turn it. I need to think this thing out. I’ve read about it before and have wanted to do this forever!
    Alas – they run around out in the rain and wind and cold and one thing should be mentioned – this idea does NOT work so well is the run is uncovered. The whole thing becomes a big soupy mess – especially around here. I guess it could work, but probably not as well.
    Thank you for mentioning how much you struggle with composting. I SUCK at it. Always have. Always will. I’ve mitigated the embarrassment by using worm composting and I’m going to be using Black Soldier Flies starting this spring, but still – sheesh. I read “the good life” and Helen Nearing’s sanctimonious preaching about how simple composting was for them made me wanna punch the book and then throw it at my rotting compost heap.

  44. Using chickens as composters works excellently well in Fairbanks, Alaska too. Which is good, since most compost bins don’t do much at -50 F. We use heavy mulch in the run to avoid the muddy disaster look common to most. They free range on the lawn when we are home (they stay near their place) in the summer. Deep litter in the coop itself. In fall, all the garden debris goes in the run. Shredded paper is used–we get that from our offices, but hands are pretty good at shredding junk mail and bills too :-). The birds seem to like the softer feel of shredded paper and we like recycling paper, but it needs to be mixed with something more durable and less absorptive like wood shavings from the lumber mill or aged straw.

    The deep litter does release heat, which helps keep the feet warm and an insulated coop like ours mostly above freezing. Also gives them entertainment so they don’t revenge-poop, revenge-eat, revenge-egg-smash, revenge-cannabalize….any number of cabin fever syndromes are prevented by allowing the birds to scratch to heart’s content.

    We like our hens and the annual meat birds and turkeys, but next year we are adding raising ducks and geese so I can have confit and make duck and goose prosciutto.

  45. I use my chickens to compost, but it never seems to be enough (nor strong enough). We have a large coop (much larger than they need) in a fenced in area that’s roughly 25×25 (also much larger than they need). I’ve got about 12 chickens in there right now, but I’ve had as many as 18. They produce more eggs than we need, but I sell some of the eggs to help offset feed costs (not making a profit and never really intended to be in the egg selling business anyway, but I like having more chickens).

    I tend to throw all of the remains of the garden in the pen at the end of the season as well (tomato vines, 100+lb pumpkins, rotten melons, etc. – the chickens take it all. I’ll confess to using the pine shavings instead of straw most of the time – typically because the pine is cleaner in the house with the “inside” pets and also because my wife hates hauling straw bales in the car… bagged pine shavings aren’t an issue. The pine probably last longer than the straw would as well (but there’s a downside to that isn’t there?)

    The bottom line is I’m trying to keep a 1/4 acre garden fed with all of this. Throw in some horse manure from the neighbor about once a year as well. It just never seems to be enough. I till a lot of it up in spring and toss it in the garden, but it doesn’t seem to matter how much I put in, I always need to use some nitrogen fertilizer or the crops fall short.

    I realize that nitrogen readily escapes into the air, and is easily leached away by water. I also know that there’s a bacteria in the soil that breaks down organic matter to release nitrogen and that this particular bacteria is more active when it’s warmer (hence why it’s bad to get your soil tested for nitrogen when its cold). I suspect the horse manure is just too old (scooped up out of the corral after it’s been sitting for half a year or better), the chicken manure just isn’t fresh enough (my coop never smells – ever, it’s big enough there just doesn’t seem to be enough poop for a proper smell – maybe if I had 200-300 chickens?), and my garden is simply too big.

    It gets plenty hot in my area (the summers are over 100F), there is very little rainfall, though I water the garden very liberally both for moisture and also to help cool things down a bit in the summer (this probably hurts the nitrogen situation). My soil is clay (I sometimes wonder if a few neglected parts of my property might actually pass for pottery), though I’ve worked enough organic matter into my garden that the clay drains well.

    I don’t really want to add chickens as that would just increase my feed cost (anyone figure out how to keep wild birds like starlings and sparrows out of the feed? My stupid chickens will attack a new pullet, but they’ll completely ignore a wild bird stealing food out from under their beak…), and I’d have yet more eggs I’d need to sell.

    Have any of you ever successfully put enough compost in your garden that you didn’t have a nitrogen shortfall even in the spring?

    Thoughts?

    • Hmmm….the is a great question. I do a supplemental organic fertilization and have no problem with adding a foliar fish emulsion, but I do think the coop is providing a huge amount of the background nutrion AND the tilth improvements for the soil. I wonder if you might have better success with a paddock system, where the hens were contained in a more confined area to build up nitrogen levels and then rotated to another zone. Perhaps you could paddock in-garden. Joel Salatin is doing things like this you might investigate.

