How to Compost Poultry Litter

Overview

With its high levels of ammonia, poultry manure possesses a singularly nose-wrinkling odor, but it makes a prime nitrogen-rich ingredient for your compost pile. Commonly called poultry litter, poultry manure mixed with bedding material (such as sawdust, straw or wood chips) is particularly easy for you to convert to a nutrient-dense soil amendment because the bedding material provides a ready source of carbon material for your compost heap. To destroy potentially harmful pathogens, such as salmonella, that may be present in the poultry litter, you'll need to take extra care to ensure that your compost pile achieves hot composting temperatures for two weeks.

Step 1

Prepare your poultry litter for composting. Collect it in a heap at your composting location. Sort through the litter with a manure fork, visually assessing it to ensure that it contains equal amounts of bedding material and poultry manure. Add additional manure, if necessary, to ensure that the poultry litter contains enough nitrogen.

Step 2

Shovel off grass and turf to expose a 4-by-4-foot area of well-draining soil to provide a composting location for your poultry litter. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of carbon-rich organic waste (such as dead leaves, shredded newspaper and sawdust) across the bare soil. Cover the carbon waste with a 2- to 3-inch layer of poultry litter. Toss five to eight handfuls of plain topsoil across the poultry litter to introduce extra decomposing bacteria to the compost heap.

Step 3

Spray the double layer of compost waste with your garden hose, misting it gently until it's about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Add and water another layer of carbon waste and a second layer of poultry litter. Repeat this layering and moistening process until your poultry litter compost heap measures 4 feet tall.

Step 4

Insert a compost thermometer into the top center of the heap and leave the waste to heat up for approximately one to two weeks. Monitor the compost thermometer daily until it registers a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the waste daily thereafter with a manure fork to aerate the heap and maintain the high composting temperature. Keep the compost at this temperature for at least two weeks, adding and mixing in extra nitrogen-rich organic waste, such as fresh grass clippings, to maintain the high levels of microbial activity, if necessary.

Step 5

Mix the compost materials together with a manure fork once weekly thereafter, letting the temperatures cool gradually as the waste slowly matures to finished compost. Expect your compost to be ready for use approximately two to four months after building your pile. Look for signs of finished compost, which include a mild, earthy odor and a brown, crumbly appearance.

Tips and Warnings

  • As a safety precaution, thoroughly wash any vegetables grown in soil that you amend with animal manure.

Things You'll Need

  • Manure fork
  • Shovel
  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Plain topsoil
  • Garden hose
  • Compost thermometer
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste

References

  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Poultry Manure As a Fertilizer Source
  • Mississippi State University: A Practical Guide for Composting Poultry Litter
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Guidelines for Using Manure on Vegetable Gardens
Keywords: poultry manure compost, composting poultry litter, composting poultry manure

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.