A tractor trailer dropped off a pallet of organic feed onto my tiny dock. This cost me $800 and would only last 3 months. I had organized a feed co-op to save a $2 a Bag. That brought my 50 pound bag of organic feed to $34. That was the fall of 2013 and it ended up being the last time I ever bought commercial feed for my flock.
I’ll Show You How It’s Done.
I’ll show you how I weaned myself off of commercial chicken feed and replaced it with free compost and kitchen scraps.
Commercial Chicken Feed is Not Sustainable.
$34 for a bag of feed is not sustainable. My chickens need about 1/3 pound of feed a day. That’s a cost of 23 cents per chicken. On commercial feed, my Black Australorps, at best, were producing an egg every other day. That means I was paying $5.52 a dozen, just on feed! If you added in my cost of equipment, housing, watering systems and labor I was better off buying my eggs, even at premium free range organic prices, at the farmers market.
I knew commercial feed wasn’t going to work, so I tried completely free ranging (no fences) and had great success accept for all the chicken poop me and my family kept stepping in. On top of that, they were scratching up the yard and my mulched areas. It seemed like their resource were mis-directed.
Soon after my commercial feed purchase, my mind was officially blown away by Geoff Lawton’s Chicken Tractor on Steroids:
Essentially, Geoff developed a mobile chicken operation in which the chickens are fed solely on kitchen scraps and compost!
This was all well and good, but at the time I didn’t need a mobile system. My chickens were confined to a traditional run with deep mulch. I began to brainstorm and developed what I call, the “Compost Corner on Steroids”. Here’s how it’s done.
Introducing The Compost Corner on Steroids
You’ll need plenty of material for making compost on site. I highly suggest gathering all of your needed material before assembling. Pile it just outside your fence or at the entrance so you can easily access it. In order to generate enough heat for your pile, you’ll need at least 1 cubic yard of material.
You will need both carbon “brown” and nitrogen “green” materials.
Most of your material should be carbon. Imagine enough material to fill a bin of pallets as you build your stash.
If your not already, start a “chicken bucket” in your house and throw ALL your food scraps in this as feed. Since your composting, you can include “organic”, non edible material like flowers, cardboard, paper etc… If the chickens don’t eat it, your compost will!
For a larger source of scraps, check out your local health food stores and ask a produce manager if you can have their “throw away” fruits and veggies. Most co-op’s and health food stores are probably already saving this stuff for folks to pick up. They save money on dumpster costs and keep this useable “trash” out of the landfill. One of our health food stores always has at least 3 – 10 trash buckets full of food scraps outback for a local composter. The managers allow anyone to collect it as long as they clean up after themselves.
Standard size heat treated pallets
These can be had for free with almost any business that receives shipments on pallets. I source mine from a local manufacturer. They constantly have discarded pallets out front, free for the taking. You can try pet stores, small engine repair shops, hardware stores, motorcycle shops, furniture stores and lawn and garden shops. Think small operations and and always ask permission. If your too shy, search Craigslist for free pallets. I just did a quick search and found 4 free sources of pallets in my area.
Make sure you get heat treated (HT) pallets, not pressure treated. Each pallet should be labeled. If it’s not labeled, just adopt the policy of “when in doubt, throw it out”. You don’t want those chemicals in the foundation of your food supply.
Pitch Fork – for pitching the compost.
Wheel barrow – for bringing in compost material and hauling off the finished goods.
4, small ropes, bungies or some other kind of strap.
Continual Flow of Compost in Just 5 Weeks!
Have your compost material assembled near the entrance of your run so it’s easily accessible. Better yet, put it just outside the fence just where your pile will be if you can throw it over.
If your using a temporary electric net for your fencing you can bring in the corner where you’ll be working to keep the chickens out of your way (see pictures below). You can check the temperature of the pile throughout the week with a compost thermometer. Your ideal heat is between 130-160 fahrenheit. If it’s not getting hot enough within 24 hours it’s probably not wet enough and/or you have too much carbon brown material and need to mix in some more green material when you turn the pile next week.
Fill the bin with your compost material being sure to mix and water along the way. This week, as you feed your chickens your food scraps, just ad it to the top of the pile. They’ll add their manure and eat all the edibles on top. Be sure to provide a ladder or ramp to help the birds get up and down safely.
Remove your pallets from your week #1 pile and assemble them in your next corner. You can rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, just go the same way each time. Now fill the bin with new compost material and flip your week #1 compost. If done right your birds will be extremely interested in the biota. Now, flip your week #1 pile.
Remove your pallets from week #2 pile and assemble them in your next corner and fill. Now, turn your 1st and 2nd piles. You’ll start to notice the progression of your piles. The chickens will eventually start showing less and less interest in the older less active piles. The pile temperatures will start to drop. However, your piles shouldn’t shrink too much, nor should they smell bad. If this is happening, your loosing nitrogen to the atmosphere as you don’t have enough carbon to capture it properly. If that’s your case, ad more carbonatious brown material next week when you turn your pile.
Remove your pallets from week #3 pile and assemble them in your 4th and final corner.
