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Do Chickens Improve Soil?

A Chicken In The Garden

As living beings capable of performing in almost any environment, chickens can offer quite a bit to their local ecosystem – whether that’s a sprawling farm in the country or small backyard in ‘Rural-town’. They are amazing creatures that, if cared for properly, can be a notable asset to your home.

One of the best things about chickens is their contribution of waste to the soil. Wikipedia states, “Of all animal manures, it has the highest amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.” And as nitrogen is considered key to plant growth, the chicken, with its nitrogen intense manure, can provide a significant positive impact to the soil.

And it’s not just the fertilizer that is beneficial. Chickens love to scratch at the ground. And believe it or not, this simple behavior contributes to soil health as it turns over the compacted surface, thereby allowing more oxygen to penetrate.

Also worth noting is weed removal. Chickens are omnivores, meaning they can consume both plant and animal material. And one of the things they love to eat are plant roots. Ask anyone who has used a chicken tractor to clear the garden and they will testify to the relentless busy behavior from a flock of these birds. Simply put, chickens will happily dine on the weeds that steal the nutrients away from your garden plants.

### Important Note ###

Like the old saying, ‘too much of a good thing’ it is possible to sustain environmental damage from having too many chickens in a small area. As stewards of our planet, it behooves us to be observant to the conditions that we create with our domesticated animals.

Is Chicken Manure Good For The Garden?

As mentioned above, nitrogen plays a key role in plant growth and with chicken manure having such high concentrations of it, it’s natural to want to put in on your garden. But there is something that should be understood before using it.

The nitrogen level in chicken manure is simply too high to be directly applied to most plants. Doing so will burn the plant, causing damage. For this reason, chicken waste must be composted and broken down before it can be used in your garden.

However, don’t feel alarmed if you see a single spot of chicken poo around one of your plants. It’s the concentration levels that are the problem.

For example, underneath our chicken coop we regularly pile up straw. This absorbs the waste excreted from the birds as they sleep at night. When this pile of straw gets high enough, we pull it out and replace it with new straw.

If we were to apply this waste permeated straw directly to say, one of our apple trees (saplings), then the tree could easily be in jeopardy. However, if a chicken defecates as it scratches for bugs around one our trees, then it’s no real cause for alarm – providing the manure that is left is in only small amounts.

How Long Does It Take For Chicken Manure To Compost?

This one is a tricky question as there are many ways to compost things. If you have the means and the time, you can compost chicken manure in as little as three weeks. However, for most backyard farmers, chicken manure will take between six months and a year to compost.

This wide range in time is due to several factors that determine how fast chicken manure will break down. There are ratios of green to brown material, as well as heat and moisture considerations. Also, if you are able to turn the material, using a rake or pitchfork, this will aerate your compost, allowing it to break down faster.

Whether you’re turning a compost pile or figuring ratios and temperature, all of this takes work. And it’s worth noting that while chickens do generate a considerable amount of waste for their size, most backyard flocks are quite small. So finding a composting method that best suites you might take a little bit of experimenting.

#### Personal Example ###

Something that has worked for us is a chicken tractor. Very simply, a chicken tractor is a small mobile pen that a flock of chickens will live in. We use a chicken tractor primarily for our meat birds – a breed of chicken specific for filling the freezer. (We don’t allow them to free range like our other birds as hyper activity for these heavier breeds can result in leg injury.)

This tractor is moved daily, allowing the contained birds regular access to new ground (fresh forage). It also removes the birds from the previous day’s manure, thereby ensuring better health for the flock.

We raise our meat birds in late summer as the warmer weather is conducive to rearing a flock of chicks. Without any input from us, meaning the manure is simply left to the elements, you can easily identify where the chicken tractor sat by the results of the following years plantings. Flowers and vegetables will be taller and full in color compared to same seeds that were planted three feet away.

Our chicken tractor is rectangular, so it’s kind of funny to see these defined rectangles of growth all throughout our garden.

What Plants Like Chicken Manure

Asking what plants like properly composted chicken manure is sort of like asking, who likes a warm and sunny day. Yes, there will always be a few odd parties that take exception to this, but the overwhelming majority of people will take the comfortable and sunny over the cold and cloudy any time they have the choice.

The same thing applies to plants.

So it’s not really a matter of what plants respond well to nitrogen filled compost –as they all do, but where do you most want to use this valuable commodity. And for most of us, that would be with any kind of rapid growing fruits and vegetables. These types of plants need more as they produce more, and as such will benefit from having more available to them; something composted chicken manure is sure to provide.

How Much Chicken Manure To Add To The Soil?

Knowing how much chicken manure to add to your soil is a difficult thing to quantify as it can not be directly applied to your garden. Also, there are variables such as the condition of the manure – meaning what the birds consumed – as well as, the starting condition of the soil itself.

For those employing a chicken tractor, we have found that 4 square feet per adult chicken should never see more than a day’s worth of manure. To do more than this can result in damage to the soil, as well as, create the potential for a health risk to your flock.

However, if your flock is free-range, meaning they can come and go as they please, then the only places that will see concentration of manure is by the coop or any other place that they frequent. We have raised free-range birds for some time and I have never noted their manure be detrimental to the environment. This is probably due to the occasional rain that washes things away – which, from a plants perspective, basically means ‘reset’.

### Important Note ###

A couple of variables that should be noted are, the chickens that we hold in a chicken tractor are larger than your average egg-laying breed. Consequently, they produce more waste.

Also, certain meat breeds of chicken can be harvested in as early as seven weeks. These rapid growing birds start out as active chicks with very little waste and end up being fat and lazy birds that are more than happy to lounge around – quite often napping with their beaks still in the feeder! The waste from these kinds of chickens is considerable and as such require the daily move.

How Much Manure Do Chickens Make?

There are many different kinds of chickens, from the tiny bantam to the large Jersey Giant. Consequently, the amount of manure produced will vary from bird to bird. Complicating this is a number of independent studies that claim anywhere from 40 grams to 118 grams of manure per chicken, per day. That’s a really big range to try and work with!

For sake of argument, I’ve chosen to use the 40 grams number, because, as a flock owner, this seems to be the most accurate. I can be wrong, but from my experience, it seems about right.

At 40 grams of waste per day, a single chicken should generate .6 lbs of manure in a week – or 31 pounds in a year.

To put this in perspective, the average New Hampshire Red hen weighs about 5lbs. If you were to scale this up to say our chicken weighed 150lbs – which is relatable by human standards – this would be roughly 2.64 pounds of waste per day, 18.5 pounds per week or 961 pounds of waste for a year. Thank goodness for small chickens!

But even at 31 pounds per year (for one chicken), a small flock of five birds is still going to produce 155 pounds of manure every year. That’s a lot of material to be composted and put in your garden.


Chickens In The Flowers

It is my opinion that we, as a species, have a vested interest in our planet and, as such, should be responsible for our domesticated animals. The presence of chickens can be an incredible asset to our soil – and I know that because I’ve seen it first-hand. But this benefit only comes when are we careful to utilize these amazing birds responsibly.