Thursday, February 5, 2009

what to do with urban chicken poop?

I was having a conversation with someone who's looking to convince their city council to allow urban chickens, and she said one of the council's concerns was the phosphorous runoff from all these incoming urban chickens.

Yes, it would easy to dismiss these concerns as folly (poppycock?), but to do so won't help get urban chicken ordinances passed. While we've got our own two hens in the back yard, I don't want to be measuring and weighing every piece of excrement that drops out their backside (we simply put it all in the compost bin).

So I did a little research to see just how much poop a chicken produces and what effect it has on the environment.

How much poop per chicken?
The University of Missouri Extension reports six commercial laying hens will generate approx 11 pounds of manure every week (1.5 gallons). The Fisheries and Aquatics Department cites 40g of excretia per chicken per day (that's 1.4 oz/day or 9oz/week which means six hens would put out 54 ounces in a week or just over 4 pounds).

For the sake of argument, let's go with the Mizzou stats of 11 pounds from six chickens each week. If the average urban chicken flock is 3 hens, we can cut that total in half to 5.5 pounds per week.

This seems to be the perfect amount for composting or including with the regular waste disposal at the curb or what have you (I dare say this quantity is comparable to what a cat owner puts into their trash each week?).

So, thoughts of being over-run by chicken poop seem a bit fantastical.

What about phosphorous run-off?
But let's go back to our six chicken flock and look at the phosphorus run-off concerns (a real concern when considering industrial chicken farming).

According to website, the average percentages (per total weight) of chicken manure is as follows: 1.8 nitrogen, 1.5 phosphate, and 0.8 for potash.

So, we've got six chickens producing 2.5 OUNCES of phosphate each week which makes ~8 pounds (2.5 x 52 weeks/ 16 oz per pound) of phosphate PER YEAR. Even if dumped directly into the nearest pond/lake, you're looking at miniscule changes to the phosphorous content of a lake for six birds.

If every household in medium-sized city (20,000 households) owned six birds each, you're still looking at a little over 160,000 pounds of phosphorous spread out across an entire city. Compare this to the industrial chicken industry practice of housing 150,000 birds in a single 500-ft long chicken house (that's 200,000 pounds of phosphorous from one chicken house), and you see it's an apples-to-oranges comparison regarding the concentration/disposal of the poop.

No wonder the industrial chicken houses stink to high heaven!

Mind you, all this build up of phosphorous in the urban chicken poop assumes there's no collection/composting/etc AT ALL from the backyard chicken coop (which I hope would signal neighbors to call animal control for cruelty charges to the owners). But that's another post entirely.

How much urban chicken poop are you dealing with and what do you do with it? Composting like me? setting it at the curb each week? throwing it under the shrubs? Please share!


Linda said...

I'm with you, ThomasK. I put the droppings in the compost. I wish I could compost in place by putting it on my (currently resting and covered in snow) raised beds, but the dogs would eat it then. :-( Gross, but true!

Granny Annie said...

Our small flock free ranges over ten acres so their spread their manure far afield. We do collect the poop from the hen house and put that in the compost and over our garden space to prepare the ground for planting season. Oh, and some does come in the house on our boots!

Crazy Chicken Lady said...

We give our chicken droppings and the coop clean outs to some farmers up the street. I don't think chicken poop could be any more damaging than some people's dog poop!

LuckyDog said...

Love your blog! We are currently trying to pass an ordinance in Caledonia, WI ( I am the owner of 7 renegade chickens. After reading your post, I got curious about cat litter and since today is garbage day, I happened to have one week's worth of cat litter, so I weighed it. My one 15 lb cat produced 13.4 lbs of litter in one week. So there you go!

nobody-but-us-chickens said...

I take it to my Dad's farm, he likes it for his fields. I have six chickens and they are in the coop all the time now for winter, they are big hens but they certainly don't put out 11 pounds of poop. I have a problem with the dozens of cats that always keep going to the bathroom in my garden, that is pretty gross but no one worries about that!

Florida Homesteader said...

I'm seriously thinking of trying to get our city to allow urban chickens, but they are stubbornly refusing because of bird flu concerns. I think they could require screening on the coops that would fix that. After all, they let us have domesticated birds.

Clea Danaan said...

Brilliant. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I read the post on chicken poop and how it's good for compost. But what do you do when they aren't your chickens?

My neighbor has several that find their way in my yard on a daily basis and it has gotten to the point that I can't let my dog out for fear that she will find a chicken poop spot and roll around in it. I can't/won't let my 18 month old daughter walk around in my own yard because of this same problem.

I'm all for urban chickens and people's rights to have them. But what about people that don't want to deal with the mess they make?

M said...

If they aren't your chickens they shouldn't be on your property. Ask your neighbor to contain his/her hens. There is no reason why someone else's chickens should take over your yard. I am sure it is against city regulations and it gives responsible chicken owners a bad name.


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