First, it was dogs, then cats. Now chickens seem to be in the backyards of nearly every neighborhood (as long as they’re HOA-allowed). While chickens bring along plenty of joy, they also produce plenty of manure to deal with.
Chicken poop may seem like a hassle at first, but for many, it’s as valuable as gold. Fresh chicken manure, when composted properly, is a priceless fertilizing tool for any garden or yard.
Using the chicken manure is not quite straightforward, but once you learn how to process it you’re ready to go.
After reading through this post, you’ll know how to use fresh chicken manure in the garden, the benefits of chicken manure, the correct composting process, and the safety precautions to adhere to when using it in your garden.
The Problem With Using Fresh Chicken Manure
If you have a chicken coop, your first concern is keeping your chickens healthy. CoolChickenBreeds can help chicken breeders learn everything they need to know about raising happy, healthy flocks. Secondly, the treatment of chicken manure is also a problem that cannot be ignored.
Chicken poop is considered “hot manure”, meaning it carries a high nitrogen content. The problem isn’t with using the manure itself, but with using it directly on the soil when it’s fresh.
If you use it before it cycles completely, the nitrogen levels will burn your plants and their roots, doing far more harm than good.
Fresh manure is also more likely to harbor harmful bacteria and pathogens, such as salmonella. This is not something that is unique to chicken manure; any waste should be properly aged to reduce pathogen populations as much as possible.
Is Chicken Manure Good For Gardens
Composting properly allows you to flip each of those concerns into something beneficial. To start, aging the manure eliminates the risks mentioned previously.
Nitrogen levels balance out enough they won’t harm your plants. Chicken manure is rich in more than nitrogen. It also supplies your garden with:
Your chickens have much more than their waste to offer. You can utilize other organic matter from the coop, like substrate, feathers, and egg shells, to diversify the nutrients released by your compost.
Harmful pathogens are neutralized by the high temps/length of the process, and the mixture is stabilized enough to slowly release nutrients and sustain your garden.
In the end, the microbial environment of your fertilizer increases the biological diversity of your soil and accelerates the breakdown of organic nutrients for your plants.
The chicken manure mixture will aerate your soil while improving both moisture retention and drainage. Heavy soils like clay will be loosened, and issues like erosion are bettered by the compost.
How To Stabilize Chicken Manure For Your Garden
Sourcing fresh chicken manure is half the battle. Whether you have chickens yourself or you know someone willing to part with their chicken’s feces, it must be stabilized before you can introduce it to your garden.
Stabilization reduces the ammonia content, reduces odor, kills bacteria, and reduces weed seed activity. It will last longer than the fresh waste could have, and there’s little worry about any of those harmful effects.
Composting is the most common way to do this, although there are a few ways to go about it. These include:
- Hot composting: accelerates the process, but requires more oversight.
- Cold composting: takes longer, but more relaxed process.
- Composting in place: great for those with limited space.
- Aging in place: prepares garden beds and soil in the off-season.
You can even use chicken manure to make “compost tea” for both immediate and long-term benefits. Read more on the different methods and what’s involved to figure out what works best for you.
Some Safety Considerations Before You Start
Regardless of which method you choose, you must prioritize health and safety.
Cleaning a chicken coop increases your risk of contracting histoplasmosis, you can offset this risk by wearing protective clothing (gloves, coveralls, and a respirator equipped with a HEPA filter) when clearing out the waste or turning it over.
When choosing an area for your compost or an area to stockpile manure, make sure it’s somewhere that your pets, livestock, or children cannot access.
Make sure the piles drain well without runoff pooling in any one area, the runoff shouldn’t come in contact with gardens, edible plants, livestock areas, or children’s play areas.
Make sure you allow plenty of time for the mixture to stabilize. Using it too soon could harm your garden and introduce harmful pathogens.
Hot composts usually turnover in about 5 to 6 weeks, but cold composting methods require a minimum of 6 months (with 9 to 12 being ideal).
Hot Composting Chicken Manure
If you’re looking for a way to quickly stabilize chicken manure, hot composting is your best option. While it requires more oversight, this composting method can have it ready to go in about 6 weeks.
Hot composting is easiest when you use the right size bin or pile, and you should make sure it gets full sun but has plenty of moisture to promote beneficial microbial growth.
A 4×4 bin or heap works well to start, and you can make it bigger as needed and as you get the hang of things.
The point of hot composting is to get your compost to heat up, so you must add plenty of organic matter with the right carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Chicken manure is nitrogen-rich, but you’ll want to add other components for a more diverse compost.
