Chicken-assisted composting

Pile of autumn weeds outside the chicken pasture composts slowlySpring weeds seem to melt
into organic matter in the compost pile, but by autumn, the plants have
lost their succulency and have more staying power.  Depending on
who you talk to, a well-built compost pile will have a
carbon to
nitrogen ratio
between 15:1 and 30:1 — at this proportion, your plant matter will
decompose rapidly without losing nitrogen to the air as gas. 
Spring garden weeds clock in at 12:1 — a bit higher in nitrogen than
optimal, but not bad, meaning that they’ll compost quickly all on their
own.  In contrast, fall grasses have a C:N ratio closer to 50:1 (a
lot like autumn leaves or straw), meaning that you need to add a lot of
nitrogen to the autumn compost heap to get it to decay.

As chicken keepers,
we’re lucky to have a high nitrogen material at our beck and call —
chicken poop.  Chicken manure has a C:N ratio of 6:1, which means
that it has so much nitrogen it melts into the soil without leaving
much organic matter behind.  Mix your high nitrogen chicken manure
with your high carbon autumn weeds and you’ve got the recipe for good
compost again.

Chickens add nitrogen to the first layer of the compost pileMy method of autumn
composting consists of laying down a layer of old autumn weeds on the
ground in a high traffic area of the chicken pasture, letting the flock
work through it for a couple of days, then repeating until my pile is
built.  If you’ve got chicken manure from a coop stored up, you
can mix the whole pile at once and might find it useful to use
County’s compost waste calculator
to determine the right
proportions of each ingredient.  Using that calculator, I figure
that 20 parts autumn grasses and 1 part chicken manure make the perfect
compost pile.

The only problem I’ve
found with using chickens to add nitrogen to my compost pile is that
they tend to kick it relatively flat in the process.  Since we
have plenty of space in the pasture, I just let the pile spread out,
shoveling the edges back on top now and then (and turning up tasty
worms for the flock in the process.)  Composting goes much more
quickly with the aid of the chickens, and I’ve already used my spring
and early summer compost on the garden.

Treat your hardworking flock
to a
poop-free chicken waterer.

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