The Secret Life of Poultry: Austin’s Chicken Composting Program

The Secret Life of Poultry: Austin’s Chicken Composting Program

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Getting into chickens, especially for people without any experience with poultry, can be incredibly difficult. The care, time involved, housing needs, health needs, benefits, and safety of keeping chickens can quickly become overwhelming. Even to a seasoned poultry owner, there are things I’m learning constantly in the ever-evolving care of our feathered friends.

To make the transition smoother, the city of Austin, Texas, has created a fairly unique program. In an overall effort to reduce city-wide waste output per household, the local government came together to create the City of Austin Home Composting Rebate Program, a facet of which includes encouraging people to keep chickens.

Ducks and other fowl are included in the initiative. Pictured: Blue Ancona Duck

The overall goal of the City of Austin Home Composting Rebate Program is to eventually bring waste down to zero. According to the Austin government, “compostables” make up to 40% of the waste stream. Instead of filling up landfills with materials that could ideally be composted, the Austin Resource Recovery team, or ARR, initiated a collection service that handles and collects resident’s compostables every week.

The ARR provides bins from 24 to 96 gallons in size and currently has about 198,000 customers. Although that sounds like a lot, it is only 2% of Austin’s population. As of this year, they are expanding and servicing the entire city so more people there can get in on the movement.

So where do the chickens come in with this program? Well, a significant portion of the “compostables” people are throwing away or having collected is food waste. And as everyone is well aware of, chickens love table scraps.

The average American throws away a half pound of food per day, coming out to nearly 200 pounds of food a year. Chickens can keep one million pounds of food out of landfills each year.

According to the ARR, the average American throws away a half-pound of food per day, coming out to nearly 200 pounds of food a year. Multiplied by each person in a household, that’s a pretty significant amount of food. Chickens eat about a quarter-pound of food per day.

Mathematically, the ARR estimates that if even 1% of the households in Austin decided to start keeping chickens, they would divert over 1 million pounds of food waste away from landfills each year. By eating table scraps, Austin chooks can become major waste diverters.

The ARR has a PowerPoint up on their website that discusses the City of Austin Home Composting Rebate Program and general chicken care for beginners. They discuss the huge benefits that come with chicken owning, including free eggs, entertainment, insect control, compost materials, and helping Austin become a greener city.

A benefit of chicken ownership: Fresh, local eggs.

Potential chicken owners not only get fresh delicious eggs and the excitement of embarking on a new venture, but they also get the satisfaction of getting to know they are part of a bigger movement to make their home town more environmentally friendly.

Although chickens are the most commonly cited and are the ones mentioned in the PowerPoint, Austin defines “fowl” as any chicken, duck, turkey, goose, or guinea hen, so the options are certainly open and personal experience says that every one of those birds loves to get down on some good table scraps.

In addition to quality information on the composting program, the APP outlines city ordinances and how to comply with those while exploring chicken ownership. It also has fantastic beginner quality information on predators, ventilation needs in the Texas heat, spacing requirements, nest box needs, roosts, and best bedding material.

To keep safety in mind, the ARR also goes over what type of food to feed chickens and at which age. They also discourage feeding moldy food to chickens, which can lead to diseases such as Aspergillosis. Additionally, they touch on some common foods to avoid in poultry such as citrus and beans and warn that garlic and onions can change the taste of the eggs.

The ARR educates about standard fowl versus bantams. Pictured: A Cochin Bantam hen (left) and Barred Rock standard hen (right).

To encourage more people to keep chickens, and in an act of pure brilliance, the Austin government is offering a $75 coop rebate through the ARR. To qualify, residents of Austin must read the PowerPoint on their website, and submit a brief questionnaire that quizzes new owners on the PowerPoint. It is currently five questions and based on chicken safety.

Once those are submitted, potential new chicken owners can purchase a coop or chicken tractor of their liking. Unfortunately, the rebate doesn’t apply if the coops are made at home, but several reputable companies make and ship chicken houses, as well as a few local ones. A copy of the receipt must be submitted to the ARR. A representative may come out to inspect the coop to ensure it is being used as stated, for chickens, then they will process a rebate and mail it out.

Roosters may still not be allowed in certain communities, warns the ARR. The existing city ordinances and HOA rules still apply. Pictured: Buff Orpington hen and mixed breed rooster.

This program is a complete game-changer, and we need to get the word out. Austin readers, tell your neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers! Readers in other cities or countries, reach out to your local agriculture or government officials, and request a similar program. Not enough residents know about this amazing, educational, and environmentally friendly program.

Originally published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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