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10 August 2009

Compost - let your chickens do the work

I am sure most of you know that adding organic material, usually in the form of compost, to your soil will give you better crops. It's not just one addition, this is a continuing process that will become part of your gardening repertoire. When you first start a new garden, you add compost; when you're between crops and about to put in follow-up plants, you add compost; you can even plant into compost to give your crops a real boost - just scoop out a handful of soil, replace it with a handful of compost and plant your seed or seedling right into the compost.



There is no doubt about it, when you're gardening organically, you need a lot of compost. Of course you can buy compost, but just like everything else you buy, you really don't know what's in it, so here at our home, we always make our own, and we always have at least one form of compost on the go. At the moment we have several composts bubbling away in the backyard - we have our regular compost heaps, a compost bin, the worm farm and our chicken compost. I haven't written about chicken compost yet, so here goes.


This is the little fenced off area we use.

Chickens are really happy when they can scratch around. It gives them something to do, it's part of their natural behaviour and when they find something to eat via their scratchings, they are rewarded for their work. We use this natural behaviour to work for us. Just at the side of the chicken coop, we have a small fenced area of about 6' x 5'. Generally the chook don't go into this area, they are usually outside the coop or free ranging in the backyard. We use this little yard to keep baby or new chickens separate from the flock until they're ready to be introduced, when it's not being used like that, we, or should I say, the chooks, make compost in there.



The floor of the chicken coop is cement but this area has a bare earth floor. When Hanno mows the lawn he dumps all the lawn clippings into this little space and as soon as the chooks see that happening, they rush in to scratch through it. Really that's basically it - but we do add other things to make a good compost. You can add anything that you'd put into your main compost bin - vegetable peelings, old fruit, garden waste and leaves, kitchen scraps, the contents of the vacuum cleaner, crushed egg shells, the contents of old flower pots, tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, shredded paper, etc. It's a great way of using up your lawn clippings during summer when you can't put any more of them in your regular compost.


This is the finished chook compost.

The chooks will mix in everything that we put in there. They eat some of the grass, which contains omega oils, they eat seeds, bugs and little bits of food, but the great value of them being there is that they turn the mix over a few times every day. As they work, they add their own droppings to the mix and that helps speed up decomposition. Depending on the time of year, we get great compost for the garden within four to six weeks.


This is our regular compost in the garden.

If you want to try this, make sure you use an area with an earth floor that is contained by fences so the compost isn't spread out over a large area. The same rules apply for this as for general compost - no meat or dairy food, because they'll attract rats. If there has been no rain, sprinkle the hose over the mix so it's moist - not wet. If it's raining, cover it with a tarp so it doesn't become too wet. The rest is up to the chooks. They'll love it, it will give them something to do and they'll keep being rewarded with little treats they find. You'll be reward with fast compost. When all the grass and scraps disappear and turn into compost, just collect it with your wheelbarrow and use it on the garden.

I meant to answer this ages ago but forget. When it's really hot here, we make sure the chickens always have a shaded area they can sit in. When it's very hot for a long period of time, we fill upturned rubbish bin lids with cold water and leave them in the shade near where the chooks sit - they will use these to stand in when it's really hot. If you have your chickens confined in a hen house during hot weather, hose the roof of the house to cool things down for them. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and you will lose chickens to the harsh weather, but these little simple things can make a difference and are worth trying.

If you have other strategies for helping your girls cope with the hot weather, please share them with us. :- )



20 comments:

  1. This was a great posting for us today.We are re doing our chicken coop this week.While the chickens yard fence is down I will be sure to scoop out some of the composted soil for the garden.I had wondered about this before.
    Also concerning Chickens and the heat,we almost lost our rooster during a heat wave we had here and had to completely dunk him in a water bucket.He's fine now.But something I noticed our girls doing is making wallows/shallow holes in the soil where we had sprayed their yard with water.These spots seemed to help them keep cool.I know dogs do this too when its hot.The girls spent their afternoons in their holes under the tree napping till it cooled down later.
    Rois

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  2. Hello Rois. Our chooks make holes and sit in them too. Like you, we keep them sprayed with water so they're a bit cooler when they sit in them. I think roosters tend to suffer in the heat because they're trying to look after the hens, and they fuss over them. Lucky you could help your boy.

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  3. We just started doing this too, we just dump stuff in one corner of their coop. I love the idea of fencing a little area off, but we just haven't done it yet. Like you guys, it's been very hot here, and I've been putting it off haha :)

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  4. As soon as I let my chickens out to roam each morning, I spray a big area under a crepe myrtle and let it puddle up. It keeps the bush well watered and gives the chickens a place to return to when they are ready to cool off. Very interesting about the compost. Thanks. Pat/Texas

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  5. This is a timely comment for me. I've noticed over the past couple of weeks that the two chickens from behind us who seem to have decided they like scratching around at the back of our yard have turned piles of grass clipping thrown up there into some rather nice looking dirt/compost. I'll have to keep putting the law clippings up there! The chooks seem to love it - just a pity that they go home to lay their eggs!!

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  6. Great post Rhonda but I have a question for you. We have ducks (the first time), can we use the duck droppings for compost? I am not sure if you would know or not but thought I would ask! :)

    Have a great day.

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  7. Our girls (chickens) love to help in the compost bin. Unfortunately they were a little too over zealous in their gardening help and had to be fenced out.

    When it is hot, we allow the girls to go into the barn to dust bathe in the cool dirt. I also will bring them chilled watermelon or cantaloupe rinds or cucumber slices. The high water content helps to keep them hydrated.

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  8. Debbie, we've never kept ducks here. We have wild ducks visit us occasionally, but none of them stay. I think duck droppings would be fine in the compost. I see no reason why they'd be any different to the chicken droppings.

