How Do You Tell When Chicken Manure is Fully Composted?

macthayer(z9a NV)April 19, 2008

I'm asking this question for a friend of mine. She owns chickens -- about 25 right now. She's had this batch for about 3 months. The chickens are not given antibiotics or anything like that. They are fed regular chicken feed. They do get outside, but are not "free range" in the sense that I'd be concerned about them eating a lot of weed seeds that they'd pass along in the manure. Right now she has a pretty good sized pile of henhouse "material" - basically it's straw mixed with chicken droppings. She wanted to put it straight on her vegetable garden, but I said NO, wait. It was VERY ripe, very strong smelling, so I knew it wasn't composted. We raised chickens when I was a child so I knew enough from that experience to know that the only time we spread fresh manure was when the garden was dormant in the fall. Otherwise it would burn the plants. But how do you tell when the manure is ready? I told her it would be ready when you could no longer smell it. Is that enough? Or does the straw also need to break down more? She has it in a wire bin in sunlight, and she does turn it. Wouldn't you think it would be safe to put on her garden after her harvest is complete, even if it isn't completely broken down, or isn't there any benefit to that? After all, that would be late fall, and there wouldn't be much more "decomposition" over the winter. There is no concern about running out of space for composting as they have two empty bins, and room to build more if needs be. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. MacThayer

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bpgreen(5UT)

If she has a single pile/bin and continually adds to it, I think your idea of adding it after harvest and letting it sit over winter makes sense.

If she can start a second bin/pile, she can let the first one get to about 3 ft x 3 ft, turning it periodically, then start a second bin/pile. Once the first one heats up, then cools down, and probably no longer has any bad smell to it or recognizable chicken waste, it is probably safe to use. Some people prefer to let it age beyond that point.

If the second bin gets to the 3x3 size before the first is used, she can start a third bin. Basically, she'll have compost in various stages all the time using this approach.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 1:14AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

You know when any manure, that has been composted with 3 parts of vegetative waste to 1 part of the manure is no longer recognizeable for what it was when it went into the mix and the odor is one of good, rich earth. When we had chickens I used leaves as litter and the chickens liked that much better than the straw many people used, and when I cleaned to coop I had the right mixture of "stuff" for my compost bin, all that was needed was a bit more moisture.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 8:13AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

When the compost no longer heats up after aerating and adding any required moisture. It is then 'finished'.

Since I have chickens too, and they roam my acre every day of halfway decent weather, I was wondering about the passing of weed seeds. But the general consensus seemed to be that because chickens have such an efficient crop/digestive system, that MOST (not all, and I do worry about wild blackberry seeds) seeds are worn down (scarified) in the crop and mostly digested before being passed out of the body.

After reading that, I collected some of my chickies poopers and smeared them on a flat surface to look for seeds. Didn't even find one, although I went through them multiple times. I didn't even find some partially-digested ones, which I did expect to find.

Sue

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 4:45PM
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kay____h(5a)

If your freind is living in the same zone 4 area as you are, I don't see any reason to not put down a thin layer of the poop over the annual garden right now. Don't mix it in, just let rain and weather do it's thing for a few weeks. I did this a few weeks ago becuase winter caught me by surprise so I did not put any out at the end of last season.

Like you did when you were young, I put the chicken waste directly into the garden in the fall. In the spring I add it to my compost pile for next year's containers and to add to the perenniels. I will also add it lightly to the dormant perenniels in early winter. Kay.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 9:40PM
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robin_maine

You know when any manure, that has been composted with 3 parts of vegetative waste to 1 part of the manure is no longer recognizeable for what it was when it went into the mix and the odor is one of good, rich earth.

Be sure to note what kimmsr said. Aged chicken manure is just aged chicken manure. Unless it has been mixed and composted it isn't compost. They aren't handled the same way.

If your freind is living in the same zone 4 area as you are, I don't see any reason to not put down a thin layer of the poop over the annual garden right now.

Zone doesn't matter this time of year. The only thing zones tell us is the average annual coldest temperature. It's not useful information in this situation. If manure were spread on the garden now and an hour's worth of torrential rain came it could all be washed away.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2008 at 7:02AM
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annpatt

Tell your friend that at least one person you know spreads her fresh chicken manure on her garden every spring---with great results. I spread it about 5 inches deep and lightly fork it in in the rows in which I plant. And since hundreds of people will be telling her not to use uncomposted manure, I would tell her that she should try it in half of her garden this year and compare the results with the half without it.

Then I'd like you to post her results at the end of the season for all the naysayers to see.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 8:26AM
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cavamarie(z8b/9a FL)

Annpat, I would love to hear more about this. I have chicken manure and horse manure, mixed with shavings and hay, and would love to just spread it on the garden without composting first.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 2:42PM
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annpatt

cavamarie, people have concerns about e-coli and I know nothing about that. I've used fresh manure in gardens almost every year I've gardened and I've never sacrificed fruit for foliage as you would expect. I've only had a problem once---in a spot where a ton of fresh chicken manure sat for a month before I could get it spread. Everything we planted in that drenched spot died. Mix the manure in well before you plant and I think you'll have results similar to mine, providing you, like me, need to apply nitrogen fertilizer every year.

I have 16 chickens. I clean their house once a year (where I suppose, it's technically been composting)and spread it on my garden straight from the coop prior to planting. I used much fresher chicken manure in my early 20s---sometimes with dead chickens in it---which I got from a farmer. With really fresh manure I spread it three weeks before planting per advice I received from an "Organic Gardening" course I took in 1974.

People always tell secondhand horror stories about chicken manure, but I've never heard a horror story from someone who's actually used it. I'm always worried that my experience with chicken manure won't pan out in the rest of the country, so rather than take my word for it, try it in half of your rows and see for yourself.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 9:44PM
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cavamarie(z8b/9a FL)

Interesting, Annpat. Im doing basically what you're doing. I have a chicken house...havent cleaned it out yet, but theres been chickens in there since January. I started with shavings in there; have been adding old hay from the barn to top it with, so Im thinking it probably needs a good cleaning out. I was thinking of putting it directly between the rows in my garden, not directly on the plants themselves. I was going to use it as mulch, not dig it in. I definitely need a lot of nitrogen where I am, pretty sandy here.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 7:31PM
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annpatt

Oh, you'll be fine. Mine is pretty much the same stuff---shavings, hay and several bags of leaves from the local dump. (I love the deep litter method here in Maine where I actually had steam coming out of the bedding in Jan.)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 9:09PM
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