|The author, cleaning out one of Better Farm's chicken coops. Photo/Lily Chiu|
Here at Better Farm, we have a lot of things that stink. Stinky compost bins, the stinky dogs, and of course, stinky chickens. In fact, it's not that our chickens reek especially bad, its more that they leave a lot of droppings—and for a chicken, steering clear of its own excrement doesn't rate high on the priority list. Some of you may wonder why we have so many chickens when they produce so much more poop than eggs. Well, the answer is simple—and beautiful.
|The chicken poop (as most gardeners would know) is excellent fertilizer!
Once it is broken down, chicken manure has 4 times as much nitrogen, 11 times as much
phosphorous, and 2.5 times as much potassium than horse manure (2.8 percent nitrogen,2.3 phosphorous, 1.7 potassium). While it's true that we don't
want to put the dung directly onto the crops because the nitrogen and
bacteria levels are so high it can damage or contaminate the vegetables we
grow, we still have plenty of other things we can do with our vast amounts
of chicken droppings (really... they poop a lot... it's 33 chickens).|
At this time of year, when the garden isn't producing nearly as many vegetables as it does at its peak, there's plenty of open space that we're mulching with hay and cardboard (the cardboard is to keep weeds from popping up, and the hay is to get broken down by the snow and turn to fresh soil). Since we have our chickens pooping on hay, on top of cardboard, it's ridiculously easy to find a nice empty spot that could used some extra insulation and let the fertile chicken manure get broken down with the hay over the winter to make the soil all the richer. This is our current technique, but there are plenty of other uses for the chicken poop we have in such abundance. So this is the short list of chicken manure uses that I (as the farm intern) was surprised and interested by:
- Bio-Oil?!? Let's leave this one to the expert's explanation: "First, the manure needs to be dried so it can be burned... That makes it possible to move to the next step: rapidly heating the mixture in a bubbling, fluidized bed reactor that has no oxygen. It's a process called fast pyrolysis. The process thermochemically breaks the molecular bonds in the mixture. It produces charcoal that can be used to enrich soil. And it produces vapors that are condensed to a thick, dark bio-oil." Wow... all that from chicken poop. I'm practically speechless. Although this process doesn't sound like something we're ready to do at Better Farmyet, it really changes the way you see the manure, and the way we treat dispose of our waste.
- Chicken Manure TEA?!?!? Not the kind you can drink! During the growing season, the compost pile can get full pretty quickly and when there's tons of chicken poop it can be nice to find a more direct use for it without having to way for it to decompose. Now there are many ways to make fertilizer, but this one in particular is nice because it creates a liquid you can spray your crops with to give them nutrients! To make fertilizer tea, scoop the chicken manure into a burlap bag. Then, throw a rock into the bag to weigh it down and place the whole thing into a 35-gallon garbage can. Fill the garbage can with water and let it sit for about three weeks. Once the three weeks are over, you will have nutrient-rich chicken manure fertilizer tea as the water becomes infused with the nutrients from the chicken manure. You can use this fertilizer tea to water your plants to give them a vitamin boost.
All photography by Lily Chiu