Chicken Manure: Turning Waste Into Quality Fertilizer
Chicken manure is a fantastic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Find out the ins and outs of composting and using chicken poop in your garden!
Fertilizing is one of the most important parts of gardening. Like people and animals, plants have to eat as well. Spurred by this, people are becoming interested and involved in organic fertilizers. One of the oldest and probably most well-known is chicken manure.
In many areas, chicken manure is readily available along with cow manure and horse manure. This is in part due to the number of commercial chicken houses, ranches, and stables in operation today.
Chicken manure delivers quality organic nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. It doesn’t stop there, also providing micronutrients such as copper and zinc.
Studies reveal these results, too. Increased levels of copper, manganese, and zinc appear in the soil after 4-5 years where chicken manure has been applied.
With all this in mind, let’s dive into the use of chicken manure fertilizer. We are also going to look at how and where to get chicken manure, how to use it, and much more!
Great Chicken Manure Choices:
- Espoma GM25 3-2-3 Organic Chicken Manure
- Pearl Valley Organix 080951 Coop Poop All Purpose Garden Food
- Hoffman 20505 Dehydrated Super Manure 4-2-3
What Is Chicken Manure?
When we think of chicken manure, the first assumption is that it’s just poop. While that’s true, chicken manure includes a lot more than the waste products alone.
Chicken bedding from the chicken coop, like sawdust or wood chips may be incorporated. So too are urine, feathers, uneaten feed, and of course the chicken manure itself.
For each pound of feed, a chicken can produce about a half pound of fresh manure. This manure has a moisture content of about 75% when fresh. Losing water due to evaporation, the final product has a rough moisture content of 20-40%. This varies a bit depending on the mix of chicken manure to other litter.
The chicken manure-coop bedding material mix is usually allowed to sit for a couple of days to dry out in the chicken house. In a commercial operation, a tractor then removes it and piles it outside. Residential chicken owners can rake out the manure and do the same.
What Nutrients Are In Chicken Manure?
Chicken manure as fertilizer contains nutrients such as:
As you can see, it provides most of the micronutrients that vegetable garden plants need to survive in one package! This is leaps and bounds better than other manures you can acquire, like cow manure or horse manure.
While somewhat variable, the NPK of chicken manure tends to be higher than most other manures. This variation is entirely relative to what else is blended into the poop, so let’s look at the manure alone.
A good baseline estimate on chicken manure NPK is 1.1 – 0.8 – 0.5. This is based on an application rate of a half-inch to 1″ layer of pure composted chicken manure. It’s a rapid-release nitrogen source, as chicken manure releases 75% of its nitrogen in one year.
Chicken litter contains high amounts of ammonia. As this manure cures, the ammonia will partially dissipate. The ammonium in the chicken manure makes up a large part of the immediate nitrogen availability. If it’s not worked into the soil, exposure to air makes it lose potency fast.
While ammonium is good, the reality is that it poses two problems. Exposure to the air allows much of the ammonia to escape via evaporation. This also leaves a pungent, chicken manure scent lingering in the air which most people don’t like, especially on a hot day.
The other problem is that chicken manure may be too strong for immediate use on plants. Converting the chicken manure to a composted variation reduces its potency. Still, it also prevents the chicken poop from causing fertilizer burn to your plants.
Composting Chicken Manure
For every 100 lbs of mealworms or feed that they eat, a chicken excretes 45 lbs of poop. That’s a lot of waste!
But thankfully, we have a way to turn that excretion into vegetable garden gold. Hot composting chicken manure works wonders. It will render the mixture of straw or wood shavings, poop, and leftover feed safe for garden use.
This solves another issue that comes along with chicken manure: bacteria. Much like eggs and the chicken meat itself, chicken waste is a potential home for salmonella. The E.coli virus may also survive in chicken poop.
Hot composting chicken manure kills off most harmful bacteria, making it so you can use chicken manure safely. It removes most of the chickenish stink, turning it into a sweet soil-like scent. Seeds from the chicken feed will be sterilized and won’t sprout. Any straw or shavings will break down and form fresh, quality compost.
To hot-compost, you should pile your chicken manure and chicken coop sweepings in a large, tall compost pile. You can use a compost bin or compost spinner if you’d prefer. You’ll need a minimum of two parts “brown” waste to each part of “green” waste for the compost pile to heat on its own. Higher amounts of brown waste will speed the heating process.
Chicken poop itself is green waste. Straw or wood shavings are brown wastes. Trying to maintain a good balance between the two is essential, so add more of one or the other if it’s needed. Dampen the compost pile to lightly moisten it.
Once piled, the center of the compost pile should begin to heat up. Use a compost thermometer to keep track of the warmth. Keep your pile between 130-160 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal compost production.
Once the center of the pile has remained at the 130-160 range for two days, turn it. The goal is to put all the organic matter on the outside of the pile into the center of the pile to restart the heating.