      • Even if I use a smaller space for the chickens, it still translates to the same amount of poop (nitrogen) just in a confined space. I think my real issue is that 12-18 chickens can’t poop enough to supply the needs of a garden my size. Interestingly enough (this was by accident), if I consider just the square footage I plant in (bed sizes plus the 1×1 ft holes I plant melons and squash in – ignoring foot paths, growth room, and areas I don’t compost regularly like the brambles, grapes, fruit trees, etc.), my garden size is almost the same size at the coop area, so I guess my coop size is a good representation of the size of area I need composted.

        My real curiosity though was if any of you managed to get enough nitrogen into your garden to not need any fertilizer (sorry, fish poo counts as fertilizer). If you have managed it, then perhaps that’s what I need to be aiming for. If you haven’t, then perhaps it isn’t a realistic goal.

        Either way, I’ll keep composting because without it I might as well be trying to plant in a clay pot without dirt – there are parts of my yard where with a steel shovel and all my weight (I’m over 200 lbs) I can’t break the soil more than about 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch. The places where I got compost mixed in have good drainage and grow very well (like many clay soils, mine is actually pretty good stuff once you get it broke up and solve the drainage issue).

        • Your urine and legume green manures are excellent sources of nitrogen (provided you have the biology to hold it and fix it from the air), if you are not already using them on your garden. Coffee grounds from cafes are also great, although it’s not so good for chickens.

          I’d recommend Dr. Elaine Ingham’s material on composting. There are many kinds of microbes in the soil doing different things. Aerobic bacteria are great at holding nitrogen and prevent it from leaching away. If your organic material is going anaerobic (insufficient oxygen), however, then it is decomposed by a different set of microorganisms which turn nitrate and ammonium (the two forms of nitrogen your plants can take up) in your soil into ammonia gas, leaving you with less nitrogen. You’ll also lose other nutrients to gases. You may not be able to smell it because it’s so diffuse. Compacted clay is likely to be anaerobic, but there are ways of encouraging biology to break it up.

          Once soil or compost has gone anaerobic the good aerobic (oxygen loving) organisms that help make nitrogen available to your plants start dying off and you are left with the problematic (often disease causing) anaerobes. You also need the predators that will eat the bacteria (protozoa, amoeba, nematodes, etc.) and make it available to your plants in the root zone. Applying salts, which includes synthetic fertilisers, to the soil will also cause many aerobic organisms to die. Do it enough and your soil will lose species diversity and total biomass.

          Most plants form associations with mycorrhizal fungi (brassicas are an exception) – so if for some reason your plants are not being infected they will effectively have a crippled root system. Spores can be added to infect your plants. Again artificial fertilisers and expecially fungicides will destroy these beneficial organisms.

          The book Teaming with Microbes is a good introduction to the topic of soil biology for gardeners.

    • Jeanmarie says:

      A cheap source of nitrogen is your urine, saved up and diluted. I have a little book about it somewhere. It’s easy, the smell diminishes quickly upon dilution. Use fresh or aged. It is also perfectly safe unless you have, say, the bubonic plague.

      • Actually, urine is bacteria free – if you let it sit it oxidizes into ammonia….which is a cleaning agent. If there is any bugs in urine, you will know when you are peeing – OUCH!!!! I have a bucket outside for my three boys to pee in in the spring summer, dilute and use…….what could be wrong with little boy pee?????

  46. Hi,

    Thanks so much, Erica, for all of this wonderful information about chicken litter. I found your blog while researching sand as litter for the coop/run. I am now convinced to start up a hybrid setup with sand in the coop and deep litter in the run.

    But I am concerned about using straw in the run. I am worried about a wet, mouldy mess when it rains.

    Does the run need to be covered for this to work with straw?

    Does it depend on your weather? (I live in Northern California in the hills at about 2000 feet. So it is warm and dry in the summer, but I do get some rain and a little snow in the winter)

    Does the chickens’ scratching keep the straw from turning into a mess?

    Also, any suggestions on square feet of run size per chicken to make this work? (My chickens will be confined to the coop/run almost 100% of the time).

    Thanks again,
    Ryan

    • The minimum space to have deep litter work with zero maintenance is about five square feet per bird. With a heavier load than that, they won’t be able to keep it turned fast enough themselves to keep it sanitary. Of course, having to turn litter yourself to help them out certainly defeats the purpose. :-) We have 31 birds in 200 square feet, and still have a bit of excess capacity. Our litter pack this time of year is about 14″-18″ today. We could probably use some more litter in a few days.

