Gardening with Free-Range Chickens For Dummies
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If you have chickens, you will have manure. Fortunately, chicken manure is among the most prized of manures. Fresh chicken manure is considered a "hot" manure, which is unsuitable for immediate use. Chicken manure needs to be composted and aged at least two to three months before you add it to your garden. If you don't wait that long, it will burn your plants.

Manure is a good source of organic material for composting. Not all manures are the same in composition. Nutrient levels can vary within manures considerably, depending on the diet and age of the animals, and the type of bedding manure is mixed with. For instance, manure mixed with straw has a different nitrogen composition than pure manure.

"Hot" manures are high in nitrogen, and they need time to mellow. "Cold" manures, such as from horses, are lower in nitrogen and are generally safe to use at all times. Check out the table for a look at manure composition levels in different animals. The first number indicates Nitrogen (N), the second number indicates Phosphorous (P), and the third number indicates Potash (K).

Manure Composition Levels: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potash in Different Animal's Manures
Animal Producing the Manure Hot or Cold Manure? Nitrogen Level Phosphorous Level Potash Level
Rabbit Hot 2.4 N 1.4 P 0.60 K
Chicken Hot 1.1 N 0.80 P 0.50 K
Sheep Hot 0.70 N 0.30 P 0.90 K
Steer Cold 0.70 N 0.30 P 0.40 K
Horse Cold 0.70 N 0.30 P 0.60 K
Dairy cow Cold 0.25 N 0.15 P 0.25 K

Sources: Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, An Illustrated Guide to Organic Gardening, by Sunset Publishing, and the Rodale Guide to Composting.

Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and a very desirable fertilizer for a garden. It is a hot manure, which needs time to age before adding it to your soil. Composting is an ideal method for aging chicken manure.

Do not walk barefoot in your garden for disease prevention when fresh manure is around. Free-ranging hens will poop manure randomly wherever they are foraging.

Manure takes a lot of management, and it's key in raising chickens in your garden. Where there's manure, there can be flies and sometimes maggots. You want your garden to look good, smell good, and have a nice ambience for entertaining and socializing. Without a manure management program, you'll have nothing but problems.

Composting is the easy, practical solution for manure management. Remove manure from your chicken coop every day and turn it into your compost pile. It won't smell, and it will be less accessible to flies, mice, and rodents.

The manure box effectively catches the bulk of the manure while your chickens are sleeping overnight on their roosting bar. The manure box, in effect, is similar to a cat's litter box. Most of your flock's manure drops and accumulates there. This manure box can be easily cleaned each morning as part of your daily routine.

Composting is great for your garden, rewarding for you, and green for the planet. It's very easy to get started, and an ideal way to manage chicken manure, which is necessary when raising chickens. The following list offers ways you save money with composting in your own garden:

  • You save money by not having to buy commercial fertilizers and amendments.

  • You enhance your soil health and fertility and inhibit weed growth.

  • Your garden will require less water because the soil is able to retain moisture more effectively.

  • By composting and recycling, less yard waste, kitchen vegetables, and fruits scraps, are going into landfills, and the organic humus is going back into your garden.

Develop a routine of adding material to your compost every day by following a routine of emptying your kitchen compost container, followed by your chicken coop muck bucket, and adding these materials to your compost bin every day. Kitchen scraps are a big part of this equation.

Follow these easy steps to get the most out of your composting:

  1. Find a workable nice container, place it under your kitchen sink where you can collect each day's coffee grounds, coffee filter, fruit scraps, eggshells, and vegetable peels.

    The next morning, when you are opening up your chicken coop, take the previous day's kitchen compost container with you, destined for the compost pile.

  2. When you open your chicken coop for the day, skim your manure box droppings, and place your chicken manure and any soiled bedding in a "muck" bucket.

    The type of material you use as bedding in your chicken coop is considered a "brown" compost material, which works as a fantastic companion to the chicken manure, which is considered a "green" compost material. These two ingredients naturally work together in the decomposition process. Examples of popular bedding for chicken coops are pine shavings, straw, and rice hulls. All these things go into your compost bin together.

  3. In addition to the kitchen scraps and chicken manure, layer your compost bin with leaves from the yard, grass clippings, and any other green or brown ingredients from your yard.

    Aim for a mixture of 50% browns (leaves, twigs, coffee filters, chicken coop bedding) and 50% greens (kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, chicken manure, grass clippings, yard greens) for your compost pile. The smaller the pieces you add to your compost, the quicker your added material will break down into compost.

  4. Make sure your compost bin mixture is moist, adding water if your compost bin mixture is dry, and rotate it as often as you can with a pitchfork to aerate it.

    Chickens are very effective at aerating a compost pile too, when given access.

In two to three months, especially if you keep your compost bin in a partly shady area and the compost stays moist, microorganisms break down these materials and create an extremely nutrient-rich, dark organic mixture.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Bonnie Jo Manion has been featured in national garden magazines with her gardens, organic practices, chickens, and designs. Follow Bonnie at Rob Ludlow is the owner of, a top source on chicken raising, and the coauthor of Raising Chickens For Dummies.

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