Chicken manure and cardboard are two common materials that composters use to produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment for garden use. Most likely you have cardboard you need to get rid of; furthermore, if you raise chickens for meat or eggs (or know someone who does), then you have a ready supply of chicken manure to use in your compost, as well. Understanding facts about chicken manure and cardboard compost will help you produce quality compost with these materials.
You need four main ingredients to produce compost: nitrogen-rich materials, carbon-rich materials, water and oxygen. Chicken manure provides nitrogen, the material that decomposing microorganisms use for reproduction. Cardboard is an ideal source of carbon, the material these organisms use for energy.
Although these two materials are technically all that you need (other than oxygen and water) to produce your compost, you can also choose to include other sources of nitrogen (such as fresh lawn clippings, spoiled fruit and old vegetables) and carbon (such as straw, dead leaves and sawdust). The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension suggests that 25 to 50 percent of your compost materials be rich in nitrogen and the rest should be carbon materials.
Chicken manure has higher levels of nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash than any other animal manure and, as such, is ideal for soil improvement. Because of its layers of dense material, cardboard is harder for microorganisms to break down; you can help speed the process by tearing the cardboard into smaller pieces and spraying it lightly with a garden hose to soften it when you build your compost heap.
Most homesteaders and gardeners who compost animal manure produce the compost in a pile; you'll need to create a heap that is between 3 cubic feet (3 f feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) and 5 cubic feet in size. This ensures that your pile is large enough to attain high composting temperatures (130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) but small enough for you to be able to stir it to introduce enough oxygen for the microorganisms to survive.
Chicken manure and cardboard compost requires at least 6 to 8 months before you'll have finished compost. Putting this type of compost on your garden soil before the composting process is complete may cause plant damage from nitrogen burns since the chicken manure has not aged long enough. If possible, set up your composting pile ahead of time so it will have up to 12 months to compost; this will produce a compost that is richer and you'll have less chance of damaging your plants.
SeattleTilth.org, a nonprofit organization that supports organic gardening and conservation efforts, suggests that you wear gloves when working with your chicken manure compost to help ensure safety. If you're using the finished compost on your vegetables, be sure to wash them off thoroughly before you consume them.