The Great Compost Shuffle

Around here if it rots it goes into the compost pile.  That includes chicken parts when we’re processing the meat chickens.  Hold on! All the gardening books insist that you can’t compost meat.  Well, you can.  Everything rots and given enough time and the proper conditions it turns into nice black humus.  Nature is very efficient and you can really see it in action in a compost pile.  We let our chicken compost go for two years so that the microbes have a nice long time to do their work.  In the end, aside from an occasional bone, we end up with great compost.

There is a caveat though.  Chicken guts don’t smell the best for the first couple of weeks as they are rotting.  In fact (big surprise) rotting chicken guts are really smelly!  We do our best to minimize the smell mixing lots of straw and other high carbon materials in to help combine with the nitrogen rich chicken parts.  After the first couple weeks the smell dies down but as we’ve increased our batches of chickens from 25 to 50 though it’s gotten pretty stinky around the compost piles.

Old compost piles

When I originally built the compost piles I placed them near the garden at the end of the house for easy access but they are also near the girls’ rooms.  Needless to say they were less than enthusiastic when we started chicken composting.  After a couple of summers of this we decided that even though it was going to be a royal pain it was high time to relocate the compost.

new compost site

The first step was to find a new composting site.  We needed somewhere relatively close to the gardening action but far enough away to remove the smell.  After mulling this over for a while we landed on the back side of the duck/layer chicken yard.  It’s still close to the gardens, in fact I have a third compost pile near there, but it has the advantage of being upwind from the house.

The girls: Yea!  Finally we can open our windows!!!

Compost Shuffle Project Requirements

1) A new gate- When we acquired our house the backyard was already fenced off which was very handy.  This new area needs a gate in the back fence so that we can access it.

other old compost site

2) Move a bunch of brush- As I was cleaning out the backyard to prepare for the gardens it was easiest to just throw everything over the fence to deal with later…now it’s later.

Brush pile

3) Construct new bins to hold the compost-  Since we had the space I expanded to five bins.  Previously we had three.  This will let us accumulate more compost materials and let them “cook” longer.  On either end of the bins I drove a t-post in the ground and slipped a pallet over it.  Then they got wired to the back fence of the chicken/duck yard.  The middle pallets were wired to the fence in back and secured in the front with a piece of rebar.  As a bin fills up a pallet gets wired to the front.

new bins

new bins back side

4) Move all the existing compost materials- This is the part we’ve been dreading. Lots of shoveling and moving of all our current composting materials from three bins across the yard and into their new home.  As we built the new piles we looped a soaker hose inside of them so that it would be easy to keep them moist.

Molly shoveling

Soaker hose

5) Break down the old bins-  This was pretty easy as their pallets mostly got reused in the new bins.

Finished bins

It took a full weekend to get this project done but it was none too soon.  We’ve got another batch of chickens to process in a couple of weeks.


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  1. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog
    Posted June 1, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    looks like an awesome project!  reading your site really makes me want a plot of land!

    • Posted June 2, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks.  It is fun to transform your space to your vision.  This is all playing out in a very intuitive manner.  The more I do the deeper my understanding of what needs to happen next becomes.

  2. Posted June 2, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Great idea using the pallets.  We see them all the time around here for free.  Our compost pile is not quite as organized as yours.

    • Posted June 2, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      All it takes is a few free pallets and some bailing wire to make a nice neat pile.  Supposedly the dimensions inside of a pallet cube are pretty ideal for getting the compost to break down efficiently.  I’m not much for turning it or getting max efficiency though.  I’m fine with waiting as long as it takes.

  3. Craig
    Posted June 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    We compost over garbage in a urban composting barrel which is on a swivel so that we can rotate it and mix up the contents. When it gets stinky which is due to the formation volatile acids, and amines I had a little bit of lime which neutralizes the stinky molecules.

    I suspect this will help with your odor problem as well, and the lime adds micronutrients to the composted material.

    • Posted June 3, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Good to know about the lime.  I’ll try it.

  4. Natcarter505
    Posted June 3, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Cool guys! Rotting chicken guts are intensely disgusting; we know- our neighbors left some in their garbage bin for a week and we though something died in our garage!

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  1. […] neighborhood in several years, I’m cautious with what I put in my compost bins. (Although others do successfully compost animal products. Bravo to […]

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