Don Burke says he makes compost in his chook pen. Just toss in the scraps and the chooks get to work making batches of fertilizer!
At our place weeds are growing like they never have before, due to the incessant rains. We filled all of our compost bins long ago. What do you do with the growing pile of weeds and kitchen waste?
Well, in desperation, I started to throw the weeds, prunings and kitchen scraps into the chook yard. Heaps and heaps of it. My hope was that the chooks would eat some of it and turn the rest into compost. But could they deal with the large amounts of weeds, etc?
To my great relief, the chooks immediately set about turning over the weeds and prunings, and the soil below them. The chooks spend most of the day scratching, raking and turning over the resulting compost. They love it. The end results of all of this are:
1. The compost breaks down rapidly, in a matter of weeks.
2. The number of worms in the soil explodes as they get all that extra organic matter.
3. The chooks seem happier and busier than ever before, particularly with the extra worms available for dinner.
The single most important aspect of rapid composting is turning over the heap. The more often you turn the heap, the faster it decays. In an average compost heap, if it is not turned, the composting process takes around six to 12 months. A heap that is turned once a week can break down rapidly in six weeks or so. But who could be bothered? We all know that the extra oxygen that is available in a turned heap helps the composting process, but who has the time?
The chooks do! And they have the inclination!
I have put a layer over 30cm (one foot) thick on the floor of the chook run and the chooks have it torn up and semi broken-down in days. You can top it up every week with yet more weeds.
You might ask: “But aren’t many weeds and bits of prunings poisonous to chooks?”. Well, maybe they are, but chooks have spent millions of years scrounging around forest floors seeking out food. They are quite adept at avoiding poisonous plants, even just by sight. Note that I put a bucket of petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) which has a poisonous milky sap, and the chooks did not even pick it up to taste it: they knew what it was by sight. The only issue of concern is that you would not put toxic weeds in with young brooder-raised chickens. This still should be OK, but it is an unnecessary risk.
What do I do with the compost? About twice a year, I shovel the compost-laden soil from the chook pen onto my vegie garden. This improves the soil in the vegie garden tremendously. In doing this I aim to keep the soil in the chook pen at a constant level.
As the layer of weeds, prunings and scraps builds up on the floor of the chook pen, it provides a very clean and dry layer for the chooks to walk on – even during periods of heavy rain. It is also cleaner for you to walk on too.
So everyone wins. Chooks are diligent compost-makers and the compost is wonderful for the garden.