Composting for Chicken Owners

July 19, 2011

Starting out composting can sometimes seem overwhelming.  It means that, like recycling, a certain level of consciousness must occur when sorting out kitchen scraps.  However, with small changes, you can make a difference for the planet and for your gardens.  Naturally, composting makes sense for chicken owners.  This post will serve as an introduction to composting.  It is not a complicated science and can bring wonderful benefits to your home.

Composting starts by combining a mixture of green and brown materials with water.  Over time, beneficial bugs, worms and microbes take up residence and beautiful compost is formed over the course of weeks to months.


Green Material (Protein for Microbes):
Fresh green leaves
Chicken Manure
Kitchen Scraps~vegetables, melon rinds, egg shells, fruit
Coffee grounds with filter and tea bags
Fresh green grass clippings
Fine clippings of hair

Brown Material (Carbon Energy):

Dry yellow and brown leaves
Woody plant stalks
Pine Shavings
Shredded newspaper
Small amounts of wood ash
Dryer lint

When combining green and brown materials you will want to strive to achieve the ratio of 30 parts brown to 1 part green.  But, try not to become obsessed with this number.  It should only serve as a guideline and remind you to consciously always add more brown than green to your composting pile.  This is very easy to do, when cleaning out the chickens.  The pine shavings easily add to the amount of brown!  An easy way to think of this is add 6″ of brown then 3″ of green alternating layers of green and brown.

Add some water to your pile to moisten but not create a soggy mess.  Then naturally allow the microbes to move in and get to work.  Depending on certain variations, such as whether you keep the compost in the sun vs. shade, in a container vs. open, will play a role in how fast your compost is created.  The warmer the compost pile, the faster the breakdown of your green and brown materials.

Composting on a small scale for me with my flock of eight chickens is easy.  I find that I compost two ways.  The first, is that I get help from the chickens.  Sometimes, when the run is muddy after the rain when I am cleaning the coop, I just toss all of the dirty shavings in the run and replenish the coop with fresh ones.  This not only keeps the chickens entertained for hours, but also allows them to compost the shavings and their waste products together.  As time passes, matter that is composted the majority of the way will accumulate in the run.  About every 3 months, I rake out this excess material and set it aside in a pile.  I turn it now and then and let it cure.  This partially created compost sits for 3 months and then once cured is safe to spread amongst the garden plants.  Other times, instead tossing all of the soiled shavings in the run, I add them to the compost bin as needed.  This allows me to still compost items that the chickens cannot eat, such as garlic and citrus other items not beneficial to the chickens as well as left over melon rinds from the girls.

There are many other variables that I did not discuss but should be researched before you get started including location of the composter, open or closed system, covering the compost pile and turning your pile based upon your selected method of composting.

Composters are easy to create/build yourself and are also available to prepurchase.  Here are some resources for those of you interested in getting started in composting.

Composting Tips:

Keep your compost bin closer to the house with easy accessiblity.  This makes it less of a chore.

Pick a compost bin that is asthetically pleasing to you.

Do not compost meat.  It will attract predators.

Secure hardware cloth to the bottom of your compost bin to deter mice and rats.

Keeping two seperate containers on the counter while cooking makes sorting items for the chickens, the composter and the trash easier.

Have your children get involved.  This is a terrific experiment and learning experience for them.


How to Make and Use Compost~ Nicky Scott
Composting for Dummies~ Cathy Cromell


How to Compost
Composting 101
Compost Guide

Build your own Beehive Composter  as featured on Tilly’s Nest.
Photo Credits:  The Trusty Gardener, Tilly’s Nest


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11 thoughts on “Composting for Chicken Owners”

  1. I keep my compost bin inside my chicken run. It's funny because if I open the gate to the run, the girls will ALWAYS dart out into the big garden. But if they see my pitchfork, they stay put. They know that when I turn the compost, there are nummy things to eat in there. I just worry because my compost used to be full of worms and bugs and I think they've eaten them all. But stuff is still breaking down, so maybe it's all okay.

  2. Yay composting!! Quick thing though.. dried wood shavings have a very high carbon ratio.. as in some up to 150:1 (some much, much higher than that).. so if you use wood shavings, it can sometimes take a lot of nitrogen to heat a pile up.

    Hot composting is the fastest means to break down materials.. also in the 140 to 160 degree range for a few days it will knock off weed seeds (although earthworms will avoid a hot pile.. moving in when it is cold. Earthworms eat the microbes that break down the materials.)

    Cold composting takes a long time. The upside is that cold created compost also is better at helping plants fight disease.. down side.. weed seeds are still active.

    Although some take the manure and dilute it to make a "tea".. you have to be careful when you apply it. The reason being that e. coli and salmonella can get into the plant.. if the flower is infected then the fruit gets infected.

    So if the pile stinks (like ammonia).. add carbon materials. The ammonia smell is actually nitrogen escaping.

    ok.. lol I'll shut up now! Yay composting!!

  3. Thank you Anne! All wonderful points. The wood shavings that I put in with the girls in the run are composted within the week for the most part. Yes, the shavings do take longer when in their own pile with the green material. Yes, I do find myself adding more green to that too. I also keep a separate worm composter too! The kids love it:)

  4. Great post! We have a 3 stage, home built compost…one ready to use, one cooking and one we are adding to. It's not pretty but it's at the back of the property behind some dogwood shrubs and near the chicken coop & run. They love inspecting it when we let them free range, usually their first stop before exploring the rest of the gardens.
    Thanks for all your wonderful tips.

    • Thank you! You are very welcome. I do keep an open composting pile near the coop of materials that I rake up from the run. It is not super pretty, but in the Fall, I add it to the garden's raised beds. It continues to cure and is ready to use by Spring. Thanks for stopping in today!

  5. Sometimes I wonder if we have chickens for the fresh eggs or for the compost bonus. The pile being close to the coop is better for me than at the back door, as I'd rather tote coffee grounds to the back than weekly lug the poop board up to the house.

  6. Hi, I’m having arguments with my husband about composting. He says that if I compost food (no meat) it attracts raccoons, fishers and other predators. My chickens are locked away at night but could that potentially cause a risk for them during the day? I live in Canada and winter composting is non existent. It just stays there until spring.

    Thank you!

    • Yes, if you open compost food (no meat) in an open space it can draw animals in. You do not want to add dairy products, oils or anything seasoned. Keep the pile away from food bowls, bird feeders and the like. Bury the added new materials at least 8 inches deep in the pile. Your best bet, maybe be to get a closed composting system, where you have the compost area with wire covering, a plastic composter, or one made of pallets that is covered. There are many articles online to help get you started.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.