Taking the heat out of chook poo

Eggs aren’t the only thing that comes out of chooks. Mine eat a lot (especially the egg-machine Isa Browns) and that means a lot of poo. In a week, and without – you know – attaching a bag on them to catch absolutely everything that comes out, I reckon that a chicken will do about 1kg of poo over a week or about 50kg over a year. Most of that falls in the run and some of it goes onto the ground under their roosting area. It’s the roosting poo (and occasional egg – wtf?) that i gather up for chook poo tea.

Chook poo is great for gardens. Unlike other manures or fertilizers, it doesn’t really muck up the pH balance of your soil. Typically (after about 4 weeks of. . erm. . .brewing) it comes out at around 7.0-7.4 pH which is as close as dammit to neutral.

So, how to you make it? This is my own receipe, but not that original and owes at least a tip of the hat to the people at Milkwood on how they run their gravity chicken run. Also a tip for home beer brewings, while you may find many similarities here, DO NOT attempt both on the same day.

STEP 1) Gather ye chicken poo, borage and straw and a bucket that can hold 20-30 litres. Actually, you’ll need two to ensure a continuous supply.

I planted borage at the bottom of our sloping chicken run. All the run off from the birds gets lapped up by this incredibly tremendous plant. It regrows quickly and is great with strawberries and starting compost heaps. Nice flowers too (say the bees). And by sticking it at the bottom (and outside) the chicken run, I gather some nutrient that would otherwise run off someplace Not My Garden.

Use gloves with the poo. It does contain e. coli which, is prodigious in its ability to knock over fully grown adults. And in this litigous age, it is worth my pointing out eating it isn’t worth what ever thrill you thought you were seeking. Use a mask. Use gloves.

When you are gathering up the poo, make sure you grab good scoops of the straw or whatever you have on the floor of your coop. Putting the poo in water on its own just doesn’t work. Some of the poo even floats about like it is on holiday.

Put it all into your bucket, add water, but only about 2/3rds the way up. You’ll be adding more water over the coming four weeks to stir it up.

Chicken poo contains mostly water, but we are interested in is the (5.0%) nitrogen, (3.9%) phosphrous and (2.4%) potassium levels. Because of the way the nitrogen comes out of the chook (a nitrate) and how much of it there is, it will burn plants if you stick it on directly. Too much of a good thing. Phosphorus is good too and the same problem applies.

Once you add water, there are two chemical processes that occur. A fast one which turns the fats, proteins and carbs – that have passed through the chook – down into their elemental bits. This process runs without oxygen and isn’t very efficient. Lots of crap falls to the bottom of the bucket, unprocessed and unloved and almost unusable. The second process runs with oxygen, but is slower and much more efficient. So you need both, so you need to be stirring the mixture at least every 3rd day to introduce the oxygen that the second, more powerful, process needs. I stick the hose onto it when watering; froths it up nicely. Do watch for splash-back, mmmkay?

What I find is that after a week, the nitrates are staring to turn into ammonia and methane because of the first and second process respectively. I’m starting to see foaming froth when I just stir with a stick. Stirring brings the wasted material back up to the surface to be consumed by the slower, but more efficient process.

It takes about four weeks in 20 deg days (or 1 week after the frothing from stirring stops) for me to feel okay about the next step – which is applying. Winter buckets take longer to brew up – by maybe 2-3 weeks. Summer ones are quicker. I haven’t found that they stop or pause at higher temperatures, but then I’m not sticking my nose into a bucket of rotting chook shit on a hot day to find out. That would be weird.

Applying it means diluting your 20-30 litres out to 100 litres, just to be safe. You will find that you have quite a bit of residue left, which i throw under older plants and trees.

Meanwhile, you have 4 weeks of chicken poo to get back to, which is quite a bit. It is also a long spell between fertilising for some plants. Getting two alternating 20-30 litres buckets going will sort that.







8 thoughts on “Taking the heat out of chook poo

  1. Fascinating stuff. I particularly like the sentence: “Some of the poo even floats about like it is on holiday.” I’d been collecting chook poo and just mixing it with some soil and spreading it around the veggie patch – everything seemed to flourish, so i figured it was working. But maybe not the best way to go about things. There are a lot of processes involved i making chook poo tea – but i intend to give it a go. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. Everyone at garden stores and who writes garden books would frown on the amount of time that I write about, “No no, it must be 3 months”. But like you, I found that small amounts mixed with another medium (water in my case, soil in yours) seems to be ok. I do think a direct dump (pun intended) is bad. I think adding plant matter is very important. It doesn’t brew with out it.

      And thanks for the inspiration. I actually had started another post on chook poo, but forgot about it.

    2. I’m not smart enough to reply to P.G. directly, and this a year in arrears, as it were, but I just want to say: “Thanks PG. My sort of light-and-nearly-frivilous write-up that tells your story so gently.” Thanks.


      Back to the poo soup-bowl.

      (A yard full of plants s l o w l y put their bibs on, but with smiles on their leaves, the problem being that they’ve been on starvation rations for the last two years.)

      Dear Admin:
      Your password/paste system is quite superb! Disses Captcha C*ap in one fell swoop, and, assuming that you generate a ‘new’ p’word at each access, brilliantly stress relieving.

      Thank you. Would you mind if I pass the technique on to a calm and rational Mac discussion group, ?


      Jennifer of Chermside

  2. Great article, thank you. I have 8 chooks and plan to do some serious brewing! Do you think Comfrey would work instead of Borage? Cheers.

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