According to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Center, broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat) in the United States alone account for approximately 7 million tons of poultry waste each year. Chicken waste contains valuable nutrients that you can use to enrich your land and make the world a cleaner place in the process. Whether you raise one chicken or 3,000 chickens, the nutrients in your poultry litter are wasted unless you make use of the manure in some fashion, typically as a key ingredient in compost or fertilizer.
On average, the level of nitrogen in chicken manure is 1.1 percent, the level of phosphorous is 0.8 percent and the level of potassium is 0.5 percent. However, the nutritional values of your chicken manure vary depending upon the age, breed and type of chicken that produced the manure, as well as what kind of feed and bedding you use for your chickens. For instance, according to North Carolina State University’s Department of Soil Sciences, fresh chicken manure from a broiler contains only 17 lbs. of phosphorus per ton of manure, whereas fresh manure from a layer (hen that lays eggs) contains 22 lbs. of phosphorus per ton of manure. In order to learn exact information about the nutrient levels in a specific batch of chicken waste, you should have your manure tested at a lab.
The high levels of nitrogen in chicken manure make it an ideal compost material for your compost pile. In fact, composting is a must if you want to be able to utilize this type of manure in your garden; using chicken manure on your garden or flower beds without allowing it to age through composting can actually burn your plants’ roots. When you compost chicken manure, be sure to include enough carbon materials to offset the high nitrogen level. Typically, you should aim for your chicken manure to account for about 25 to 50 percent of the volume of your compost pile.
You can store chicken manure without having it lose its nutrients, as long as you observe basic storage guidelines. Keeping your chicken manure dry is your main concern; according to Virginia Cooperative Extension, wet chicken litter releases nitrogen in the form of ammonia, causing your chicken manure to lose potentially 30 percent of its nitrogen content. When possible, store your chicken manure in a building or container with a solid floor that provides protection from moisture.
Spreading raw chicken manure on your garden or fields without composting it first can result in nutrient runoff. Heavy rainfall and sloping land are two factors that contribute to chicken manure nutrient runoff. Depending upon the amount of chicken manure involved, nutrient runoff may negatively affect the water quality of nearby creeks and streams, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. To minimize your chances of having nutrient runoff, compost your chicken manure before adding it to your garden soil.
Philip A Moore, Jr. a soil chemist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, has conducted multiple field studies since 1994 that indicate adding alum (aluminum sulfate) to chicken manure reduces nutrient runoff. In addition to reducing phosphorus runoff, his ongoing studies indicate that the alum also reduces the runoff of other materials in the chicken manure litter, such as copper, zinc and iron.