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Chickens and compost heaps

 
Katy Whitby-last
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I need to relocate my compost heap and was wondering about putting it in the hen run. This would get round the regulations preventing me from feeding them kitchen scraps because I would just be putting them on the heap. I have a few questions though. Can I still put anything in the heap? Will they be sensible enough to avoid anything poisonous to poultry or will I need to be selective? If I continue to add animal bedding to the heap so that I still get some compost will I actually get any compost or will the chickens just steal all the worms and leave me with a heap of poorly rotted bedding? Any ideas how I can maintain a suitable carbon / nitrogen ratio to get compost if the hens are eating most of the kitchen scraps element of it?
 
Tom Celona
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Hi there -

I dont know where you are or what your climate is, but I consider my black soldier fly larva population to be very important to my backyard compost pile. I'm pretty sure that if your compost heap is in the chicken run than not only will there be no black soldier fly larva digesting your scraps, but there might not be much of a compost pile to speak of.

just my two cents
 
          
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They will eat all the bugs/worms that compost your compost. Also, your compost will be scattered everywhere. I personally would not do it.
 
Victor Johanson
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clydesdaleclopper Hatfield wrote:This would get round the regulations preventing me from feeding them kitchen scraps...


In this case, covert civil disobedience is in order. Down with The Man!
 
Jami McBride
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For years I kept two large compost piles in my chicken area.

I used pallets to inclose the sides, and a half one at the front. When the pile was just starting out this kept the small amount of material mostly inside. As it grew in weight and volume this was no longer a problem. I also add leaves and keep a deep bed system in their area, since I live in the city and do not have a way to move them on the land. This too composts with their droppings and I use it twice a year on my lawn and growing beds. So if anything gets out of the compost piles it is no biggy with my set up. We all know how fast compost composts in the fall the spring when moisture and heat are present, but giving chickens access really keeps things moving much like a green house prolongs the season for plants. Their droppings and movement add nitrogen and oxygen.

Now I have removed the pallets and don't even bother with containment of any kind, everything just gets thrown in - easy!

And no, I do not worry about anything natural I put into my compost. Only paper, plastic, labels, non-organic things do I worry about. Leftovers, bones (cooked and uncooked) old food, fruit, veg, etc. all go in. When I want some soil/compost I just sift it through 1/4" wire to remove pine cones, bones, woody material, etc. If I am building a bed I just scoop it all up and use it as is, I then cover this bit lumpy layer is some nice dark rich filter compost for looks I let nature deal with nature - and I don't worry.

Edit: a couple more things.... all that goes in disappears before it can rot, stink or ? It is gone. Even large pumpkins are gone, except for the stem, in a couple of days. I only have to break or cut the skin and the chickens do the rest. Whatever gets left breaks down fast with the current compost they scratch up onto it. The area has tons of worms just below the soil, I'm sure they have their methods for getting around the chickens and still doing their thing.

Anything not eaten by chickens or worms is quickly taken care of by the large amount of microbes in that soil. It's all good, from large (us) down to invisible (micros) it gets used efficiently. And the stuff I take out of their is amazing.



 
d.a. vatalaro
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If I don't secure our compost bins (a bunch of pallets for bin walls, side-by-side), our chickens will scatter everything to the four corners. Instead of having a compost pile that will retain heat and decompose items, the scattering will instead make for a lot of dried up detritus laying about. And unfortunately, one can't count on the hens eating only the stuff that's good for them. I caught mine pecking/eating a styrafoam box I'd accidentally left outside one day. Oof!

One cool thing you can do is once a batch of compost is done decomposing, put the contents in a shallow tub of some sort - a concrete mixing pan, for example - and let the girls have at it. They'll pick out all the bugs and seeds that may have survived the process, and you'll be left with a nice crumbly compost afterwards.
 
Jami McBride
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My compost bins worked. It sounds like you had some bad experiences, but what your saying was not my experience at all.
Could have something to do with the total number of chickens too.