- Carbon-rich matter: dried corn stalks, shredded cardboard, and paper, small twigs, dry leaves, straw, hemp, wood shavings.
- Nitrogen-rich matter: fresh grass clippings, fruit/vegetable scraps, non-seeded weeds, garden trimmings, tea bags, coffee grounds, animal manure.
Because speed is the goal, you want to chop up anything you add so it breaks down faster. Adding a few shovels of previously-finished compost can help activate the process.
Unlike other methods, you don’t need to keep specific layers. Incorporate all the material, then focus on keeping it both hot and moist.
You can use a soil thermometer to ensure a temperature around 130°F to 140°F, but simply sticking your hand in to see if it’s uncomfortably warm is enough.
The high temperature breaks down matter at the proper rate, kills weed seeds, and eliminates harmful bacteria.
The material should feel like a wrung-out sponge. This ensures it’s wet enough for beneficial microbial growth but dry enough it won’t stink. You can add more moisture as needed or more dry carbon material to soak up excess water.
As long as you maintain a proper carbon: nitrogen ratio, keep the compost moist, and turn it regularly, it should be ready for garden use in about 6 weeks.
Cold Composting Chicken Manure
Cold composting has a similar outcome but uses a hands-off approach that takes longer to mature.
Start with a layer of carbon material on the ground, then add nitrogen-rich material on top of that. Layers should be about 4 to 6 inches, and you should always finish with carbon-rich material on top.
Turn the pile every two weeks before adding your new nitrogen and carbon layers to ensure proper aeration, and sprinkle with water to keep it moist.
It takes at least 6 months for the ammonia levels to balance out and bacteria to die off, but when the compost is a crumbly dark brown it’s ready to collect and use.
Composting In Place
If you have limited space or want to keep everything in the same area, you can compost the chicken manure in your coop. Using organic brown materials provides the carbon needed to balance out the compost, allowing the waste to break down properly.
Simply add more bedding as needed, and turn the compost regularly. This will keep the coop and waste dry, minimize odors, and allow plenty of time to process.
Using this method can also provide a source of heat in the winter, although many choose to harvest the compost in the fall for use over resting garden beds.
Aging in Place
Alternatively, you can add chicken manure or compost to the soil you intend to use well before you utilize that space. Adding it in the fall gives it the entire winter to break down, ensuring the soil is safe and ready by spring.
When adding fresh manure to the soil, make sure you till within 12 hours of application to prevent drying out the mixture.
Compost is more stable, and doesn’t carry the same timeline for tilling into the soil (although it’s beneficial to incorporate it sooner).
You need about 14 pounds of fresh, pure manure per 100 sq ft of garden space. For a composted mixture, this number bumps up to 44 lbs per 100 sq ft.
If you’re in a rush to utilize your fresh chicken manure, you can make compost tea before tossing the solids into your pile.
To do this:
- Mix a 1:3 ratio of manure compost and water in a large container.
- Soak for 24 to 72 hours.
- Strain the mixture to remove solids (or allow them to settle at the bottom and scoop out the water).
The water can be used to water plants or as a foliar spray on the leaves (just make sure you label your spray bottle clearly). The nitrogen-rich spray is great for leafy greens, but the high alkaline pH won’t work well for acid-loving crops.
How To Safely Use Chicken Manure Compost In Your Garden
Once you’ve stabilized the compost, you can safely add it to your garden. This is best done in early spring or late fall (when you’re not actively working on your garden) to give it time to fully incorporate with the soil.
While harmful pathogens shouldn’t be a problem, you want to follow a safe timeline depending on the type of crops you’ve planted.
Contactless crops, like tomatoes or peppers, shouldn’t have compost applied once they reach the 3 months before harvest. Low-growing crops, like root crops, should stop application 4 months before harvest.
Post-harvest procedures are equally important. Food should be triple-washed before eating. Cooking at temperatures over 145° will kill off any bacteria that has made it this far.
Using fresh chicken manure in the garden is one of the best ways to enrich the soil while using up something that would otherwise be garbage. When using chicken manure in the garden remember:
- You must allow time for the manure to age, either passively in an off-season garden bed or actively in compost, so it doesn’t burn your plants.
- To keep children and animals away from the area until the manure is stabilized.
- To don proper gear when handling chicken waste.
- Even stabilized compost requires proper hygiene and post-harvest cleaning.
While there is a slight learning curve and trial and error involved, learning how to use fresh chicken manure in the garden pays off in the end.
Let us know if you have any questions or need help with any problems that arise!