      I wouldn’t use a sand based litter no matter how much you paid me to try it. I’ve been around a lot of people trying that system, and I’ve never seen it sanitary once. In my experience, it’s a guaranteed ticket to a chicken coop you can smell from 100 feet away. Frankly, sanitation with sand is physically impossible. Sand merely covers the manure, which is useless. A carbonaceous litter is a living system which will actually break down the manure if managed properly.

      Mold will not be a problem in an open run, particularly if your run gets plenty of sun and fresh air. I’ve found mold is generally an indoor issue. We keep both our kennels and our winter sheep paddocks bedded in straw, and neither is roofed. It’s not really an issue, and we live in an area that averages 45 inches per year of rain. If it’s getting too wet and matted (on days when it’s not raining), add more straw. Your litter will decompose faster if it’s not roofed, but that’s not really a problem, as it’s taking the “bad stuff” with it. It will just be a more active litter.

      In fact, in general, so far we’ve found most problems with litter, as long as your animals aren’t packed in past the natural limit of the system, can be resolved with “add more litter.” Works great! :)

      • Thanks for the great post, chuck!

        “The minimum space to have deep litter work with zero maintenance is about five square feet per bird.”

        So if it is smaller than 5 square feet per bird the waste accumulates faster than is can decompose and stop smaeeling, is that right?

        Is there an upper limit of square feet per bird? How about on the order of 30 square feet per bird? Will they be able to keep it turned well enough? Will there be enough nitrogen to do the job of composting the straw? I have an old coop and run that I will be fixing up and getting going again. I currently have a large run attached to the coop that is mostly in the shade, I plan on making the shady section smaller (100-200 sq feet) and wrapping the run around to the front of the coop (where it is sunny) and adding another 200 sq feet or so. I plan to keep approximately a dozen birds. Is this too much space for the deep litter method to work, or is bigger better?

        “I wouldn’t use a sand based litter no matter how much you paid me to try it. I’ve been around a lot of people trying that system, and I’ve never seen it sanitary once. In my experience, it’s a guaranteed ticket to a chicken coop you can smell from 100 feet away. Frankly, sanitation with sand is physically impossible. Sand merely covers the manure, which is useless. A carbonaceous litter is a living system which will actually break down the manure if managed properly.”

        I have read some very good things about sand as litter in a coop, including Erica’s post here:

        http://www.nwedible.com/2012/04/chicken-coop-update-sand-bed-hybrid.html

        My understanding is that the sand dries out the poop and then you rake it up and throw it into your deep litter run weekly or so. The sand keeps the birds’ feet clean and in very good shape, and also manages moisture and odor.

        What makes the difference between a clean, dry, odor free sand littered coop and a smelly one? Is it just the lack of cleaning it out, or am I missing something?

        If I don’t use sand in the coop, I understand that straw is a bad choice due to mold. Would I use pine shavings? I believe the pine takes longer break down than the straw. Say I clean out the run and put my compost into the garder every 6 months, would I then shovel out the coop into the run and add more straw to the run and more pine to the coop so the pine gets a whole year to decompose rather than only 6 months?

        Thanks again,

        Ryan

        • You two seem to be doing great without me – thanks for the wonderful response, Chuck.

          I’ll just add a quick defense of sand, as we used it. The sand forms the bedding under the roosting areas of the fully enclosed coop. Because this area is not in contact with the ground at all the organic bedding I tried there (both pine and straw) never composted, it just matted down. It required daily cleaning, led to messy chicken feet and dirty eggs and was just gross. The smell and management of manure was WAY worse than with sand. You’ve read my post on the sand hybrid method, so I won’t repeat myself except to reiterate that we are still very happy with this set up.

          I would agree with Chuck that, in any area with ground or soil contact, deep bedding is so simple and easy, and requires far less frequent management. I wouldn’t personally do sand in a big, ground level run, because that seems like taking on the management of a Zen Sand Garden, except with shit management instead of meditation as your goal. So, for the design of our particular coop, the hybrid system works very well.

          As someone in a rainy climate, I think the risk with wet litter is that the birds don’t want to turn it. They prefer light and fluffy, and so if it bogs down then you may end up with more muck. Our run is covered, so the rain we get is incidental – coming in through the sides. But this is one reason I do a compost collection in Fall – I like to start the hens with really dry litter going into the winter.

