On our little mini-homestead, we have to keep the chickens separate from the garden most of the year because they tend to eat and trample the young plants. Still, as I’ve watched our chickens scratching around in the coop and chicken run, I’ve often wondered if their natural tendency to scratch could be useful for something else, such as the creation of compost. After all, they are also great at devouring our kitchen and garden scraps, which not only produces nutritious eggs, it creates nitrogen-rich manure. It’s like two bangs for your buck. One idea I’ve been working with lately that seems promising is Deep Litter Manure Management.
Basically, the way Deep Litter Manure Management works is that instead of cleaning out your coop or run regularly, you continue to add thick layers of dry, carbon-rich organic material known as brown matter such as straw, grass clippings, and leaves. In order for true composting to take place, you also need to balance this with the addition of nitrogen-rich material known as green matter, such as kitchen scraps, chicken manure, and fresh grass clippings.
In our own chicken run, we’ve been working with straw and dried out weeds for our brown matter. To balance this, we’ve been using kitchen scraps and chicken manure for our green matter. As the chickens scratch around, they mix these materials together, which over time helps to break them down into compost. Our hope is that later this year, we’ll be able to take this composted material and spread it out as organic, nutrient-rich fertilizer on the garden. Of course, if it is not completely composted, we’ll probably just heap it into a compost pile until it is ready to go.
In addition to creating great compost, other benefits of this system include:
- Creating less work for you, since you don’t have to clean out the coop or run as often
- Reducing odors and flies
- A healthier and happier environment for the chickens
- Protects soil health by reducing bare ground
So far, it seems to be working great for us. And, hopefully in the months ahead, we will have produced good quality compost for our garden while at the same time keeping the chickens healthy and happy.