Our chickens don’t often make it into the vegetable portion of our Fort Wayne CSA newsletter, but they do more than just lay eggs. In fact, they are an integral part of our soil fertility program, as they are efficient compost makers. Get ready for a good breakdown of chicken composting!
All our vegetable and kitchen scraps go to the chickens. They are omnivores, so they eat a bit of everything, though favorites include lettuces, cheese, bread, tomatoes, zucchini, and earthworms. We mix in loads and loads of woodchips to provide carbon and neutralize the smell.
For you backyard compost nerds, chicken manure is high in nitrogen, which makes a very “hot” compost. You really cannot overdo it when it comes to woodchips or any similar brown material. It is not uncommon for our piles to reach 160°, which is on the upper end of becoming too hot.
The compost pile provide great interest for the birds, who dig for worms and other bugs as well as sprouted seeds. Each day during the growing season, we add some sort of green material to the pile: split tomatoes, bolted lettuce, or weeds. What the chickens don’t eat, they scratch into the woodchip pile. I heap the pile, back up and the cycle repeats itself for a couple of weeks. In the photos below, you can see how big the heaps can get—generally 3-4 feet off of the ground and several feet wide.
When the woodchips start to break down, I allow the pile to “mellow,” meaning I pile it up one last time and throw a tarp over it to keep moisture in and chickens out. This allows earthworms, fungi, and other microbes to break down the remaining material over the course of several months. This period is crucial to building a legion of soil life in each handful of compost.
When the pile is done, it is roughly half its original size. It's dark brown, has no odor, and is teeming with worms. This is when its ready to be added onto our garden beds. Because our compost is made with chicken manure, it is extremely fertile, so a little goes a long way to help us grow all the veggies for our Fort Wayne farm CSA! Thank you, chickens!