      • Jeanmarie says:

        Amen, deep litter method shouldn’t smell. I do turn it over myself, trying to fork in the new poops once daily, but if I miss a day, no big deal. It’s still a lot less work than cleaning out and replacing all the bedding weekly, as some folks with too much time on their hands do. And a good culture going in the deep litter has health benefits for the chickens: chicks less likely to get coccidiosis, and chickens get some B vitamins from picking at the litter. I throw in compost tea now and then, and otherwise wet it down (and fork that in with pitchfork/manure fork) when it gets too dry. Also, plenty of ventilation is always a must. People comment that my chicken house doesn’t smell, even with 30+ chickens.

  47. I have chickens, and I still suck at compost. My birds free-range most of the time, and are in a moveable tractor-style coop the rest of the time; the only compost I can collect from them is the pine we use as litter in their house, which isn’t much. BUT! We are about to build a bigger, permanent coop and get a few more chickens… I am going to try this sand/ straw method and see what I get! Thanks for the advice, I just found this blog today and am enjoying it very much– have added it to my reader.

  48. Just made a post about the same topic on our blog: http://kinnells.blogspot.com/2013/07/composting-with-chickens.html. I’ve made a corner of my garden an open compost area for my “ladies” to have access to 24-7 and even have 3-4 neighbors who bring over their veggie scraps, yard waste, etc. I was amazed how much compost my 5 ladies made just this spring with this system.

  49. What about flies with this method? How do you prevent flies with all the food scraps?
    Thanks

  50. Josh Monson says:

    I have been using chicken composters for about 2 years now after I saw it in action in the Back to Eden film. I only use sawdust (free from a sawmill) for inside the coop. In the run I have successfully used woodchips from a tree trimming service as well as sawdust. This year I am trying hay bales. Posted an ad in craigslist last week asking for spoiled or rotten bales of hay and have been offered 50+ bales by 3 different people so far. They can’t feed it to their animals so they are happy to get rid of it. Hay breaks down extremely fast but is loaded with seeds. I plan on letting it sit in the run until next fall so the seeds should have all sprouted. The chickens will love taking care of that for me.

  51. susan knilans says:

    My BEST critter compost set up was this: Two large wire rabbit pens were hung at chest-level in the back of my walk-in chicken “house” (A crappy homemade building about 4X8 with a dirt floor.) Egg boxes for the hens lined one side of the coop. Hay and straw were thrown in for the floor covering, and were added weekly, primarily at the BACK of the coop under the rabbit pens. Chickens turned and picked beneath the rabbit pens. I think they liked the poop. I also threw all my kitchen scraps to the back of the coop. So, between the rabbits pooping and peeing, the chickens turning and digging and pooping and pecking, I had dream-worthy compost at the back of that coop all the time. It was heaven…

  52. My chickens compost in my tomato greenhouse every winter….and my tomatoes ROCK!!!! We have a moving hen house that we back into the greenhouse for the winter…..

  53. Dave Prestage says:

    As a Master Gardener here in Central California, I’ve utilized my chickens to “close the loop” on composting for many years. I love my ladies! I teach the gardening class at a local middle school and have the kiddos come out to my place a couple of times a year to harvest the garden gold. They fork the compost in the run into my used feed bags (a wonderful way to recycle them!) and shovel the drier, more concentrated poop that is in the coop into the bags. In the coop itself, I don’t use straw, so it’s just a few shavings on the cement floor that have been kicked out of the nests and the poop underneath their roost. I take the bags to school and then the fun REALLY begins! All of the straw-based, table-scrapped mix goes into our beautiful raised beds and, with the dynamite that came out of the coop, we make what we call “Turkey Tea”! The poop and shavings are used to fill the kids’ mother’s used panty hose and then the tubes of “tea” are tied off and suspended in 55-gallon barrels of water to steep for a few days. Once the tea is ready (after agitating the panty hose every day for four or five days, it is ready for the garden. It is relatively diluted but is still a wonderful way to water our plants. It can be applied to foliage without fear of burning and the plants absolutely glow with health! The tea is, let’s say, a little bit odoriferous, but the kids are able man up and work with it just fine. Let’s face it – some smells in the garden are not entirely pleasant because nature isn’t always Pine Sol and oranges, but they are natural smells and the kids get to experience that aspect of it, too. When they are dipping their watering cans into the tea to fill them, I make them wear latex gloves because the smell can be difficult to wash away if they don’t, but they don’t mind wearing them at all. Once they have been steeped, the used “tea bags” can be emptied and spread in the garden as a killer side-dressing.

