Chicken eggs have long been a staple of most people’s diets, and there are definite advantages for purchasing fresh eggs from a poultry farmer. Local-food advocates assert farm-fresh eggs are better than the ones you purchase at the grocery store. From my own experience, there are several reasons as to why — namely, free-range eggs are tastier and jam-packed full of nutrients.
However, today’s post is about another by-product produced at poultry farms — namely heaps of natural fertilizer. Yes, instead of their reproductive system, today, we'll examine the chicken’s digestive tract — and the subsequent benefits that are derived from its poop.
When composted properly, poultry manure can be a great supplement to anyone’s garden soil. Given that you can expect roughly 1 cubic foot of manure per hen every six months, and that chicken manure contains higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than cattle, sheep or horse manure, it would be a great loss to waste such a precious commodity and source of nutrients.
Left alone, chicken waste should be safe for garden use after about one year, but high-heat composting can shorten this time considerably.
To cut that year down markedly, high-temperature composting is recommended. This is a technique requiring care and precision and a few basic rules.
To achieve a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 25-to-30 [which is optimal], add carbon-rich litter such as wood shavings, straw or dried leaves to balance your nitrogen-rich manure.
Then add water as needed to keep the moisture level between 35 and 50 percent. To test, it will feel like a damp sponge when squeezed. Allow the compost to reach an internal temperature above 131 F, then mix to redistribute the heat evenly throughout the pile. Repeat this process five times over the course of 14 to 21 days, and allow to cure for six weeks.
Overcoming Potential Risks
Although poultry manure is rich in nutrients, fresh poop can pose problems in the garden. Since it’s concentration of nitrogen is so rich, it will create enough heat during decomposition to scorch tender plant roots, particularly if your starter plants are very young.
Equally important, fresh chicken manure can contain a number of human pathogens and parasites, including Salmonella spp. and E. coli. However, high-temperature composting or simple exposure to the elements over time will kill these harmful organisms, leaving the chicken manure safer for use on food crops.
Take Extra Care
Even when you think you’ve buttoned all the scenarios to ensure your chicken manure is properly aged, it’s important to still be cautious to avoid food contamination. So consider purchasing a compost thermometer for high-temperature composting so that you’re confident when your compost piles reach the necessary 131-degree Fahrenheit.
It's also advisable to get in the habit of peeling root vegetables and washing leafy greens with soapy water. Then thoroughly cook vegetables before eating to guarantee you’ve killed any remaining pathogens that may have transferred from the soil.
Eggs & Poop
So as you can see, eggs aren’t the only by-product chickens can bring to your dining room table. These marvelous feathered creatures can also provide you and your family with nourishing and delicious fresh vegetables, produced naturally in nutrient-rich poop.
Especially appealing to vegetarians — from farm to table — chickens can be a viable source of your sustenance, without having to perish to do it. After all, chickens can be pets too . . . but that’s another tale I learned growing up . . . in case you are interested.