November 2015
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Composting with Chickens – A Permaculture Solution

Gardeners know the importance of compost. We compost grass clippings, leaves, kitchen waste – basically any organic matter we can get our hands on. The problem with traditional composting is that you need to turn the compost pile frequently to get a good finished product. That’s not a problem if you have help. Sometimes there are a lot of chores on a farm, and at times like that something like turning compost can be forgotten. If only we had tireless little workers available to constantly turn our compost for us.

Of course – chickens! They will spend all day happily scratching and digging. Give them access to a compost pile and they are in heaven. Geoff Lawton has a great video about this at his site:

We decided to try a compost pile adjacent to the chicken run. Here’s how we did it. The structure is framed with pressure-treated 2x4s and put together with screws so it could be disassembled later to reuse the materials. The structure is covered with chicken wire to keep the chickens in and predators out. It has a 6 foot tall human door for access to add and remove material, and for turning the pile. The back of the structure is shorter than the front. This was simply to save materials since we only need to stand near the door to work the pile. Once the structure was completed, I lined the inside of it on 3 sides with some scrap pieces of plywood. This is to prevent the compost from escaping through the chicken wire. We built a tunnel between the run and the compost structure. A guillotine door allows us to keep the chickens out when needed.

Composting with Chickens

Composting with Chickens

The pile is started with grass clippings picked up by a mower with a bag attachment. I have found that the pile has to be turned manually a couple of times if I start it with a lot of material. That isn’t a problem because the chickens do most of the work. I just have to turn it every few days. I also tried a batch starting with a smaller amount of material, adding more every few days. When I did it that way, it didn’t require turning but it took longer to produce the same amount of compost. The most efficient approach seems to be loading it up with a large amount of material up front. That produces a larger batch quicker. We also throw our kitchen scraps into the pile which gets the chickens really excited. I’ve seen it turn into high quality compost in less than 3 weeks.

What makes this system really cool is the function stacking that it incorporates. We don’t allow our chickens to free range because of the number of predators they would have to deal with. This structure allows us to bring the grass clippings to the chickens. We see a reduction in their feed costs because they are getting some of their nutrition from the compost. The chickens are performing a service by helping to remove weed seeds while producing high quality compost. It is a simple system that incorporates permaculture principles to address multiple problems with one solution.

Resources for this post:
Geoff Lawton Video about Composting with Chickens

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