A popular “quick-heat” method uses 30 parts brown waste to each part of chicken manure, turned every two days. Keep it slightly damp, but not soggy. This should produce composted manure in about three weeks in good weather. Then you can use chicken manure safely in your vegetable garden.
Benefits of Chicken Manure Fertilizer
Aged chicken manure has all the right nutrients to keep your vegetable garden high-yielding – and healthy too!
The phosphorous in chicken poop becomes available much slower than its nitrogen content. This makes it a reasonably slow-releasing nutrient.
Potassium is also present in chicken manure. It’s readily available in most cases, but not as long-lasting as the phosphorous. If it’s not incorporated into other stuff through the process of composting composting chicken manure, it may leach out and be lost.
The rate of release of the micronutrients in chicken waste hasn’t been studied. They all become available through the decomposition process. Calcium, copper, and iron are necessary to plant health and can aid in disease prevention. They are all beneficial for your plants.
Chicken manure fertilizer can improve your soil structure. In the short term, it’ll increase the organic matter content in the soil. In the long term, it helps to loosen clay soils and provides more aeration.
Drawbacks of Chicken Manure Fertilizer
All good things come with a price, and in that case, it’s a handful of drawbacks. They’re not insurmountable, but they do pose problems.
Poultry litter, and in fact the aged chicken manure itself, varies in its composition. The type of poultry, number of birds, nutrition of the feed, bedding from the chicken coop, and other factors all play a role. This means your chicken manure fertilizer itself will vary from batch to batch.
Chicken manure from a commercial farm may be more easily tracked in terms of average NPK. But that doesn’t mean it’s as nutrient-dense as the manure from pet chickens might be. Most pet chickens or home layers get higher-nutrition foods than commercial farms provide.
If you don’t have chickens as pets or egg-layers at home, you face another issue. It’s possible to get manure from a commercial facility, but they usually want you to haul it by the truckload.
Unless you have a large piece of property to stockpile manure on, this may not be feasible. People who are using the Back to Eden gardening method can spread fresh manure on their wood chips. For in-soil use, though, it’s best to compost manure and coop bedding material in advance.
These drawbacks can all be overcome by creativity, but it’s good to be aware of them in advance!
Other Types of Poultry Manure
So we’ve discussed chicken manure in depth. But other poultry manure widens the options quite a bit!
Turkey farms produce as much (and possibly more) organic matter in the form of manure than commercial chicken farms. Turkey manure is very similar in composition to chicken.
Duck and goose farms also produce high-quality fertilizer. Duck poop fertilizer may be found in smaller quantities than commercial chicken manure.
Goose and duck poop may also be found in the wild, but be careful gathering it from near lakes or ponds. Wild birds are more likely to be carrying salmonella or E.coli in their organic matter waste, so it may not be worth the risk.
Birds like guinea hens, pheasants, and the like are also raised for food or feathers. Depending on their feed, the nutritional value of the manure may vary.
So don’t limit yourself to just chicken manure. There are other fowl that produce fine, compostable fertilizer too!
How To Use Chicken Fertilizer
There are many different ways to use chicken poop in the vegetable garden. Let’s explore some of the options.
Chicken Manure As Fertilizer
If you wish to maximize poultry litter nutrient value, you’ll need to use it while fresh. It can be used as organic matter in sheet-layered or lasagna-bed gardens.
Using it this way should be done with caution, as the fresh nitrogen can cause harm to the roots. Put at least 3″ of soil on top if you’re going to use fresh manure in an active growing bed.
Forty to seventy percent of the manure’s total nitrogen is available within six weeks. The remaining nitrogen slowly releases as organic residues decompose. It may take more than one growing season to free the rest of the nitrogen.
Phosphorous is much slower to release, as it takes a while for the manure to decompose.
Fresh chicken litter can be spread between rows in an active bed. Be sure it doesn’t make direct contact with the plant or its roots. Chicken manure also works extremely well with the Back to Eden gardening method! The quick-release nitrogen helps break down the wood chips much more rapidly.
Composted chicken manure should get worked into the soil to lighten clay-like soils. As a fertilizer, it can be used for top-dressing or worked in. Try to avoid overfertilizing with it, as too much nitrogen can cause fertilizer burn.
Chicken Manure Tea
Compost teas are popular, and chicken manure tea is another form of that. It quickly dispenses organic nutrients to the root system of plants when it’s needed.
Begin by composting chicken manure. You want a batch that’s been breaking down for at least 80 days, preferably hot-composted.
To brew your chicken manure tea, you’ll need a few supplies:
- A 5-gallon plastic bucket
- An old cotton pillowcase
- String, twine, or rope
- Composted chicken manure
- Non-chlorinated water or distilled water
If you’re using residential tap water, prepare 3 days in advance of starting your tea. Fill the 5-gallon bucket with your tap water. Let it stand open in a sheltered area (like your garage) to allow any chlorine that may be in the water to evaporate off.
