The Scoop On Poop
article written by Katy Skinner
author of TheCityChicken.com
Let’s talk poop! Chicken poop, of course. Is it the somewhat unspoken topic many chicken owners just tolerate, or is it a subject with a lot of humorous potential? In this article I will regale you with some of my own chicken poop experiences that I have known and loved.
First of all, chicken poop can be poetic. I even made up a rhyme about it: Manure tea will burn a tree! Isn’t that catchy? I learned this the hard way, as I have learned a lot of my chicken poop lessons.
I had wheelbarrow full of chicken manure and dirty bedding that I was shoveling out of a coop. I left the wheelbarrow out in the rain and it filled to the top with water. I thought, well, this is great! Now I have liquid fertilizer!
So I wheeled it over to a young curly willow tree and dumped half the water off onto the roots. A few days later, the top half of the tree looked like someone had taken a blow torch to it. My bad!
I hoped for a month that the whole tree wouldn’t die, and luckily it didn’t. Just the top half. I pruned off the burnt parts and now the tree is thriving again, but that was a close call. Wheelbarrow manure water (patent pending?) is hot stuff!
What is meant by “hot?”
Some people say “hot” manure is really a sub-category of “green” manures.
Which is a manure that is too high in nitrogen content to be used on plants.
Why too much nitrogen all at once is bad for a plant I am not exactly sure.
Maybe a chemist can help me with that question. Other sources say that it’s not how much nitrogen is in the manure but rather that the nitrogen is very readily-absorbable by plants, and they take up too much and it “burns” them. Again, why it actually causes plant cell destruction is something I wish I knew.
I also read that chicken manure has one of the highest nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium rations (NPK) of all the common animal manures. So apparently, too much N in your ratio = bad!
They say that since chicken manure is a “hot” manure, it should be composted for at least 6 months or longer before use. Tell me about it! Don’t sprinkle fresh chicken droppings right on emerging plants. I know this from experience. And mind you; this was *after* I knew that chicken manure is too strong to use straight. But I thought, “Maybe just a littttle poop won’t matter!”
My “manure tea” experiments
didn’t stop there. Once I put a shovel full of straight chicken droppings
into a five gallon bucket, and topped it off with water. Then I found
a stick and stirred and stirred. As opposed to being a chore, I found
it to be fun, like I was making my own witch’s brew, and making something
useful out of something usually considered, well, gross. Then I diluted
the resulting smelly brew into another bucket with water and poured the
concoction around my yard bushes. I don’t know if it helped them,
but it certainly didn’t kill them, so I counted that as poop victory.
You know what a ‘chicken tractor’ is, right? It’s a movable pen with no bottom, often featuring wheels, so that you can move the pen every day if you want, around the yard. For awhile there I was moving one of my coops every day. What was left in the grass rectangle after I scooted the coop one spot over was one day’s worth of droppings from 5 hens.
To help break the little land-mines down quicker (and so my kids wouldn’t step in them), I would put the garden hose sprayer on ‘blast’ and bombard each little pile. I have to admit this: It was fun. Keep in mind, though, I also like putting the hose down a mole hill just for fun. It never deters the moles but it entertains me to see the dirt swirling down into the abyss. When I finally trapped the mole, I actually missed having the mole hills to visit every morning.
Did you know that if you
use straw for bedding in your chicken coop, after awhile it forms a substance
stronger than Kevlar? Straw, poop, straw, poop…layer after layer,
building up to form a dense woven mat. When you go to finally shovel
this amazing creation out, it is much harder to remove than, say, if you
had used wood shavings for your chicken litter.
Recently I sprinkled all of the chicken’s dirty straw all over the backyard. The hens helped me scatter it. I was trying yet another new game with chicken manure. When the sun came out for a few days and dried out the piles of poopy straw, I took the lawn mower and drove over all the straw, back and forth. It chopped up the poopy straw, and I put some of it in the compost heap and I sprinkled a little on some raised beds, and the rest disappeared into the lawn. I also like to mow over all the non-woody yard debris with my lawn mower to hurry the composting time along.
More chicken poop stories?
Oh, yes, here’s another. I had a hen with a prolapsed vent.
(You may or may not want to Google that.) I read that if you’re careful,
you can sometimes, well, gently shove the oviduct back in to the bird.
So I took this dirty hen and put her in a warm bath in the kitchen sink. Then I fondled her underparts sufficiently so that all of the caked-on poop finally came off of her feathers. I was indeed able to coax the prolapsed vent back in. (It didn’t stay in, but that’s another story.)
Now, I’m a mom. I have dealt with poop (albeit human) when my kids were little quite often. It’s the nature of the job. So I have no “fear of feces” at all. It doesn’t make me squeamish like it does for some people. In fact, I am quite interested in how animal manure has factored so importantly into the history of human agriculture. Plus, hey…it’s a little funny.
Will people consider poop a gift? Yes, they will. I have offered “free chicken manure” on Craigslist and other local for-sale sites on the internet before, and people carted it all away. This was in the city of Portland, Oregon so perhaps chicken manure wasn’t as commonplace as it would be out in farmland.
I piled my dirty chicken litter into a heap, and people came with Rubbermaid tubs, filled them up, and took them home in their mini vans. It was like gold for the urban organic gardener, apparently. Who ever would have thought it.
There are some do’s and don’t’s
with chicken poop, and here’s one of them: Don’t sprinkle wood shavings
that are rife with fresh chicken droppings directly on top of a bed of
emerging perennials, thinking you are doing them a great favor.
