Ask the Expert — Late Summer e-edition 2017
Gardening with Chicken Manure
Fresh chicken manure in the garden — let me know if I’ve come up with a technique that is okay, or please warn me if I’m doing something crazy.
I double dig vegetable beds to retain top-earth organisms in the top earth. I put a spade of top earth to the right, a spade of under earth to the left. Down about 16 inches and along every four inches or more goes one scoop of chicken poop produced during the past week. Over the poop goes one to two inches of partially composted leaves, grass, etc. from my bin. Back goes the under earth, broken but not turned with the compost and poop. Back goes the top earth broken fine. Planted goes tomato and cucumber plants from the garden center. After three months, the plants are growing exponentially and fruits are appearing, better than I’ve seen for numerous springs.
My theory is that rain and irrigation do not take runoff from fresh poop to the plant roots and kill the plants because the fresh poop is down at least a foot under the new plant roots initially. Roots grow down and can stay away from hot manure, which may become good stuff the roots may take advantage later. Next year, when I double dig, the chicken poop will be ok mixed in with the under earth, I presume.
I read in your “Composting Guide” that 130-150° in a compost bin is needed to kill E. coli and Salmonella in chicken manure. But, 16 inches down I doubt the spread-out poop is unlikely to experience elevated temperatures. However, I’m not planting ground or root crops. Aren’t E. coli and Salmonella in the earth anyway?
I’ve seen YouTube videos about “chicken manure tea” that’s made from fresh poop. The tea is watered around plants. How come those plants benefit rather than dying off? How come such tea is not described in your “Composting Guide?”
Is anyone else doing what I’m doing, burying fresh poop? Could we get a band of experimenters to coordinate a study? Is there a protocol we should follow? Should we involve the Department of Agriculture? Someday, could this deep earth method join the literature about chicken manure?
So, for now, am I safe? Are my plants likely to survive and benefit through to the end of the season? Are my tomatoes and cucumbers consumable? Have I come up with a way to successfully use small amounts of fresh chicken poop?
— Oliver Gildersleeve, Jr., Palo Alto, California
Thanks for your questions, and for the complete description of your method. It’s an interesting technique. Here are some thoughts that might be helpful. You might check with your local extension office, or your state’s land-grant university horticulture department to get their input.
Burying the droppings that deep might be just wasting them, as far as a fertilizer source. This would be the case with many plants, as they might not root down 16 inches. Apparently, tomatoes and cucumbers both do send roots fairly deep, so this probably isn’t the case. The next concern is that the roots might grow until they hit this layer, and then suffer. Adding the compost along with the manure may help with this. There are also probably a lot of microbes in the compost that help to degrade the manure quickly.
Regarding E. coli and Salmonella, soil microbes would destroy these bacteria fairly quickly. Some research that questions that, however, and these bacteria may remain viable for quite some time in the soil. It certainly seems that you are eliminating the risk of these bacteria being splashed up on the tomatoes or cucumbers by rain or watering since it’s buried deep.
It will be interesting to see how your garden does through the year.
Many people, composting will still work well, but your technique might be an alternative.
You also mentioned the manure tea. There is likely enough dilution with water that this doesn’t cause a problem for the plants.
Good luck with your chickens and your garden!
I was delighted to get your reply.
I’ll respond with a report at the end of the season.
Maybe I’ll be able to get down the tap root and see if it goes through the layers of interest.
— Regards, Oliver
Chicken Laying Soft Eggs
I have a hen in her third year now laying shell-less eggs. She is a Red Star, and up until January of this year, she laid an egg every single day since she started laying. On 1/13/17 she was struck by a hawk and her chicken buddy was killed. From that time, she has either laid soft-shelled eggs, eggs without a shell, or shell-less eggs. She is on a layer feed, and is supplemented with kelp, brewer’s yeast, oyster shell free choice, Vitamin D3. Her coop is immaculate and cleaned every morning. It always has fresh water and she free ranges all day. The only remaining hen I have is still laying without problems. She shows no signs of illness, eager to eat and otherwise seems to be normal. Will this ever resolve? Her egg laying seems to happen about once a week to 10 days in the nest box, but I suspect she is laying these eggs out somewhere else. I have found shriveled up shells at different places on the property.
— Janice McAdams
Sorry to hear about your experience with a hawk. It’s always hard to lose a bird to a predator.
There are a few possibilities that come to mind with your hen laying soft eggs. First, the predator attack could be coincidental and have nothing to do with the soft eggs. Hens can lay soft eggs in the summer because of the hot weather. Hens don’t sweat, but they will pant to help cool themselves. Panting helps water evaporate and cool the chicken but it causes a reduction in calcium being put into egg production. Second, stress, such as a predator attack, can cause a hen to rush laying resulting in soft eggs being laid. There may be some other perceived threat that’s also causing the stress, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on her. Last, you mentioned that your hen was struck by the hawk and her soft egg laying began after that. There could be a possibility that she has some internal injury that’s caused problems with the egg laying process itself.
Usually, a soft egg here or there is no cause for worry. But, if her soft egg laying continues, it may be best to seek out a veterinarian that can look for other causes.
In the meantime, below are some links that you may find helpful.
Good luck with your hen!
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