How to Compost Chicken Droppings
Chicken Manure should not be allowed to accumulate in the coop. It is unhealthy for your chickens (and your relationships with the neighbors!)

Manure can be one of the greatest assets for a home gardener! Although fresh chicken manure is too strong to be used “raw” on your flowers or vegetables, it can be composted and converted to “black gold”. Once it is composted chicken manure is:

• A good soil amendment, chicken manure adds organic matter and increases the water holding capacity and beneficial biota in soil.
• A good fertilizer; chicken manure provides Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium to you plants (more than horse, cow or steer manure).

Composting Chicken Manure:
Good compost is a mixture of: Carbon (browns - your coop bedding), Nitrogen (greens - your chicken manure), air, moisture, volume, and temperature. Here are some recommendations to get you started using chicken manure in your compost pile:

• Collect manure and bedding. Chicken owners normally use bedding such as shavings, sawdust, dry leaves, or straw to provide a dry cushion for chickens and to control odor and pests. The coop bedding can be collected with the manure and dumped into a composting bin. If using a “droppings board”, simply scrape the fresh manure into a bucket (with a tight-sealing lid; kitty-litter buckets are good for this!) each morning, and add to the compost bin when full.

• Carbon to Nitrogen balance. A combination of 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen creates the ideal environment for microbes to break down organic material to produce compost. When combining coop bedding and chicken manure how do you achieve the ideal C:N ratio? Since the different beddings have their own C:N ratio, the proportion of bedding to manure will vary depending on the type of bedding used. To keep things simple most composters follow the general rule of 1 part brown to 2 parts green. However, because chicken manure is so high in Nitrogen you may be more successful using a 1:1 or even a 2:1 mixture. Of course you can also add kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, etc.

• Use a “hot compost” recipe. By combining the correct ratio of bedding and manure at one time to form a pile, approximately one cubic yard, then adding moisture (material should be about as wet as a well wrung sponge), you will produce a hot pile. If you want to be very efficient, check the temps: it is recommend that the compost pile heat to 130-150° F and maintain that temperature for 3 days. Heating is necessary to destroy pathogens but temperatures above 160° F can kill beneficial microorganisms and slow the process. To help you achieve appropriate temperature you can purchase a compost temperature gauge from a local nursery.

• Repeat the heating process. Once the center of your compost pile has reached the required temperature for three days it will start to cool. After it cools, pull the center apart and move the core material to the edges and bring the edge material into the center to heat. For 1 cubic yard of material repeat the process of bringing edges into the core at least 3 times.

• Let it cure. Monitor the pile and once you are satisfied that the entire contents of your bin has been heated, loosely cover and let cure for 45-60 days before using. It’s ready when most material is dark, crumbly and sweet-smelling like soil.

• Add to garden. You can add the resulting compost to your vegetable garden or flower bed by spreading it on the surface or by gently working it into existing soil.
Compost Bin. Your bin should be at least 1 cubic yard in size (3x3x3 feet). If possible, use a 2-bin compost system. One bin will be in the hot compost phase and the other will be in the curing phase. You may also need a storage site for the carbon materials you collect. South Portland Public Works offers low-cost prefabricated compost bins.

Manure Safety Tips:
Fresh chicken manure may contain disease organisms that could contaminate root crops (carrots, radishes, beets) and leaves (lettuce, spinach), so DO NOT spread uncomposted manure on the soil in your vegetable garden. The following “Safety Tips” are summarized from the Stewardship Gardening Program provided by Washington State University:

• Apply only aged or composted manure to your soil.
• Always wear gloves when handling livestock manure.
• Thoroughly wash raw vegetables before eating.
• Do not use cat or dog manure in compost piles.
• People who are susceptible to food borne illnesses should avoid eating uncooked vegetables from manured gardens. Those who face risks from food borne illness include pregnant women, very young children, and persons with cancer, kidney failure, liver disease, diabetes or AIDS.