The Compost Pile: Gardening with Chickens

by Manda H

Published June 11, 2024

Over 20 years ago I began my homesteading journey after responding to a “Chickens for Sale” ad in the newspaper. My yard was full of beach sand and was incapable of growing anything beyond beach grass. I had a burning desire to become a homesteader with a huge garden. Over the years I spent a lot of time learning how to best improve my soil and create the most beautiful garden. Years later I moved to a new home, this time with heavy clay and used the same principles to create the greatest growing medium.

Want to know how to grow the best gardens? The answer is to create and use compost in your garden. Chickens are great partners when it comes to making compost. Today we are going to discuss the benefits of chickens and how they will contribute to helping you create a well-balanced compost that you can add to your garden.

Getting Started

To get started, you will need to create a compost area. You can use various items to create a compost area. Items that are great to add to a compost pile include grass clippings, wood shavings, shredded paper, ripped-up cardboard and more. You can add soiled hay, straw and pretty much anything you pull out of your fridge

Compost pile in a cinder block enclosure with a mix of organic materials, including wood shavings, straw, and garden waste, set against a wooden fence. Meyer Hatchery

The concept is that you want the pile to be higher, which helps to create the environment needed to heat the compost up to the ideal temperature of 141 to 155 degrees F. This temperature is important because it results in the death of weed seeds and other pathogens.This temperature needs to be maintained for at least 2 to 4 days. Your compost pile is best when placed in full sunlight as the sunlight helps when it comes to heating up your pile. Your compost needs moisture, such as rain. Moisture levels for your compost pile need to be around 40-60%. This level promotes microbial activity which will aid in the breakdown of the organic matter.

Chickens in the Compost Pile

So where do chickens come in? My chickens have access to my compost pile. They go in and scratch through whatever they find at the top of the pile. By scratching through the pile they add aeration, can help remove some of the weed seeds while reducing the feed bill and also leave behind some fertilizer. 

Poultry manure when fresh is in the pH range of 6.5-8.0. This means that when in larger quantities, it can burn your plants if used directly. When you are adding materials to your compost pile it is important to add using layers. For example, mixing in dry straw with your wet grass clippings. One thing that makes chicken bedding so wonderful is that manure is typically already mixed in with either wood shavings or straw. If your manure does not have these items already mixed in, you will want to add the manure along with a carbonous material to help aid the breakdown process.

Red Wigglers Are Your Friend

Do you want to know another companion for your compost pile that will benefit both your composting process and also provide your chickens with a treat? Red wigglers or Eisenia foetida, are the best compost worms. Vermicomposting is the use of red wiggler worms to assist in the composting of plant waste. Red wigglers are different from nightcrawlers, in that they stay within the top 2-3 inches of soil surface whereas the crawlers will burrow.  As chickens scratch through your compost pile they will get to enjoy some of these red wigglers, which will provide them with some additional protein.

Close-up of a handful of red wiggler worms mixed with organic material, showcasing their role in the composting process. Composting with Meyer Hatchery

It is important to turn over the compost pile at least every 3 or 4 days. Turning over a compost pile refers to the action of taking an object, such as a pitchfork, and flipping around so that the levels of the compost pile are mixing in together. This helps to speed up the breakdown process and gets you closer to reaching that ideal temperature.

You can add your compost to your garden whenever you would like once it is finished. I have multiple compost piles that are in various levels of the composting process. Compost will add to moisture retention, which helps to keep nutrients and minerals at the roots of your plants.

Once your compost pile process is complete it is safe to add your compost directly to your garden. You can add it to a new garden or add it throughout your gardening season. Happy healthy plants will be less stressed, which results in defense against pests and disease. 

Happy Gardening!

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