Making composted chicken manure tea itself will take about two weeks to properly do. On the day you start, fill the pillowcase about 1/3rd of the way full with composted manure. Use your string/twine/rope to tie off the top and make a giant teabag.
Place about double the amount of water as you have compost in a 5-gallon pail, and place your teabag into it. If you had to prepare your water in advance, put in the teabag and displace excess water. Be sure your teabag is completely submerged.
Leave your bucket uncovered in a sunny outdoor location. At least twice a day, use the rope to dunk your teabag up and down a few times to keep the water aerated. Allow it to steep for two weeks.
When the two weeks have passed, you should have dark brown “tea”. Remove the compost teabag, squeezing out any excess water into your bucket. This is now a concentrated compost tea and can be stored. You can loosely cover it to store it. I like to rinse out my pillowcase and use it for that purpose.
Dump the remaining contents of the tea bag into your compost pile. After all, it’s still compost! You can clean your pillowcase or dispose of it as you prefer.
To use your chicken manure tea, you must dilute it first. Use one part manure tea to four parts of water. Avoid applying it directly on leaves you’ll be eating or on root crops. This ensures you have less risk of salmonella or E.coli contamination.
Wash raw vegetables that have been fertilized with this compost tea, and especially avoid eating uncooked vegetables. A weekly watering with this manure tea will provide a real kickstart to young plants!
Where To Buy Chicken Manure
Buying chicken manure when it’s fresh requires access to someone who has chickens. You may be able to source fresh manure from a neighbor with a henhouse for free! But otherwise, you’ll need to be more creative and contact local chicken farmers.
It’s far easier to find already composted manure. The average big box store will have at least a couple of local brands available. The quantities vary; it may be as little as five pounds or as much as twenty-five.
And don’t fear, if you can’t easily find it at your local garden center, there’s still hope. There are some great organic brands online!
Espoma GM25 3-2-3 Organic Chicken Manure, 25lb
Espoma’s chicken manure has been dehydrated and pressed into granules. This makes it much easier for people to work with than fresh chicken litter!
Guaranteed to be a 3-2-3 fertilizer, it’s certified for organic use. It’s a slow-release option that will also condition the soil.
Pearl Valley Organix 080951 Coop Poop All Purpose Garden Food, 40 lb
Pearl Valley Organix’s Coop Poop is a pelletized composted chicken fertilizer. It rates out at about a 2-4-3 overall, but has an extremely high 8% calcium, which is phenomenal for tomatoes and pepper plants!
As the granules are fine, they can be used in a seed spreader to fertilize your lawn. It’s also easy to work into the soil. This one’s OMRI-rated for organic use, too.
Hoffman 20505 Dehydrated Super Manure 4-2-3, 5 Pounds
Don’t need a massive amount of chicken fertilizer? Hoffman’s Super Manure is another pelletized organic option for you. Sold in 5-lb bags, it provides ample nutrition for houseplants or a small vegetable garden.
This one rates out at a 4-2-3 NPK. It’s less stinky than most brands. Still, if you plan on using it indoors, you may want to spread some on a tray for a couple of days to air out. This allows some of the remaining manure scent to dissipate before use.
Chicken litter is a great natural garden fertilizer. It really shows its benefits in the health and yield of your vegetable garden plants!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the disadvantages of chicken manure?
A: When it’s fresh, chicken manure can burn plants, providing too high of a concentration of nitrogen at once. Composting chicken manure and applying it in appropriate amounts won’t do this. Also raw chicken manure has bacteria. When you apply compost tea to plants, wash raw vegetables and avoid eating uncooked vegetables when consuming.
Q: When should you not use chicken manure?
A: You shouldn’t use it during fruiting and bulb development, a few months before your harvest of a plant. It’s best used upon planting, and at the beginning of the growing season.
Q: What plants benefit from chicken manure?
A: Leafy greens, and plants that need assistance developing foliage to fruit benefit from applications of composted chicken manure.
Q: Does chicken manure attract rats?
A: Like many types of organic garden fertilizer, because they are derived from natural materials, they will attract rodents. Therefore, store composted chicken manure in an area and container where rats can’t access it. If you’re in the process of composting chicken manure in an open compost pile, know that you may have some visitors.
Q: Should I mix chicken manure with soil?
A: Yes! The best way to apply is to work some composting chicken manure into the soil at varying points throughout the growing season.
Q: Can I put chicken poop straight on the garden?
A: While it’s definitely something you can do, you’ll want to complete composting manure long enough for it to be usable. Wait 5 or 6 weeks before putting manure from chickens in your beds.
Q: Is chicken manure better than fertilizer?
A: It depends on which garden fertilizer you’re talking about. Chicken manure fertilizer is a great fertilizer itself and a soil amendment, too.
Q: How long does chicken manure take to decompose in soil?
A: You probably don’t want to plant in soil where raw chicken manure has been spread until 6 to 16 weeks after applying. That’s about how long it takes to break down in soil. Composting chicken manure takes that long as well.