I never had garbage-can trash in mine, ever. As we cooked I will start filling a large bowl with veg ends, egg shell, etc. then
after we eat the scraps would go in too, and I'd have one of the kids run it out to the girls. They even leave the roost,jump
down to get first dibs on what we to them. What they don't eat they bury in the deep littler.

I believe that the condition of the scraps can contribute to the unsatisfactory results. For example, imported, gassed,
banana peel - no way.

Composting in the chicken area is not guaranteed to fail.... nor work, it's all in how you do it. I know it works.... works for me
the way I do it.
 
d.a. vatalaro
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Jami McBride wrote:My compost bins worked. It sounds like you had some bad experiences, but what your saying was not my experience at all.
Could have something to do with the total number of chickens too.


Interesting! What setup worked for you? And how many chickens, if you don't mind me asking?

[love chatting about this stuff ]
 
Ken Peavey
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A healthy compost heap will be rich with food for chickens. Bugs and worms, the occasional seed, and of course, kitchen scraps. It's an All You Can Eat Buffet.

Issue: Chickens eating the kitchen scraps, reducing N in the heap
The birds will process the chicken scraps in a day whereas the heap will process it in a week, maybe more. While their eating does remove some N, they will add N directly to the heap, along with P and K, enzymes, and microbes that will surely give your heap a good boost.

Issue: Chickens spread the compost hither and tither and will cool the heap.
If they want to turn my heap in place of my effort, more power to em. I have several heap around here, the birds have complete access to them at their pleasure. They spend a couple of hours a day scratching around. Some of these heaps are pretty big, and no amount of scratching is going to make a mess of things. If they scratch so much the heap cools, I'll take a little time and pitchfork it back into a heap. I'm not too hung up on maintaining a specific temperature for the recommended time period.

Issue: Chickens will eat all the bugs and worms
They can have all the bugs and worms they can stand. It is their preferred food. It's the microbes that break down the heap. The bugs and worms found their way to the heap, they will find their way back to it. The heap is a fine environment for critters.

Issue: Styrofoam consumption
Yeah, they eat the hell out of it. Stupid chickens. I've not lost any birds to this problem and the scrambled eggs seem to be much fluffier.

Issue: Chicken poisons
The sort of inputs in my compost, as far as I know, are harmless to chickens. Leaves, spoiled hay, a sack of rotted deer corn, cow manure, chicken manure, a couple of dead chickens, a dead possum, weeds that I bothered to pull, crop residue, and that jar of something that was way in the back of the fridge.


I stopped feeding my hens some time ago. While I still give them kitchen scraps, I offer them no grains, scratch, mash, pellets or any form of purchased feed. The find their food anywhere they can. The compost heap provides a renewable source of protein. I have 2 roosters, 4 hens, and my neighbors rooster and 3 hens come over regularly to hit the heaps. The main heap is surrounded by shipping pallettes, with one side open to the driveway. This makeshift fence is there to kinda hold the heap in. Sometimes it spills into the driveway a few feet, but anyone who would find this unsightly I would not be hanging around with. It matters not what the heap looks like to someone else. If they want a tidy heap, they can start their own heap and keep it as tidy as they please.

I give my heaps very little attention. Compost Happens! A few heaps are nothing but leaves I gathered up and left in the woods. Why should I spend my energy and time dragging 50 loads of leaves when I can let them rot down for a couple of years and only drag away 5 loads? Yes, the stuff will dry out and be spread around, but it was pretty dry and spread around to begin with when I gathered it up. While it's heaped, it grows food for the hens and decays faster. I dont have to spend time and energy turning it...the hens handle that job and do it eagerly. Bugs are their pay. The longer the heap is left to the hens without my piling it back up, the greater the area of spreading. They will flatten a 5' heap to about a foot in in a season, with the area around the former heap serving as a deep mulch until I rake it up. That deep mulch still allows decomposition, retains moisture, and provides the arena for bugs and worms to do their thing.