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  9. Our girls (chickens) love to help in the compost bin. Unfortunately they were a little too over zealous in their gardening help and had to be fenced out.

    When it is hot, we allow the girls to go into the barn to dust bathe in the cool dirt. I also will bring them chilled watermelon or cantaloupe rinds or cucumber slices. The high water content helps to keep them hydrated.

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  10. We have just sectioned off an area for our chooks last week- timely post! (Its on my blog it if anyone wants to have a peek, and avoid our mistakes!)
    They had eaten every scrap of grass in our garden so no lawn clippings for a long time here :(

    Their corner has earth floor which I covered thickly with straw, I am thinking that over time it will be similar in that I will just scoop it all out when it has rotted down - hoping this would be a few months away though??
    Rhonda- I am cautious of putting food scraps in the pen though, it seems to be attracting rats/mice (veg/fruit scraps only) if the chooks don't eat it that day, (they are picky eaters!)
    Do you think the straw and chook poo is enough to make compost and any idea how long it might last before I have to replace it all?
    I have compost bins for food which work well so might just keep doing that.

    Enjoying you blog every day!

    :)

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  11. Hi -- thanks as always for an informative and interesting post. We are new chicken owners (started with a flock of 25 chicks in April), and I am always interested to read the advice of seasoned owners like yourself and many other readers!

    I especially appreciate the info on keeping them cool, as we have had an extended heat wave (90-100F) in the last few weeks in our area (NE Oregon state, US).

    One thing I have noticed already about owning chickens is that they really keep the bugs down! We let ours out to free-range around the yard and garden (and a bit of the orchard) in the evenings, and they earnestly pursue any bugs--even to wasps, which have been a problem for us in past years.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments -- I am thinking seriously of setting up a chicken compost corner at one end of our run.

    Kristin @ The Cherry Tree Farm

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  12. Hello Rhonda,
    Great post. My chooks perform the same task with our compost. Just today I used it around the blueberry bushes.
    I had a rooster that once overheated and was staggering. I swooped him up and held him in the water bowl and several minutes later he was fine. On really hot days I will turn the hose to make a puddle in the shade and they will all gather in the puddle.

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  13. We were really worried about our chooks during summer last year, as they seemed to be panting all the time, but apparently they do this? Anyway, we put up an old piece of material over their yard to give them some shade, and watered the ground and roof of their pen when they had to be locked in (if we were going to be out). This year, we are growing some vines over both the shed and the yard, which will hopefully keep them a lot cooler.

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  14. I always wondered about chicken compost ever since you mentioned it in passing a few months ago.

    What about the danger of flies and maggots on the rotting food stuff? Is there a problem with them eating the maggots?

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  15. That looks like WONDERFUL compost! :D We won't be able to have chickens, but my father-in-law has plenty of cow manure for us to use, so I guess that will do! It's so nice to see pictures of your life; like little windows! :D
    Courtney

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  16. I can't wait to have chickens. I'm waiting for my girls to outgrow their playhouse and I have plans to turn it into a small chicken coop. It's still against the city bylaws in my city, but I'm hoping they'll overturn that soon. I may just ask the immediate neighbours if they mind and do it anyway.

    I'll keep the composting in mind. 6 weeks is very fast for compost and I'd make good use of it.

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  17. About maggots... I read on another site how they put the meat scraps in a bucket over the chicken yard. Thy flies do what they do and when the maggots mature they leave the bucket, falling to the ground and the chickens eat them up.

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  18. Living in the desert we have many days well over 110f (a chicken's internal temp is 103f anything over that will cause death). We keep a temperature sensor in with the chickens to monitor the temp where they are and the temp. read out where we are.

    We have two portable day pens that are pulled across our back lawn, one houses our two old girls, both 7, one still lays an egg every other day, and one houses our pullets. Both pens are 4'w x 8'l x 6'h. On the crosspiece at the top and center of each cage we have attached a portable outdoor misting system attached to a garden hose with a Y-feed to each pen. Each misting system came with 5 misting heads and little clips to attach it to patios, pet or garden areas. We have replaced 3 of the misting heads with blanks and have 2 working heads aimed in opposite directions. This gives great coverage in the pens. Our girls are damp but cool and comfortable!
    I don't know who came up with that saying- "madder then a wet hen"
    Ours are quite content :> When we had temps reaching 117f last week, I also put a juice bottle filled with frozen water in the pen with our older girls. The plastic bottles are flat on two sides and our girls stand on them to "cool their heels".

    Chickens are a lot smarter then we give them credit for and learn to stand on the bottles once they get over their fear of something new in their pen. The frozen bottles work especially well with high temps and humidity, which is a serious killer. Hope this helps keep your girls cool and happy (<;

    Julie in Arizona

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  19. I have probably posted before about it, but we use a chook dome system which means the compost is created on the spot it is needed in. Our girls are in the dome during autumn and spring. This winter, they've been improving the ground under the lemon tree by eating or scratching up the grass there.
    In summertime, we let them free-range so that they can find shade when they need it (as well as eating all the bugs and weeds in the more robust parts of the garden). We leave water in various places, but preferably in the shade as they don't like warm water. I have noticed that in winter they dust-bathe in the sun but in summer they look for a coolish dampish spot.

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  20. I am making my chooks work very hard at the moment, and they are enjoying it :) I've opened the gates to the veggie garden and they are cleaning it up for me, ready to start planting in a few months... I love my chickens!!

    In the summer I have lots of water for them and as they usually free range, they tend to stay in the shade under our trees most of the day. Before we had water restrictions I used to spray them a bit with the hose on really hot days....

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