Gardening with Chickens: How to Make Compost From Used Poultry Litter

Happy Earth Day from Meyer Hatchery! If you own chickens and also like to garden, you may have already discovered that the used poultry litter/manure can be a good fertilizer to add to your garden soil to add both nutrients and organic matter. Hopefully, you haven’t learned the hard way that there are a few precautions you should take also. Let’s discuss the “how-to” and a few cautionary tales when using poultry manure in your garden.MH blog compost bins side

To begin the recycling process of turning your flock’s used litter into a suitable garden amendment, the litter must first be composted. Composting involves the breakdown of a nitrogen source (manure) and a carbon source (pine shavings or straw) over time into a crumbly, dark brown matter that can safely be applied to your garden. All you really need to do is pile the used litter into a corner of the yard and give it some time. With the proper balance of air and moisture, this process can take as little as 60 days or up to a year, depending on how well you manage the compost pile. Turning the pile a few times will mix the contents and allow more air to move throughout the pile, causing a faster breakdown.

I have a few words of advice if you plan to use poultry litter on fruit or vegetable gardens. First, do not apply used poultry litter directly from your coop onto your plants. Poultry manure is way too high in nitrogen and you risk “burning” your plants by applying it directly to growing plants.

Second, to avoid the risk of spreading Salmonella and other potential pathogens to your garden vegetables, always make sure that the compost is fully finished before applying it. It is generally accepted that a compost pile that reaches 140-160 degrees F during the first 30 days of the composting process will be clear of most harmful pathogens. Finished compost will have a sweet, earthy smell and its original components will no longer be recognizable. If it still looks like bedding and poultry droppings, it isn’t ready for your garden. Apply the finished compost as a side dressing to established plants in your garden, or mix into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil when preparing your beds for planting.MH blog compost chickens scratching

We hope that you find this information helpful as you enjoy raising your Meyer Hatchery flock!  Happy Earth Day!

Footnotes:

  1. https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/Info%20319.pdf
  2. https://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/ho/2013/fs1323.pdf

5 comments

  • Great and very accurate article. Thank you!

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  • You mentioned pine but what about cedar?

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    • Hi Kaci. We don’t recommend using cedar shavings as poultry bedding. Cedar oils can be irritating and potentially fatal to chickens, especially chicks. Cedar is also naturally rot resistant and will be very slow to decompose in a compost pile.

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  • Dry leaves gathered in the fall and used as litter all winter make excellent spring compost! This process is earth friendly from start to finish.
    Use leaves unneeded for humus under your trees and follow the above instructions to make certain the manure and leaves are broken down.
    My neighbors are happy to give me leaves! I use leaves from black oak trees.

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