The Money
A typical chicken will eat about a quart pound of food in a day. I have 7 birds, they would need to be fed about 2 pounds per day. For a month, a 50 pound sack of feed will handle them. Since I don't buy food I save a sack a month. Figure a 50# sack of scratch, once a month, at 8 bucks per sack, the heaps are worth 100 bucks a year. My eggs are free.

Chickens and compost heaps go together like peas and carrots.
 
Katy Whitby-last
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Ken Peavey wrote:

Issue: Chicken poisons
The sort of inputs in my compost, as far as I know, are harmless to chickens. Leaves, spoiled hay, a sack of rotted deer corn, cow manure, chicken manure, a couple of dead chickens, a dead possum, weeds that I bothered to pull, crop residue, and that jar of something that was way in the back of the fridge.



Thanks for the very useful answer. I was worried about stuff like avocado and potato peelings that I understand are toxic to chickens.
 
John Polk
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Chickens are smart enough to know what is good/bad for them. They will leave the bad stuff alone if there is plenty of good stuff.
A well varied pile should have plenty of good stuff.

If they were stupid enough to eat the bad stuff, you really didn't want to breed them anyway.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Chickens and compost piles go together very well. The chickens only eat things up in the top area, on the surface, above the surface and a few inches down. This doesn't hurt the composting at all. I compost literally tons of materials and it goes great with the chickens right there. As to worrying about meat - don't I compost large livestock. We farm. There are mortalities. If it's not fit for the livestock guardian dogs in gets buried in the compost. All that is left is a grey stain and then rich soil amendment. It only takes a few months to compost an 800 lb sow.

See:

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:flashweb.com+composting
 
Ken Peavey
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Avacado, other than the rind and nut, never seems to make it to the compost heap here. I've offered green potato skins to the hens as part of a scraps meal, never noticed any ill effects. My potatoes dont often become green, and even when they do, not too deeply.
 
Austin Max
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Company in vermont uses all chicken power, they never turn their piles. http://vermontcompost.com/about.html
And an article by Harvey Ussery is worth checking out http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Composter+Chickens.html
 
Suzy Bean
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Paul and Lacia review a Joel Salatin google video in this podcast: podcast 134

They talk about the ide of having chickens behind every restaurant.
 
greg patrick
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We have six chickens. Whenever we would let them out of the coop, the first place they ran was to the compost bin. Flapping-run; not walking. They obviously thought that was the place to be. So we moved the bin into the coop. Two things. First, there are many fewer worms than when the pile wasn't in the coop. Second thing: The pile went away MUCH faster. Chickens seems to be better than worms at eating everything in the pile. My friend thinks it's because the poo heats it up so it cooks faster. I think it's because they just plain eat everything. Either way, good system.
 
John Polk
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Garbage makes instant nutrients - just add chickens.

 
greg patrick
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I just listened to the Google Authors' speaker series interview with Joel Salatin. He talks about chickens and says historically, chickens were the composters of choice. Back in the day, we didn't have garbage collectors, we just fed everything to the chickens. I knew to trust my intuition!
 
John Polk
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Yes. Back in the day, nearly every family farm had pigs and chickens.
What better way to get rid of the garbage? Turn it into protein - eggs and meat!

 
Tyler Ludens
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I'd like to do more composting in the chicken run but I've found if I put much organic material in the run it becomes saturated and anaerobic after heavy rains. This seemed to especially happen with hay. Would adding wood chips help do you think, or make it worse by absorbing too much moisture? I'd really like to be able to integrate the chickens into a more useful function. Right now my chickens are mostly a huge pain in the neck because I don't have them working for me.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Chickens runs:


 
greg patrick
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I thought you didn't get rain in West TX We get around the mess problem by putting the scraps in a tall walled composting area so they can't kick it everywhere. Although a little rain on a compost heap is a good thing, standing water is quite another. You could try elevating it.

Another thing we just tried that worked well is we put cut sod in the coop. It was gone in a day and now there is a nice layer of roots on the ground providing an airspace so things don't just paste to the dirt.

@Katy: Regarding avocados, my chickens devour them IF I open them up first. The skins and leaves are toxic and my girls won't even peck the skin to open them up (that, or they think they're big green eggs). Once I tear them open they're gone in no time.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm not in West Texas.

