Composting chicken litter
Consider it free nutrients for the garden.
Chicken owners often use wood shavings, straw, or sawdust as bedding in the coop to keep the birds dry. When cleaning out chicken coops, an option is to toss the litter onto the compost pile. Chicken manure is an excellent source of nitrogen, but it will burn plants if it's used fresh. Proper composting allows it to break down into a useful fertilizer and soil amendment.
David Frame is an extension poultry specialist at Utah State University. He says the composting recipe is based on a ratio of nitrogen to carbon. The litter varies in nitrogen content depending on how much manure the chickens are producing, and how long it has been sitting in the coop.
"The general recommendation is that if you've got fairly mature litter, it's been in there like six-months or so, then you want to add about half of that, and then add half of a carbon source such as grains, or straw, or something, refuge from the garden, and mix that in there with it," he says.
Frame says it's important to keep the compost at 40-to-60-percent moisture. If it gets too dry, the bacteria can't do its job. If it's too wet, the material compresses down. This will squeeze out the oxygen, creating rot rather than compost.
The pile should rise to a temperature of about 140-degrees for the bacteria to work properly. Stir it, and then let it rise again.
"Continually move the stuff from the inside to the outside, and then put the stuff from the outside into the inside so that you have a rotation of material," says Frame. "It allows that to get composted evenly, and keeps that air in it. But the air and the water are the two important things."
The compost is ready when most of the material is dark, crumbly, and sweet-smelling. Spread it on the surface of the garden or by gently work it in.
Radio interview source: David Frame, Extension Poultry Specialist, Utah State University
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