  54. I had planned to build a compost bin. However just learned about the deep bedding method (yes, I have chickens … for a year so far.) I’m thinking maybe I should save my compost bin space for something else. Do you still use your compose bin? Thanks in advance!

    • I keep a 30 gal trash can compost bin for things I know the chickens won’t eat (onions, citrus) and paper products (napkins, tissues, etc.) and I also throw my lint from the dyer and vacuum cleaner in it. I throw some soil or used litter from the ducks or chickens in it every now and again to get it going a bit. Once it starts breaking down and you can’t see any paper products in it anymore, I dump it into the chicken compost area and let them pick through it to help break it down.

  55. I’m just starting a coop. I’ve been told that putting a layer of diatomaceous earth with shavings was a good option as well. Similar results – no smell, bug control, mite control, nutrients in the earth if the chickens eat it. Must be “food grade” though… since they’ll be eating and scratching in it.

  56. Great post!! Please clarify if you can, are you lining the entire ru. With hay and then using the whe run for compost or just a corner or section? I am looking into creating a compost for my chickens to work but thought I would have to do it way off to one side and fence it in so it stays together. If I understand your post you let them scatter it and take it up a coue times per year. That would work just fine with me if it is okay for the chickens.

  57. Forgot to check the box to get replies by email

  58. Yep, we do it that way. Throw it all in the chicken coop and let ‘em go! Bonus? Compost makes heat for the hen house in the winter. No supplementary heat and full on laying all last winter (and it was a cold one here in Nova Scotia).

    Now…we do have a pile were experimenting with doing some wild hand harvested rockweed on, but apparently it can be used for fodder too. Hmmm…off to the beach and into the chicken house!

  59. James Bukowski says:

    My chickens do my composting as well. Its just not in there chicken coop. They might seem like they love to toss their bedding around, but 6 months worth of chicken poo in a chicken coop, can lead to really bad things with your flock. Parasites, bugs, and disease can fallow an unclean chicken coop. Leave the coop empty and just scoop the poo weekly, and toss it on your compost pile. You’ll have great compost and healthy chickens. After all would you want to sleep in 6 months of your own poo. Keep composting and keep going. Just a thought! Down with Monsanto!

  60. Erica, I am totally sold on this! Are you still using play sand or have you switched to construction sand or other larger aggregate? Did you spread it about 1″ thick? Also, follow up on your new beautiful run: are they staying in? Thanks so much!

  61. I have 6 chickens that free range during the day over our property. They also have an enclosed run outside the coop that leads to the free range yard. I live in north eastern WA and we get up to 3 feet of snow in the winter and some rain in the fall and spring. I am wondering if I could turn their entire run into a compost pile. My questions are: Would having only 6 chickens be enough for a run that is about 8 x 10 ft? Also, the run is currently not covered. Does it need to be covered to keep out the rain and snow for the compost to work properly? Since they are able to leave the run at any time to free range would the compost still get enough attention or do the chickens need to be closed into the run for certain times of the day?

    • If you pile up the compostable material in one corner, it will break down faster & attract more beneficial insects, which will in turn attract your chickens. They will definitely work it more if you keep them contained in the run all the time, but they will still work at it as you continually add materials, even if they’re free ranging during the day. I wouldn’t worry about covering the run.

      • My husband is concerned it will stink and/or attract rodents or other pests. What is all of your experience with these two concerns?

        • I haven’t had a problem with rodents b/c the chickens eat all my food waste (& the neighbors too!) except banana peels, onions, and citrus rinds. Those things break down really quickly b/c of the chicken poo. Flies have been an issue and if they seem to be getting bad, I just throw some leaves, straw, or old litter from the chicken/duck house on top (ie add brown material). Every once in a while, I’ll turn the area with a shovel, mainly to watch the chickens enjoy a bountiful snack of bugs and worms. Plus it encourages them to keep scratching. I live in town so can’t have a rooster. A rooster’s main job (beside making little chickens) is to protect the flock and provide food. When free-ranging, if a rooster finds something good to eat, he will call the hens over and start scratching up whatever it is for them to partake. I rooster’s claws are a lot bigger than a hens so they can dig deeper. Since I don’t have a rooster, I have to encourage the digging sometimes. Here’s a video from my blog that shows what I’m talking about. http://kinnells.blogspot.com/2014/03/composting-through-winter.html

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  1. […] into a rich mix that will go right back into next year’s production. I credit a blog post on Northwest Edible Life  for this innovative composting approach. No yucky bin!   I’ve already put several new beds […]

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