Chickens and Compost; A Match Made in Heaven

Before I got the chickens last year, I was already quite passionate about, or perhaps obsessed with, composting and fruit trees.

My composting area was way at the back of the yard ( I also keep three worm bins by the house for easy kitchen access). When we were deciding to put in the chicken coop we put it adjacent to the composting area. The composting area later became a part of the chicken run. There is a tangerine tree that is next to the compost that provides shade and protection to the hens. I never could have dreamed how well the chickens would fit in with composting and fruit trees!

They love eating fruit – pomegranates, figs, peaches, even oranges. The chickens make contributions to the compost with their poop, of course, but the real fun is when you turn it. Chickens are very curious- I’d say they are much more curious than my cats, who have disappointingly little interest in compost. I have to be careful where I plunge the pitchfork into the compost pile because the bird brained Peckerella (pictured) likes to be right in the middle of things. The chickens eat the bugs, grubs, worms and assorted creepy crawlies with glee. They scratch and peck and slurp up worms like noodles. It is a delight to behold. My father, who was very skeptical about the chickens at first, now loves to come over and watch them eat bugs from the compost. It is the best television show I know of, made right here in my own back yard. With the chickens, everything really comes together into a working system. They are also a lot of work and I worry that I’m overly emotionally attached to them. But over all, I am delighted with my backyard agroecosytem.

Share this post

Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. What a wonderful post! I believe that an element of emotion/heart in all of this is perfectly appropriate. Chickens and compost together embody the cycles of life in all their complexity–including science, farming, AND love. Meanwhile, I’m going to think about how to get the compost pile next to our chicken coop!

  2. It sounds like your chickens are in heaven!

    Is there not a chance that they might strip out too many worms and not leave enough living in your compost, doing their wormy work? [n.b. I have zero composting/chicken experience.]

  3. My wife’s cats are obsessed with the fall leaf compost pile. Every fall I pile up the leaves from the yard and let them rot at their own pace. Mice build nests in the pile and live there through the winter. The cats wear a path down around the pile by spring. When summer comes and I’m ready to use the compost the cats are there ready for a feast. It’s a little more gruesome than chickens eating bugs, but entertaining nonetheless.

  4. A friend of mine that has an unused plot of land next to his house (lucky bastard) has some compost heaps there and he has been chasing the birds away as they swoop in and eat the compost worms. I don’t know if they are so efficient as to put a dent to his compost production but still I’d discourage chicken from getting near the compost pile.

    However, I remember in one permaculture video they had a portable chicken cage that they were moving around the area to be sown and the chicken were scratching the soil up, preparing it for seed starting ;-)

  5. I grew up on a farm. We had egg production chickens as well as a variety of show chickens for our 4-H projects. Just a note to you and others first getting into chickens or any other farm animal: As soon as you name them or think of them as pets, then their healthy cultivation will end. Chickens need to be eaten to cull out unproductive layers and make room for new, younger birds. To truly become as self-sufficient as this site proposes, you must be ready to eat what you grow, even when you love them. Some folks just can’t slaughter them, even when they will eat them. No chicken should be allowed to die a painful, ugly death from old age. It’s a pitiful sight. So, find someone local who you can maybe barter with to do the slaughtering out of your presence. And I do love chickens, especially the beautiful breeds like your Barred Rock (maybe Plymouth Rock?) pictured here. My favorites are Rhode Island Reds. When I retire I will definitely get chickens. I have missed them all of my adult life.

  6. “No chicken should be allowed to die a painful, ugly death from old age.” That is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard. I guess when my new puppy stops being cute I’ll have to take him in and have him put down. The horses across the road that have been put out to retirement will have to go also. Hell, why stop there. Grandma is just sitting around not being productive anymore. Maybe it would be best for everyone to not have to see this “pitiful sight”.

  7. Chickens and compost are perfect together. You want your chickens scratching, aerating, tilling, breaking down by eating, and adding the resulting manure to compost to improve and speed up the process. The worms and bugs that keep them interested will add needed protein to their diet, but the chickens will not make a dent in a healthy worm population, especially if you can rotate two compost areas and rest one occasionally. You get free labor, soil fertility, meat and eggs out of the deal, and the chickens get to express their true natures and have enriching lives compared to supporting the horrible practices of big agribusinesses caging chickens that EVERYONE who eats supermarket chicken is contributing to. The meat and eggs of chickens raised this way as nature intended is as different as night and day from industrial chicken in the grocery store.

  8. What would you say is the most arduous part of keeping them? Also, is it more the amount of time taken, or the type of work (i.e., do you have more trouble motivating yourself to start, or more trouble finishing before other obligations intrude)?

    Seperately: Has anyone tried a setup where chickens can scratch material over the edge of an elevated bin into another bin below, as an automatic turning mechanism? I could also imagine automatic compost sifting along similar lines. If it’s been done before, I’d like to know how well it works.

  9. I’m really late here but I just want to agree with a previous poster that although the chickens will LOVE to scratch in the compost pile, they won’t make a dent in the worm population of a healthy compost pile.

    Trust me on this one. :)

    I love to watch our chickens take on the compost pile twice a year.

  10. Nice “plate of shrimp here” I was gifted your book by some friends about two weeks ago, and I googled my question about chickens eating the compost and I got your blog! Excellent synchronocity! Thanks for the info and all your hard work!

  11. I am cconfused here in the UK, The DEFRA goverment web site advises that chickens should not be allowed on the compost heap due to risk of diease.

  12. I know I’m responding to a post that’s over 3 years, but…

    Chickens + compost + fruit trees are a near-perfect combination. We have 65 chickens who gather all their own food from the compost pile (plus whatever weeds they come across) and eat no chicken feed whatsoever. They get far more nutrients that way (we collect food waste from farmers markets, local restaurants, and schools), and the insect consumption has been sufficient for their protein needs.

    None of the birds have entered old age, but since there is no marginal cost to feeding them, we don’t see any reason to cull birds unless they are sick or attacking other birds (could become an issue one day when our rooster population grows). No doubt, old age will make them more susceptible to disease or injury, but until that day comes, no need to force the issue. They get to live free & do great work around the farm– making fertilizer and compost, clearing weeds, and eating would-be pests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


6 + = 12