Maybe I'll try adding soil to raise the area above the surrounding level....
 
Shep Wallaby
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I'd like to do more composting in the chicken run but I've found if I put much organic material in the run it becomes saturated and anaerobic after heavy rains. This seemed to especially happen with hay. Would adding wood chips help do you think, or make it worse by absorbing too much moisture? I'd really like to be able to integrate the chickens into a more useful function. Right now my chickens are mostly a huge pain in the neck because I don't have them working for me.




You are exactly right, Tyler...they aren't working for you! Looking at the pic you posted, my first thought is your runs need a god 6-12 inches of straw, hay, whatever bulk mulch you can lay your hands on. Keep throwing in food scraps and a handful of grains in daily. The grain is just a favour, and the chooks really start scratching into the mulch for it. They will eat whatever is worthy of eating, and if they have plenty to choose from, they won't eat what is not good for them. Keep in mind that chooks rely on you to feed them..a compost heap won't provide enough food for them, with just a few scraps added. I used to collect the scraps from local green grocers, restaurants, and set up a green waste (compostables, food scraps) bucket in the tea room at work.

The chooks will scratch and scratch and turn all those scraps they don't eat into the mulch...creating a big compost heap. The deeper the mulch the more efficient it will be and it will break down into awesome compost faster than you would have thought. Throw in another bail of hay every couple of weeks..don't bother kicking it about or breaking it up; sling a handful of grain at it and the chooks will not only break it all up but incorporate it with the rest of the heap. Actually, considering the chickens as the largest moving parts of a beautiful machine which makes compost, it becomes obvious that they can actually work more than just what you feed to them..I throw in all the shredded paper from work, garden clippings, paper packaging, ash from the fireplace, old cotton sheets (shredded), dog hair, vacuum bag dust...just about anything, if it was alive once. Actually, it is like a fire when it gets going! In summertime, we would be flat out keeping up with the biological processing might of a big heap machined by chooks! Luckily at that time of the year the garden was producing no end of food, weeds and grasses to chuck in there... If you haven't sat and watched busy chooks working, and seen just how much stuff they move and turn in an hour, you should take yourself along to watch it. Amazing.

Worms and other microfolk will move in, don't worry about that. I like to leave a pallet or a couple of tyres somewhere in the run, which gives worms and bugs a place to increase numbers without being harassed by the chooks. Once a month or whenever I feel like it I move the tyres or pallet a few feet sideways, the chooks always go crazy exploring the bounty hidden beneath it. Meanwhile there is another worm refuge, just next door. Also, if your mulch/compost heap is good and deep, the worms will be able to find refuge down low. There will of course always be works closer to the surface...lots of fresh food there; but as the chooks mix and turn the compost constantly the food layers extend below the surface. Every few months (as you can see I have a very relaxed calendar lol) or when I am planting out seedlings or whatever, I take my shovel to the chook run, pick a spot in the middle, push the top layers of mulch and stuff that isn't broken down yet, to steal bucket loads of black, worm laden, thickly organically loaded compost soil. Chooks also love this process, as I dig down to layers they are VERY interested in. I leave them to it, they will organise it all when I leave.

If you make this system mobile, with a moveable yard, dome or whatever, it is the famous chook tractor garden bed establishment miracle! Chooks are happy when they have plenty of scratching to do to find things to eat...they are native to forest understory and the function they serve there is a scratching, composting machine, part of a complex organic system of the forest floor. Mimic nature...give 'em a thick 'forest floor' to interact with, plenty of every kind of organic (that is 'was once alive'...I don't mean organic in the sense of certification) scraps to eat, and they are the ultimate composting machine.

I like to free range my hens, however, the tractoring/compost machine model uses the power of chook in an intensive way. I have watched my chooks for signs of not being so happy living in a relatively confined space (that is, not a paddock or huge run), but I have noted that when they have the sort of environment that allows them to do lots of what they like to do (ie scratch and turn over mulch..it really is a primary activity), and they have fresh water, a comfy roost and a nice private place to lay, they are happy as happy things in happyland.

