The video was an interview with someone who feeds his chickens entirely from huge compost piles made from barn cleanings and restaurant scraps. The result was prolific eggs and superb compost. Geoff did a follow-up video to show his adaptation of the system to a farm garden (Chicken Tractor on Steroids). I knew I couldn't do it exactly the same way, but I really liked the idea of recruiting the chickens to help. I decided to experiment.
I started by making a long pile in the chicken yard after cleaning out one of the goat stalls. I mixed it up with some kitchen scraps.
|1st Tuesday - straw & manure pile assembled from goat barn cleaning|
The chickens liked the idea immediately, although I knew I would have to rake the pile back together again every evening. For an experiment, I was willing.
|2nd Tuesday - after a week of nightly raking the pile back together|
One week later I decided to make some changes. Raking was a bit of a bother because the pile was underneath a cedar tree, the branches of which kept bumping me in the head. Also the pile couldn't generate and retain heat for the decomposition process if it's all spread out. Plus it was drying out too much. It can't decompose without moisture either. I scrounged around for materials and came up with a compost bin of sorts.
|3rd Tuesday. The old pile was mixed with another batch of manure & straw.|
The goat shed/old chicken coop became the back wall, cinder blocks became the sides, and one of the boards from our coal barn demolition makes a removable front. I transferred the original pile to it and mucked out the other goat stall and added that. The bin arrangement keeps the pile from being scratched out all over the chicken yard and saves work on my end. It still requires some turning and additional water. I just dump in water from the buckets when changing them. I add kitchen and garden scraps as I have them.
By the 4th Tuesday of my experiment, I decided to tweak a little more.
|4th Tuesday, I now have a working pile & an add-to pile|
Dan bought me more cinder blocks and two sheets of cement board. I was able to make two piles - a working pile and an add-to pile. The cement board is to protect the wood siding on the building from the moisture.
|3 week old compost on the left, new on the right.|
In just three weeks the working pile looks pretty good, don't you think? It would probably be further along if I was consistent with turning and watering, but for a work-smarter-not-harder system, this is great. The chickens scratch around in both piles, but according to the video, they will eventually lose interest in the oldest pile.
The videos emphasize grainless, as in the chickens eat entirely from the piles with no additional chicken feed. The key seems to be lots and lots of garden and kitchen scraps, including from local restaurants. That won't work for me, so my chickens still have their feed and scratch. My garden, kitchen, and canning scraps are pretty slim since there are just the two of us. Plus they are shared with the goats and pigs. While I could likely get restaurant scraps, the additional chore of driving and fetching them would add to my work load rather than make it easier. As with all good ideas, the benefit must be evaluated in light of everything that needs to be done on the homestead. Work in all areas must balance. The result may not be a series of perfect solutions, but rather, a synergy of good, work-together solutions.
I would eventually like to expand on this idea. Eventually the old shed will come down (assuming we ever get the new goat barn built), but the location for the piles is still a good one. I'd like to add a few more bins as well. I'm very happy that this experiment is a success.