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Worm bin under chicken coop to catch droppings?

 
Martin Vandepas
Posts: 11
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
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I haven't seen this idea anywhere before and I'm thinking of trying it. I thought I'd post here to get some feedback before I do something stupid.

So the chicken coop would be built with a heavy duty wire fencing as the floor. Below the floor is a worm bin. The fencing will allow manure to drop through but prevent the chickens from eating the worms. Roosting bars above the fencing floor section will encourage the chickens to sleep where their manure will drop directly into the worm bin. The chickens would also have nesting boxes to lay eggs with traditional bedding.

Here are the benefits I see:

Eliminates the step of transferring the manure/bedding from the coop to the compost pile.
Can feed the extra worms to the chickens.
Less cleaning and bedding materials needed in the chicken coop
The warmth of the chicken coop will help prevent the worms from freezing in the winter.

Potential problems:

Will the worms be happy with so much fresh manure?
Will the chickens be happy with wire fencing as the floor in the coop? (maybe wood slats instead)
Will the high moisture content needed for the worms make it too humid in the coop for the chickens?
It might be difficult to access the worm bin for turning and adding food scraps.
Would it smell worse because the manure would stay damp instead of drying out?

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little sketch of worm bin under chicken coop idea.
 
Saybian Morgan
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Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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your going to kill your worms pretty fast, if you want to go from bum to mouth I think that's only kosher with worms. You can do it with ruminants but it has to be rain through or they'll all die from ammonia.
Think of it from a "if you breathed through your skin" standpoint, if fresh manure can kill a plant, why wouldn't it kill worms. Your probably going to have to shift the manure collection into a bin or small tumbler for a little par compost burnoff before feeding it to worms.
I'm trying to wrack my brain on how to integrate poultry manure in a worm bin but it's so hot I can't see it not going through a composting phase first. I mostly feed my worms compost because I want better quality castings, i got sick of taking undigested bit's out before using it in potting soil.
 
Matt Saager
Posts: 48
Location: Oregon - Willamette Valley
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I think it depends on how many chickens you have and how big your worm bin is.

I add fresh chicken manure, along with some of the bedding, to my worm bin.
But not ALL of the manure, and not all of the time.
I suspect on a small scale basis, the manure from even a few chickens would drown the worms in high-nitrogen food.

I have seen chickens over top of a large aquaponics tank, directly feeding talapia.
But I have no personal experience with that.

 
Martin Vandepas
Posts: 11
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
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Thanks for the replies. My coop would house 3 hens and I was envisioning a worm bin about 3feet by 6feet and 1-2 feet deep. The chickens would have an enclosed outside run about 8feet by 12feet and would be occasionally tractored in the garden. This is for a Portland, Oregon city lot 50x100feet. My main goals are eggs and fertilizer for the garden. I was intending to add lots of leaves, straw, kitchen scraps and other carbon material to the worm bin to try to keep it balanced.

After researching a little more on the internet I found someone in Peru roosting chickens over a worm bin Their design had an added benefit of catching vermicompost tea in a bucket. So they pour water over the worm bin to keep the worms moist and create more tea. I wonder if that would dilute the manure to a worm tolerable level if done every few days.

I also found a post from redwormcomposting.com with some interesting comments. I'll post the most informative:

Make sure that your worms have plenty of depth to hide in/eat in if the fresh chicken manure is too ammoniacal for them. Also, try adding layers of newspaper on top of the worm farm every couple of days, or at least once a week so the layers of manure have an opportunity to mature before they get to where the worms are.

I would recommend you look into cultivating some oyster mushrooms in straw and using the cultured straw as a layer instead of the newspaper (or culture the newspaper or use cultured cardboard instead.) Oyster mushrooms are particularly easy to cultivate and they will add an extra level of processing the chicken manure so that it will be easier on your worms. Mushroom cultivation is beyond the scope of this post, but for more information I'd recommend 'Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms' by Paul Stamets for all you need to know, and more. If you just need a mycocultured substrate to use you could either use spent substrate or not even worry about processing for harvesting – just get the mycelium going and dump a layer of substrate where the manure falls.

Lastly, I'd recommend two things in your worm farm design:
1) A space which is large enough for your worms to live where no chicken manure will reach. This way if the manure section is uninhabitable, the worms will hang out in a different area and they will be safe. You could even consider making a rotating design – once every 6 months, shift the worm farm so that the older manure is the 'safe zone', and the new manure falls on the old 'safe zone'
2) If possible, create a zone where the worm farm occupies space within the chicken run, and make it quite a lot shallower than the rest of your worm farm. This way your chickens will occasionally harvest the stray worm who venture into the chicken run zone. If your worm population explodes, I would expect that there would be an abundance of worms in the shallow end which your chickens have access to – and they will soon figure out that this is the best area for finding worms. Free protein feed for your chickens and free population control for your worms!
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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The chickens would have an enclosed outside run about 8 feet by 12 feet and would be occasionally tractored in the garden. This is for a Portland, Oregon city lot 50 x 100 feet.

My chicken tractor is 12 feet long and 4 feet wide. This year I modified it with a wire floor and wall on one end with an opening in the wire to get to the rest of the tractor but can be shut to keep them in if I am moving it long distances. The way it works is at sunset I move it forward or turn it a 1/4 turn so that the droppings go on the freshly scratched ground. I then scatter grain and kitchen scraps on the fresh ground. They eat their fill then go to roost. The next morning they start digging again.  The worms then take over and incorporate the remaining scraps and droppings into the soil.
 