One last thing that chooks need for health and happiness (and healthy happy chooks are fabulous)...a dust bath. Important for feather health and pest control and...feeling nice, I think. A dust bath cannot be made in a compost heap. You can try if you like, but if you think about the churning, brilliantly dynamic nature of a chicken driven compost heap, you can understand the futility of trying to make one corner dry and dusty. I liked to just let the chooks out late in the day to dust about...they will go back in their home at night fall... But otherwise a longways half 40 gallon water tank in a sunny spot with 12 inches of dirt in it works fine. Drill holes in the bottom to let rain drain through and the dirt to dry out. Top it up occasionally, add some ash, some sand..whatever. Over time the chooks will displace and flick it out. Oh, added bonus..it acts as another worm refuge.

Ah, I love my chooks.





 
Shep Wallaby
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I just read back and was reminded of your problem with sogginess when it rains and rains. And it looks like your chook run is on a pretty flat spot, so not much drainage eh? I have had some sucess with extending the worm refuge idea, and just making sure some proportion of the heap is covered...a folded tarp, whatever. And possibly digging a small trench through the bottom of the run before you build a huge compost heap in there, line it with small rocks, and take it as a drain out through the lowest point of your run. But everything does get wet when it rains...if drainage is ok (and the deeper the heap, the better the draining will become over time) the system will be fine. Actually one other thing that can be found in bulk for free occasionally (great if you live near a saw mill) is sawdust. Hay etc is not madly absorbent, it is the small bits that serve that fluffy function in the heap..and sawdust works a treat. In fact, it is better to add sawdust when it is wet weather, as the dust and very small particles can be hurtful to chooks' eyes when dry. But even when wet, it it easy for chooks to scratch and have fun with.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for those suggestions, Shep.

 
Karin Schott
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Corn is a big eater of nitrogen. Chicken poop is really high in nitrogen. So I use deep litter through the winter ( cold Maine winters). In the spring I muck out the coop and place the gleaning onto the spot I plan to plant the corn. Midsummer, I sidedress the knee high corn. In the fall I put whatever leftovers I have into the compost bin for the last pile or two of the season.
 
Juanita Colucci
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What about coffee grounds and onion leftovers? I keep reading that these should not be given to chooks, but my compost has much of these 2 items.
As a side note, I have found that not all that I read on the internet is true. I know... shocking! ; )
 
Scott Stiller
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There is a very interesting video on Jeff Lawton's website that deals with this. A compost company in New England lets their chickens have the run (pun intended) of all the compost. Check it out.
 
William Bronson
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Would fall leaves be ok as deep litter for chickens?
 
cameron johnson
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I do the same thing as JAMI i just throw my lawn clippings kitchen scraps in the chicken run and let them scratch threw it and when i need to improve my garden soil i just rake the leftovers out of the way and shovel the dark soil back into my garden never had any smell either.
 
Beth Mouse
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Every morning I empty my countertop compost container in the chicken yard and on top of my compost heap (which is pallet style and the chickens can climb up and into it). But there are SO many wasps this time of year, when I throw my kitchen scraps on the heap, immediately they are covered in wasps. The chickens don't seem very interested in fighting the hordeing wasps for the food. I don't cover the kitchen scraps immediately with leaf litter I collected last winter (and keep nearby in a metal garbage can) because I wanted the chickens to be able to eat the yummy kitchen scraps before being covered. If I do cover it, will the chickens scratch under for the food scraps...but then the wasps will find it as well. Any thoughts?

Beth
Idaho
 
George Meljon
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Beth Mouse wrote:Every morning I empty my countertop compost container in the chicken yard and on top of my compost heap (which is pallet style and the chickens can climb up and into it). But there are SO many wasps this time of year, when I throw my kitchen scraps on the heap, immediately they are covered in wasps. The chickens don't seem very interested in fighting the hordeing wasps for the food. I don't cover the kitchen scraps immediately with leaf litter I collected last winter (and keep nearby in a metal garbage can) because I wanted the chickens to be able to eat the yummy kitchen scraps before being covered. If I do cover it, will the chickens scratch under for the food scraps...but then the wasps will find it as well. Any thoughts?