The year I tried that smooth move, my calla lilies came up with burnt tops. Correction: the top weren’t burnt; they were melted. Literally, they looked like a slimy mess. I guess they didn’t appreciate the shock of nitrogen I so thoughtfully applied.
Then there was the time in the spring I thought I’d let the hens out of their coop so they could jump into all my raised beds and deposit their manure in measured amounts “naturally,” throughout my garden. And also hopefully pick out all the weed seeds, and till up the soil a little.
In the afternoon I went out to herd the hens back in to their coop, and I could see that they had indeed tilled up the soil. There were tulip bulbs uprooted everywhere. They weren’t eaten, just unearthed. Sure, the soil was fertilized, but I had to go around and re-bury each bulb.
Now in the spring if I let the hens out, I throw some plastic bird netting over each raised bed, which keeps the hens to the yard. Or I just tell them, “You can be free-range hens in the fall and winter. But not in the spring.”
Another live-and-learn experience with chicken manure is that I learned one can’t re-grow grass where a chicken coop has been. At least right away.
One time I moved a chicken
tractor that had been stationary for a number of months. I removed
most of the poopy straw, scraped the ground, and then threw some grass
seed down on the bare patch. Now that I think back, I could almost
hear the sizzle of the grass seed hitting the still-too-hot dirt.
No grass ever sprouted, of course.
Thinking I was wise to the above fact, the next time I moved a coop I decided to dig out all of the compressed manure, and also a few inches of soil even below that. I got a little overzealous, though. I decided to park the chicken coop right back over that spot (I’m always rearranging the outdoor furniture, so to speak), but now the chickens had a sunken living room.
I had effectively dug a rectangular ditch and now the chickens were living below ground by half a foot. Eventually I filled that depression in with fresh dirt. Well, at least my experiments keep me busy, right?
Since many of you reading this are already chicken-keepers, you know about the super-glue properties of chicken poop. I can’t seem to keep my hens from pooping in their nest box. When I collect the eggs, they often have poop smears on them.
But it isn’t just a matter of dusting off the doo. You have to scrub with soap and water with some of these eggs! I think the company 3-M should find out what the adhesive properties are in chicken poop and develop a new super glue. That, along with analyzing what makes slug slime impossible to get off clothing, could create a new company division.
Still, I’d rather run into
a chicken poop than a cat poop in my garden. A local “outside cat”
likes to poop in all the fresh mole hills in my yard. He thinks they
are his personal littler boxes that pop up overnight just for him.
Besides being significantly bigger, cat poop really smells; the odd chicken
dropping in the grass is less troublesome to encounter.
I get quite miffed when I’m digging in a raised bed and I find a kitty-present, especially when I own no cats. My chickens don’t go poop in your yard; please keep your cat out of mine.
Well, actually….one time my hens got out of the yard and for some odd reason, they went straight to the neighbor’s front porch, stood there at his front door and pooped. Very weird. I had to go over with a scrub brush and cleanser to get those stains off the concrete.
My eldest son said he doesn’t like when there are too many chicken land-mines out in the grass, as he’d rather not step on one. Me? I go around with my Muck boots and step on the droppings on purpose, and smear them into the grass for quicker dispersal. I have to admit that it’s a little fun to do this. Judge me all you want; I guess I take my entertainment where I can.
I have yet another rectangular patch in the lawn where a chicken tractor was parked for a long time. I have since moved the coop, and now there’s the ubiquitous hot spot in the lawn. It’s been festering –er, maturing—there for a year now, so when it comes time to plant pumpkins again, I’m going to plant them there. I’m imagining giant pumpkins, as big as a yoga ball. Okay, really I’m just hoping the pumpkin seeds sprout at all, but my magic-poop fantasies live on. I imagine I’ll see you at the State Fair with my prize-winning squash.
One time when I moved a rectangular
chicken tractor, I thought that watering this poopy spot would help it
break down faster. But no. Instead, it just made one giant
aromatherapy device. And the aroma wasn’t gardenias, suffice it to
say. The patch was too close to my neighbor’s house, so I quickly
stopped my watering-the-poop idea lest they be bothered by the scented
winds of chicken potpourri. I have no idea if they caught a wiff
of my experiment. I have since learned that dry chicken manure doesn’t
smell. But add water (or rain) and you really start to notice the
scents of, er, nature.
Another thing that I noticed about this resultant spot was that the patch was on a slope, so the patch of grass right below the blank spot had very, very green grass. Thus, the run-off from my watering experiment did work in some fashion, but not how I intended. What I was left with was a big, grass-less rectangle in the lawn, and then right below it was a super green patch of grass where the run-off occurred. Hm, what if I moved the chicken tractor every few weeks, and then made a giant light green and dark green checkerboard of the entire lawn? That might be interesting.
Also, come to think of it, right below that run-off spot was the cedar fence, and on the other side of that was my neighbor’s dahlia patch. I still wonder if their dahlias grew extra well that year.
Some people like to move a chicken tractor *in between* their traditional row garden; essentially on the paths between the rows of growing things. Now, I’ve never tried this, but I can only imagine that since the droppings aren’t touching the rows (which are usually mounded so as to deter weeds and help with rain run-off) that the chicken droppings would not harm the plants growing on the mounds. The poop would be—due to the rectangular shape of a chicken tractor—lined up tidily next to the plants and not on them, and I can’t imagine that would do much harm.
My personal guess (not experience) is that the chicken poop would not leach into the soil in the rows enough or immediately enough to burn the plants. Last year I let my hens out a fair amount, and they created pathways for me between my 12” tall raised beds. They scratched the grass up so much that all that is left in those spots is moss, which is pleasing to me for pathways.
Enjoy your chickens, their
eggs, and all of their by-products!
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