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Chicken manure and soil science

Wagon chicken tractorDid you ever wonder how much of the nutrient content from that bag of chicken feed ends up in the soil?  Or how many chickens you'd need to fertilize a perfect lawn?  Joseph Heckman is a soil scientist and chicken aficionado who did the math so we don't have to.

Those of you who garden are probably familiar with N-P-K --- the percent of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a fertilizer.  For example, the compost we bought from a nearby chicken farm has an N-P-K of 3-4-4, which means it contains 3% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 4% potassium.

PVC chicken tractorAn average bag of chicken feed has an N-P-K of 2.66-0.6-0.84, but those nutrients don't all end up in the soil.  Some of the nutrients are converted to eggs, some are used by the hen to keep herself going, and she only excretes what's left over.  You can read through the math, or just take Heckman's word for it that each of your chickens enriches the soil by 2.48 pounds of nitrogen, 0.63 pounds of phosphorus, and 0.93 pounds of potassium over the course of a year.

Heckman goes on to note that lawn fertilizer recommendations are for around 87 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year.  You'd need 35 chickens per acre to provide that amount of nitrogen, or, looking at it another way, would want to give each laying hen 1,263 square feet to make sure the lawn could suck up all of the nutrients being pooped out by your flock.

Although chicken manure is a high quality fertilizer, it's possible to get too much of a good thing.  Heckman recommends testing your soil at intervals if pastured chickens are your primary method of fertilization since phosphorus and potassium can eventually build up to unhealthy levels from their rich manure.  I highly recommend Harvey Ussery's The Small-Scale Poultry Flock to help you come up with ideas on diversifying your homestead's fertilizing campaign Joseph Heckmanwhile still using chickens as the centerpiece.

The photos in this post come from a post about Joseph Heckman's farm.  Thanks for letting me share your information!

Our chicken waterer is perfect for pastured poultry since it never spills on uneven terrain.

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