Fill the bin and turn your 1st, 2nd and 3rd week piles.
Harvest your finished compost from your first week and apply where needed! Start over by removing your pallets from corner #4 and assemble them in your 1st corner. Flip the 3 remaining piles.
Now, you’ll on a four week cycle.
More than just Free chicken Feed
The compost attracts countless biota, which is a live protein source for your birds. Between the biota and your kitchen scraps I’ll venture to guess this has got to be a higher quality feed than stale commercial grain.
Not only do you get free, higher quality feed, you’ll get a cubic yard of compost each week. Just the compost harvest from 1 week is enough to cover a garden bed 1” that’s 15’X20’! That’s ample enough patch to keep a family of four in vegetables all summer long!
From spending $267 a month to Profiting $80 on FREE food.
I did notice that my production rates became less inconsistent, probably because of my inconsistencies in my learning curve. However, I still sufficient amount of eggs and meat from my flock of 30 for our family of 6. What’s changed is my stress level during the fall or winter when they’re production slows. If they slow down, I’m not out any money, but I’m still getting a cubic yard of compost every week. A quick search online showed a cubic yard of compost selling from $20-$75. So if you didn’t need all that compost you could sell it.
Let’s ad up the total value here. I went from paying $267 a month in feed to getting at least $80 in compost and FREE eggs. I’ll gladly do that deal all day long.
Ready to get started?
Making Compost and the 5 week Chicken Run on Steroids “to do” list.
4 Things You’ll Need to Make Compost:
Carbon (Brown Material)
Nitrogen (Green Material)
1st – Gather your Carbon and Nitrogen Material. Generally, you’ll need more carbon material (abbreviated to “C”, and also called Brown Material) than Nitrogen material (Abbreviated to “N”, and also called Green material). Each possible ingredient has a C:N ratio. Brown materials like wood chips, leaves, straw are higher in C:N ratio’s (in other words they are much higher in carbon than nitrogen than green materials.
For example. I have an abundance of leaves (brown material with a C:N ratio of 60:1. I also have cow manure (green material) with a C:N ratio of 15:1. Your ideal compost ratio is 30:1 pound for pound. To bring my leaves ratio down and my manure ratio up, I realize I’m going to have to have more leaves, pound for pound, than manure. I guess about 2 pounds leaves to 1 pound of manure.
There’s an amazing online calculator in which you can put in your available ingredients and get your ratio’s. I used it to check my notion for my leaves/manure mix and found out I was right. I’ll need 2 pounds leaves for 1 pound manure to get a perfect 30:1 ratio.
Here’s the tool:
If you’re throwing in all kinds of things, you could use this general formula:
2 parts Brown Material + 2 parts Green Material + 1 part manure = 30:1 ratio
2nd – Assemble your pile making sure you mix your materials. Ad water as you go if you can.
3rd – Finish watering. Ad water until it comes out through the bottom. Another way of testing to see if you’ve added enough is by squeezing the material. You want it to drip a little if you squeeze it. If you get nothing from the squeeze it’s too dry. If you over wet it, time will dry it out.
4th – Cover the pile to maintain your moisture level. You’ll guard off rain and prevent the pile from evaporation too fast and you’ll provide some barrier to keep the heat in.
5th – You’ll infuse the pile with oxygen when you turn it every week. What I mean by turn it, is to it pitch into a new pile right next to the old one.This will oxygenate your pile and get your outside material on the inside where most of the composting is going to happen.
Notes for Success
To test your mix and progress, you can test it’s moisture level and/or take it’s temperature. Your pile should heat up between 130-160 Ferenheit. If it doesn’t get hot enough it won’t break down quick enough and it won’t kill the seeds that make it to the pile. You either need more water or more green material or both. You can mix in more green material the next time you turn the pile.
You can do the squeeze test to check your moisture levels. If it needs water, you can ad it immediately. If you get hotter than 160 you can actually kill the healthy biota in the pile and even cause a fire. In this case you likely have too much green material and will need to balance it out with more brown material the next time you turn it.
5 Week Action Plan to Continual Compost
Step #1 – Get your compost material (green and brown) material assembled in separate piles.
Step #2 – Fill the bin with your compost material being sure to mix and water along the way.
Step #3 – This week, as you feed your chickens your food scraps, just ad it to the top of the pile
Step #1 – Remove your pallets from your week #1 pile and assemble them in your next corner
Step #2 – Fill the bin with new compost material
Step #3 – Turn your week #1 compost
Step #1 – Remove your pallets from week #2 pile and assemble them in your next corner
Step #2 – Fill the bin with new compost material
Step #3 – Turn your week #1 and week #2 piles
Step #1 – Remove your pallets from week #3 pile and assemble them in your 4th and final corner.
Step #2 – Fill the bin with new compost material
Step #3 – Turn your 1st, 2nd and 3rd piles.
Step #1 – Remove your finished compost from your first week and apply where needed.
Step #2 – Start over by removing your pallets from corner #4 and assemble them in your 1st corner.
Step #3 – Flip the 3 remaining piles