Beth
Idaho


You might consider a homemade wasp trap similar to the one Jacqueline Freeman made for yellow jackets here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgEFCD6FUP8&list=PLkVK-udp8p90kA5aOrlDJb8P7nMoGaTcK&index=5
 
Ann Savage
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Hello,
I know this is an old post but I hope someone sees it and responds. I've been doing a deep litter method for years in my chicken run; I've never liked the packed down dirt look of a run, and my hens lay great all year long. I put oak and maple leaves, pine needles, pine shavings, leftovers we won't eat, compost materials and grass clippings in there. From time to time I buy bales of straw to do a nice cover over everything. This has been the case for nearly 5 years. This year, however, I noticed loads of worms in the run. I'm talking L.O.A.D.S. I thought they were baby earthworms at first, but they are all about an inch or so long and rather thin, and one end looks orangish/brownish like a maggot. If I go in with a garden fork and start digging out I can be in what seems to be more worm than earth...but the earthy material is great, seems like perfect compost. I'm just wondering what kind of worms these are and should I be worried? It is kind of sick looking and the first time I saw the worms, I put diatomaceous earth on them b/c they were all next to my coop. This latest spot is far from the coop and so I'm realizing this is part of the entire run now. I'd love any advice. I've never been keen on worm composting b/c worms are disgusting, but for now I've put a lot of this on top of my leaf pile which is to help cover my potatoes this summer as they grow. Thanks for any input.
 
George Meljon
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Maybe do you have a picture?
 
Ann Savage
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I took some pictures today, and they are smaller than they looked initially. I'm thinking perhaps black fly larvae or some beetle grub. Any thoughts appreciated--I think I'll stop putting food compost in the run and just try to dry it out a bit by turning it some for them....unless someone thinks these things are good to have in the run. Thank you for any thoughts.







 
George Meljon
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Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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Do you observe the chickens eating the grubs?
 
Michael Cox
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They certainly look like Black Soldier Fly, which is a good thing!

BSF will eat kitchen scrap up quickly which helps reduce the attractiveness of your heap to vermin. Alternatively you could try using them to set up a separate BSF bin and harvest them for you chickens to eat.

Look up the biopod for ideas on how to set one up so the grubs self harvest into a bucket.
 
Michael Cox
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Ann Savage wrote:Hello,
I know this is an old post but I hope someone sees it and responds. I've been doing a deep litter method for years in my chicken run; I've never liked the packed down dirt look of a run, and my hens lay great all year long. I put oak and maple leaves, pine needles, pine shavings, leftovers we won't eat, compost materials and grass clippings in there. From time to time I buy bales of straw to do a nice cover over everything. This has been the case for nearly 5 years. This year, however, I noticed loads of worms in the run. I'm talking L.O.A.D.S. I thought they were baby earthworms at first, but they are all about an inch or so long and rather thin, and one end looks orangish/brownish like a maggot. If I go in with a garden fork and start digging out I can be in what seems to be more worm than earth...but the earthy material is great, seems like perfect compost. I'm just wondering what kind of worms these are and should I be worried? It is kind of sick looking and the first time I saw the worms, I put diatomaceous earth on them b/c they were all next to my coop. This latest spot is far from the coop and so I'm realizing this is part of the entire run now. I'd love any advice. I've never been keen on worm composting b/c worms are disgusting, but for now I've put a lot of this on top of my leaf pile which is to help cover my potatoes this summer as they grow. Thanks for any input.


These are tiger worms - another great component of compost heaps. These are what people are using when they use worm farms/worm bins for their compost. They devour decaying matter. Chuck them an apple core and it will be gone in a day or two.

As a bonus, you now have an excellent source of snack for your hens. Just take a fork and over turn a chunk of soil/mulch so they can access the worms. Once they get the hang of it they will love it.
 
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