Bill Smythe
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I would lime to suggest 4-6" of loose straw below the hens. This dries the loo and dry poo smells less. Straw as a.mulch also keels worm beds more moist and.mitigates temps.

Then I want to suggest two of these beds and move the hens each 1 or 2 weeks. Some coops will slide on runners.or have 2 wheels. Some don't.

This allows worm bed access now and thwn, and qhen tbe straw gesta too well used, turn tbat in, say, each 1-3 months. Some watering of worms will be required... but you do change the hens water and clean tbeir coop so there's some.of the water.

BillSF9c
 
Kevin Feinstein
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In my experience, the chicken poop doesn't fall through the mesh, so I abandoned attempts like this a long time ago. Also, worms won't be happy with that much fresh manure, can even kill them.

 
Bill Smythe
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Some sayings apply; like, all gardening/beekeeping is local. Soil, climate, etc, vary a lot. Let's say we dial-in the perfect number; you will vary ~+/- 50% from it.

You spec 2x4 fencing. I suggest that 1x2 is the largest safe size; and a homemade "wooden rake-scrap" will be needed to clean it at a minimum ideal of 2x a week... replaced perhaps ea 1-2 yrs.

Now, the hard part. I found Permies on a chase about worms, from a chase about soil and ferts. I am studying inputs and fert yield. I have a few clues.

For composting, equal greens and browns are about right. When worms process soil, what they leave has 5x the N (or available N, a potentially key distinction,) of what they consumed. Poor soil may have 1worm per cu ft and good, 4. Those 4 can process most of that cu ft in a year.

Needed to know is hen fert N, which I think is 3-4, and the volume. Compost wants 70% humidity and hens may not love the mold & other fungii spores in their air. My gut is decent and I begin to feel that 3 worm beds may be needed, or simple removal of the straw and composting it to the side.

Mushroom growers use "horse manure," which to them means 95% straw stall rakings and that 5% is horse manure and urine. Urine itself is a strong fert. I have numbers on it somewhere. They require 30 days and compost at ~150F to get a half-compost that the mushrooms need as a pre-partial digestion.

Once figured out, your answer will be simple. Getting there, not. Thomas Edison said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Einstein said; Imagination is more important than intelligence. It all means, if you put your nose to the grindstone, you can do this...! Err on the side of caution as you go so you don't kill your test subjects.

Perhaps 64 worms in a milk crate, lined w 6 mil plastic w enough left to loosely "close"it. A mousture meter for a garden...$10. Have 5-10, inside in a cool area And take a daily coop out put into 1, wait 2 weeks. In #2, 50% more, etc. Or such. Do the math. Then go up in one direction by 50% jumps and down the other direction in 33.3%% jumps.  BillSF9c
 
Alder Burns
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If you can get the manure to drop through the grate without undue effort (which is a primary problem and should be solved first) you might consider adding black soldier flies into the system, either before or in addition to redworms.  BSF thrive in fresh chicken manure, unlike redworms.  And the mature larvae crawl out of the bin by themselves....so if you design it with all sides vertical except one sloping they will all crawl out that way and drop into a convenient receptacle....perhaps where the chickens can simply eat them direct!  I have fantasized about a design like this for a passive humanure composter, with BSF feeding at the top, on the fresh stuff, and redworms working the residue left behind....which I bet they would do, especially if some carbon stuff were put in from time to time.....and so you could pull off 2 feed yields in advance of compost.....
 
nancy sutton
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Kevin, justin rhodes (The Permaculture Chicken Guy) said that in his chicken tractor, the wire floor has to have a minimum 1" grid to allow manure to fall through.  Maybe the weather affects the rate of drying, making for smaller chicken droppings.  He's in No Carolina.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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nancy sutton wrote:Kevin, Justin Rhodes (The Permaculture Chicken Guy) said that in his chicken tractor, the wire floor has to have a minimum 1" grid to allow manure to fall through.  Maybe the weather affects the rate of drying, making for smaller chicken droppings.  He's in No Carolina.

My observation is that night droppings are relative dry and about 3/8ths inch in diameter. The opening design of this discussion shows the coop to have roosting bars on the peak side and the nest boxes on the low side. With the chickens feeding and watering outside and being confined inside at night. only a band of such droppings will be on the surface of the worm bin.  These will get gradually incorporated as material is added so should nt be a problem for the worms.
The management plan has several possibilities depending on your available space and time.   My neighbor PDC instructor has a similar coop on 2 foot high legs. It has a door on each side. The electric net fence is rotated around the coop 1/4 at a time as the chickens eat it down.  It is located under the north side of a mature full sized fruit tree.
 
Ben Zumeta
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I have found if you let birds (I have 10 chickens 12 ducks and a turkey) free range in enough space on mulched soil, ideally under trees, they produce a worm farm just below their scratching range. If I want to get them going in a new bed I just dig up a hundred or more in a couple shovels of their sub-litter. I have gotten a pen set up to finish their litter for compost for potting starts and nursery plants but their litter and topsoil underneath will have a lot of the benefits of worm castings.
 
Godfrey Wilson
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Location: Austin, United States
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I am planning to do this on a larger scale and with more runs--basically a fan of runs emanating from the coop.  I expect to have many more birds and to have several bins with worms that I will rotate out. I plan to have a rotation where the kitchen scraps will be incorporated while not under the coop.  I expect to have probably 4 with 2 under the coop at any given time. Anyway, good luck with this.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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