Compost Bins and Chicken Manure

Chickens poop. A lot. On average, a mature laying hen will produce about a quarter pound of manure per day. Another way of looking at it is that in one year you’ll have 2 cubic feet of manure for each bird. So, for a small backyard flock of six hens, that will be 12 cubic feet.  That’s not including bedding that it might be mixed in with.

Chicken poo is filled with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – essential garden nutrients. But, in it’s raw form, it will burn plants, not feed them. It also might contain pathogens, including salmonella. It might contain bits of internal parasites, and it might harbor the intermediary hosts of those parasites. It also smells. Bad.

That pile of poo is about 75 % water. It will eventually shrink, but it while it is dehydrating and breaking down it has to go somewhere. I keep compost piles in my chicken runs. It keeps them busy with things to shred, scratch and eat. Much of my kitchen and garden scraps go there. But, that’s not where I put the manure. I don’t want the hens mucking about in their own waste and possibly ingesting parasites. I want to move pathogens out of the coop area.

I could put a couple of large compost bins in the back meadow. But I have two dogs that love getting into manure. So, I have another solution. It requires no work and no money. It just needs time.

I take a discarded plastic garbage bin with a cracked bottom. I cut off the broken end, so it’s basically a tube, with handles, and set it in my vegetable garden.

I fill it with manure, shavings, dead leaves and garden waste. As it decomposes I add more, until it’s filled to the top.

And then I let it sit. I don’t turn it, or fuss with it, for a year.

Then, it’s ready to use. I put the whole thing in a wheelbarrow (easy to lift with those handles) and take it where it’s needed. This what it looks like when upended. Look at that black dirt!

I dumped this pile of compost onto the bald spot at the top of the meadow where nothing but weeds and moss grows. I didn’t even bother spreading it. The girls do that task.

I have three of these bins transforming chicken manure into garden loam. Now that I have the Gems, I need to scrounge up another broken garbage can. Twelve hens make a lot of manure – which is a good thing, because that bare spot can use it all.


  1. How much of your compost is shavings Terry? I love you idea I am wondering how you sift through the shavings too.

  2. I do put the shavings in there, too. I use a fine-tined pitchfork to clean out the coops, and a kitty litter scoop for the nesting boxes. Those two tools do a good job of sifting out the manure and leaving the clean shavings. But, there’s always some shavings that stick to the manure. Every few months, when the shavings turn mostly to dust, I shovel it all out and put it in the compost, too. I like the shavings in with the manure – it lightens the texture. I’d guess that the compost is half manure and half other stuff (including the added leaves.) I find that if I top off with a thin layer of dead leaves that there’s no smell.

  3. Very clever and interesting composting advice. By the way Terry, I got a giggle out of the “tug of war” between you and Pip and Caper yesterday afternoon about just who was going to go/stay in the goat stall. I see why you keep their leashes on until they are safely locked inside. And just what is it with Betsy, who seems unable to decide whether Candy or Buffy is her new best friend?!

    • Oh, I was wondering if anyone saw that chaos! For fat boys, they sure can squeeze in and out of doors, jump up on hay bales and get into trouble in the blink of an eye. All on leashes, yet! Betsy and Candy have developed a peaceful coexistence. Buffy couldn’t care less about friends!

  4. Just checked in today and was surprised to see one of the Polish Cresteds right at the top of the ramp. I suspect Candy, who was sunbathing there, was muttering “Oh, no you’re not! Now scram!!” And she did!

  5. So do you leave the bottom part open, in touch with the ground? If you do, the contents don’t all fall out when you turn the bin over into the wheelbarrow? I have images in my head of everything falling out of the can just as I get ready to use it….

    I actually do something similar at the very back of our property with just wire fencing. I was planning to redo it this spring and I may try your idea too.

    • Yes, the bottom is open, so the earthworms, etc. come right in to do their work. By the time the compost is ready, it is so thick and moist that it holds together (mostly) when you upend the the bin.

  6. Really useful advice. I was wondering how best to go about including chicken manure in the compost. One of the blogs I looked at said they keep the compost bin in the chicken run as it gives the hens something to perch on and means you don’t have to take the compost outside of the run, making the process easier. I was thinking of doing this, do you think it would be a safe option? I wouldn’t want to do anything that could be harmful to the chickens.

    I had to laugh at the comment and your reply about the escapades the goats get up to.

  7. I’ve started bagging mine up and leaving it at the gate for people to take away, labelled as rocket fuel for their compost heap! My compost bins are full and I daren’t faff about starting new bins as I suspect that tortoise is hiding round there somewhere….

  8. Terri, how long did it take initially to fill the trash bin before you let it sit for a year.

    Thank you.

  9. terry, love your photos. Can the year old compost be spread on vegetable garden or just lawn?

  10. After reading many of Joel Salatin’s books, the way we handle manure changed drastically.

    Manure is full of trace minerals in addition to NPK. If it’s left out in the weather, much of this leaches away or evaporates. That’s the principle behind deep bedding. Deep bedding is adding enough carbon (shavings, leaves, hay, paper, etc.) to stabilize the nutrients in the manure in a protected area. You will know when you have enough, as there will be NO smell.

    Trace minerals are crucial for healthy soil and in turn, healthy plants. With a correct balance of trace minerals and major components, plants can easily resist disease and pests. I attended the NOFA/Mass Spring Seminar on Soil and Nutrition a couple weeks ago and was presented with this fascinating information.

    We’ve done the deep bedding and let the pigs compost it. The effect it had on dead areas in our pastures was astounding. So there’s an alternative composting method that can give super results.

  11. Farming systems with multiple animal species and multiple types of fields and crops are different than small suburban backyard flocks. I’ve seen and heard of deep litter failures in backyard flocks. Successes, too, but deep litter is not applicable in all coops. I’m not a sustainable farm here. My compost system is clean, tidy, easy and creates a great addition to my garden. I greatly respect Salatin buy there are other options.

  12. Good ideas, good info. I’ve been sort of faking it with my chicken poo so far. With only 6 chickens I don’t have tooooo much but I’ve been wanting an actual ‘plan’. I like your idea of mini piles within garbage bin tubes. I don’t happen to have any dead plastic bins, so might try it with the largest plastic nursery pots (tree size) I can find. Also, do I spy the side of one of the old Smith & Hawken dismantle-able composters next to the plastic garbage bin in the top photo? I loved them and wish they were still available. I have three and would order more. Great for mobile composting, raised mini-beds for potatoes, overwinter sheet-composting.

    • I know the composters you’re talking about, but that plastic is part of a raised bed. Not the prettiest but the black warms the soil in the spring!

  13. Great info on composting! Is it important to not cover the top? The compost bin I’m using at the moment is open at the bottom to let the worms in, but it has a lid, so the contents is quite dry… Can’t wait to turn all that poo into something useful!

  14. Hi Terry, this is wonderful information on the merits of composting chicken manure. I love the photos…super professional. I’ve heard that chicken manure is high in boron (not a bad thing if you’re soil tests show you’re in short supply), do you know if that’s true? I assume it due to the minerals in the feed.

    Thanks again for a great read. Looking forward to following you in the future.


  15. This is dyn-o-mite cool. I live in at a high elevation with a short warm season. On top of it we are quite dry. Composting has always been a problem to keep it warm enough to work, and not drying out. This looks like an idea I need to try. Now to find a old trash can.