Many folks with backyard flocks of poultry and fowl never realize the goldmine their birds produce. Some people might very well call that a crying shame. The reality is that manure from backyard ducks and chickens is every bit as valuable as other forms of manure yet goes relatively unnoticed, much less utilized. Friends, I’m here to tell you there are a few different ways your very own birds can provide ample fertilizer to make those veggies grow without spending money on bagged manure.
First, we need to figure out what kind of poop we’re dealing with. Most folks have chickens on their homestead, but ducks are fairly common too. Both produce the good stuff, but you can’t use them the same way.
Turning Hot Manure into Fertilizer Chicken crap is loaded with nitrogen—so much so that when raw, it’ll downright kill plants. That’s no joke: the plant dies a terrible death during which it looks slow-roasted. It’s not good, and you don’t want that. Some folks refer to chicken manure as hot manure because of this characteristic. But that doesn’t mean the droppings are useless. It just means that chicken manure needs to be composted and composted well. This task isn’t difficult—in fact, you can save yourself some trouble and start the process right inside your coop.
On the floor of your coop, place just enough straw to cover the floor and allow your chickens to defecate to their hearts’ content. Refresh the straw every now and again and have some kind of composting unit at the ready. Fill the compost bin with the straw and manyre until there are only a few inches left at the top then water it down.
After that, sit back and don’t mess with it. Let it do its thing. Don’t even look at it until the following spring. Chicken manure needs that time, heat, and moisture mixed with the fixing capabilities of the straw to break down properly, and by the time the next year rolls around, you’ll have fresh chicken compost that will boost your nitrogen-loving veggies—think beets, pumpkins, peas, and corn.
Turning Cold Manure into Fertilizer Duck manure is very different compared to chicken manure for a number of reasons. It’s considered cold manure—which is to say it can be used immediately upon exiting the cul de canard, and here’s why.
When you look at the consistency of duck poop, it’s more liquid. Yes, it’s got a lot of nitrogen in it, but it breaks down much quicker because of its consistency, making it far less harmful to plants and much more useful. If we take our observant eye and look at chicken poop, it’s more solid (even after a decent rain chicken droppings will keep their original shape) and takes longer to break down.
That's why I will only use duck manure for vegetables that don’t necessarily grow extensive root systems but do grow to large sizes above ground. Lettuce, kale, and broccoli, to name a few, are the reasons I spend a lot of my energy in saving duck manure. As I clean out the coop, I bring a bucket only for fresh duck droppings. These go on the surface of the soil, feeding those aforementioned veggies, and within a few days there’s no trace that the manure was ever there to begin with.
Composting duck manure is a fairly easy task, but unlike chicken manure, which should be composted without a lid on the bin, duck manure can be started in a composting container with a lid to add heat. Once you've combined with veggie scraps and a few handfuls of lawn trimmings or leaves, give it a couple of months to do its thing. It seems to break down quicker and more fully, which is great for adding in the fall prior to putting your garden beds to sleep for the winter.
How to Use Manure-Based Fertilizer Chicken compost is something that I pretty much only use below the surface of my raised beds. Even after it has composted properly, it’s still a powerhouse of nitrogen. So, I want the roots of my vegetables to leach what they need, not what I think they need. There are exceptions, like if you’re growing sweet corn. Corn in general loves nitrogen. However, it often eats it up by mid-summer and needs a boost, which is where some composted chicken manure really comes in handy. Just a few handfuls around the bases of your corn stalks and let the following rain do the rest.
While these sorts of manures are great for a laundry list of different uses, some plants cannot handle them. Let me point to a couple out while we’re on the subject.
Blueberries, strawberries, haskaps, and raspberries don’t mind a little bit of compost in the spring, but steer away from using composted bird manure. In theory it should work great, but it doesn’t. Even duck manure is far too nutrient-dense for the likes of these, and it’s a great way to kill a lot of plants that would have otherwise produced plenty of delicious fruit right outside your door. Do yourself a favor and don’t do it.
Carrots, radishes, parsnips, and potatoes also don’t do well with this kind of composted manure. It’s a sad reality but nonetheless true. You can try it, but here’s what you’ll usually end up with: carrots with massive stem growth but minimal root growth.
Composted bird manure has its rightful place in the world of gardening. For those willing to learn, it's a major asset for any homestead with a backyard flock. You’re paying to feed those birds anyway, so why not get more than your money’s worth?