Don’t worry, I’m not composting my chickens, instead I’ve hired my chickens as sanitation workers. With a few minor modifications of your compost stall and composting habits, you can give your chickens supplemental food as well as speed the decomposition of your inputs to complete compost.
This takes a bit of planning and existing infrastructure. The biggest prerequisite is chickens. In the near future, we hope to put out a Bulletin for new or prospective chicken keepers. If you have chickens, the rest is fairly easy.
To let your chickens help you compost, you’ll need a compost bin in the chicken run. If you have a compost bin that is outside the run, you can either move it into the run or build a new, small bin inside the run. We have our main bin inside the run to eliminate the need to move the finished compost to some outside bin.
To give the girls a little more space, facilitate compost rotation, and keep the mess contained, we built a small pen in front of the compost bin. The chickens dig into the compost, pulling it out into the pen. Once a week (more or less), I shovel the pen compost to the back of the bin. Then the process repeats. It keeps me turning the compost more regularly and helps speed decomposition. You can build this pen out of anything; stacked bricks and scrap wood seem to be the easiest.
Through the year, we toss in fresh scraps and let our feathered dinosaurs go to town. In the fall, we’ll pull the compost about a month before we want to spread it on the garden beds to give it a little rest and final decomposition time. This method reduces the number of compost bins from up to three to one permanent bin and a temporary extra one in the fall.
What Goes Into Chicken Compost?
Everything. We put yard clippings, leaves, chopped up brush, weeds, coop litter, and kitchen scraps into the compost bin. What the chickens don’t eat, they dig through and tear apart. We should add a note of caution here: some foods are not good for chickens or compost and many people advocate leaving them out. The list includes citrus, coffee grounds, chocolate, avocados, green potatoes, dry legumes, rotten food, or junk food. An Internet search for any of these items will lead you to dozens of discussion boards where people disagree. For example, we put tea leaves and coffee grounds in the compost. The chickens don’t eat them, treating them like dirt and leaves. We also put citrus in our compost, which is a big no-no because of its antimicrobial properties. We’ve never noticed any issues, but to be safe, you might separate these potential problem items from your chicken compost. We have a compost tumbler over the bin, where we could put these things until they degrade enough to enter the main compost bin.
Below is a video taken this spring with our pullets digging through the compost. We’ve since increased the height of the pen wall because they were spreading the mess too far.