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Chickens give us way more than eggs

With all the interest in growing our own food, have you been asked yet if you have your new chickens? The answer might be an easy, “Yes, and I love them!” But do you have an answer for: “What do you do with the coop cleanings and the chicken poop that keeps on coming?”

For most gardeners, it's another easy answer: Put it in the compost!

What about the have-nots, those with no chickens or no compost pile?

Greedy gardeners would say even this is a no-brainer: If you don't have compost cooking in the backyard, get it started or give the sweepings to a gardener and composter who doesn't have chickens.

Unless you've been lucky enough to have access to a ready supply of poultry droppings, you may not realize what a treasure is in store for your compost pile.

Adding chicken manure to compost is about the most efficient way to handle it and one of the fastest ways to heat up a pile.

Blended with dried materials such as coop bedding — wood shavings, leaves, sawdust — or shredded paper along with green garden clippings and kitchen scraps, the nitrogen (protein) boosts microbial populations in the pile while the dry brown carbons (carbohydrates) feed them. Bacteria, fungi, and other tiny creatures heat up the pile with their activities and garden-ready compost is the result.

A few words of caution

Fresh from the coop, poultry manure should never be applied directly to the garden. Its high nitrogen content will burn plants and pathogens may harm root crops or leafy greens. But after manure is thoroughly broken down by microorganisms, it's transformed completely.

Finished compost looks, feels and smells like crumbly soil and is safe for use in food gardens.

Poultry manure has a much higher nitrogen content than nearly all other manures and must be handled with caution. If too much is added to the compost, ammonia forms as the nitrogen content breaks down and the pile becomes smelly — bad enough to upset your neighbors.

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