Poop. It’s a word that makes little boys giggle mischievously. And it’s something that your chickens produce a lot of. Instead of viewing it as undesirable, change your paradigm and recognize chicken manure for what it is: A literally transformational, nutrient-rich substance that can work wonders in your garden and add a magical boost to your landscape. And best of all, it’s free!
The University of Florida says the following about chicken manure as fertilizer:
Animal manures have been used effectively as fertilizers for centuries. Poultry manure has long been recognized as perhaps the most desirable of these natural fertilizers because of its high nitrogen content. In addition, manures supply other essential plant nutrients and serve as a soil amendment by adding organic matter. Organic matter persistence will vary with temperature, drainage, rainfall, and other environmental factors. Organic matter in soil improves moisture and nutrient retention. The utilization of manure is an integral part of sustainable agriculture.(University of Florida: Poultry Manure as a Fertilizer by D.R. Sloan, G. Kidder and R.D. Jacobs;credit)
Just like commercially prepared synthetic fertilizers, chicken manure is very high in nutrients. The combined average percentages (per total weight) of aged chicken manure and litter–yes, you can use old litter from your chicken coop as a fertilizer!–is about 1.8 nitrogen, 1.5 phosphate, and 0.8 for potash.
With that much nitrogen, phosphate and potash, how much poultry manure should you use? An annual application of 45 pounds of chicken manure and chicken litter, or more, per year for every 100 square feet will be just right to work wonders in your vegetable garden and increase the fertility of your soil. 45 pounds is the approximate amount that one hen will produce every year. Thus, the average small-scale chicken flock of 5-10 chickens should be enough to take care of your entire vegetable garden and yard!
Here are a few general pointers and tips for using chicken manure as a fertilizer:
1) Never feed fresh chicken manure to young, tender plants! Fresh chicken manure is “hot,” meaning it is very high in nitrogen and will “burn” the growing plants. This will kill your plants! Also, too much nitrogen can produce negative plant growth. This is why you need to age your chicken manure!
2) Poultry manure makes a great addition to compost! I recently received an “Earth Machine” composting bin as part of my local county government’s initiative to reduce green waste in Hawaii’s landfills. Although you do not need a “real” composter to compost, it can save you time. Whether or not you use an actual composter, any sort of composting converts nitrogen into a form that a plant can use without being burned. Composting also destroys the coccidia bacteria (a chicken disease), bacteria, worm eggs, and viruses, and stabilizes potash and nitrogen levels. Any composter will do, from the fancy type you see in Organic Gardening magazine, to simple homemade bins made of 2x4s and chicken wire.
Important: Manure that is composed without carbon-based material (such as dry grass clippings) will overheat.
Give chicken manure time to age by spreading fresh poultry manure over your soil and turning the dirt at the end of the growing season to allow it time to decompose over the winter. However, youâ€™ll be required to keep your poultry birds out of the area for at least a year, preferably more.
You can also try making â€œteaâ€. To make fertiliser tea scoop the chicken manure into a hessian sack. Then throw a rock into the bag to weigh it down and place the whole thing into a 35-gallon garbage cab. Fill the garbage can with water and let it sit for about three weeks. Once the three weeks are over, you will have a nutrient rich chicken manure fertiliser tea as the water becomes infused with the nutrients from the chicken manure. You can use this fertiliser tea to water your plants to give them a vitamin boost.
Your plants will love you for it.