Why Chicken Poop is the Sh*t
One of the core tenets of regenerative farming is that the land and the crops or animals being tended on that land work together in a mutually beneficial relationship where the land fosters the crop and the crop in turn benefits and “regenerates” the land on which it grows. The same is true for pastureland and livestock or other grazing animals.
Raising chickens on pasture is a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship that regenerative farming creates. In the case of pasture raised chickens, the pastureland feeds and nourishes the chickens, and the chickens quite literally feed and nourish the soil in return. As the chickens peck, scratch, and forage on the land, their droppings (that’s a fancy word for poop) get worked back into the soil, creating a soil-nourishing fertilizer that helps replenish the nutrients that are consumed during foraging.
While chicken manure needs to be composted before it’s used on a plant or vegetable garden, it can be left directly on pastureland to naturally decompose. Because chickens on pasture are constantly scratching, pecking, and churning the soil, the manure gets naturally worked into the soil, and once the chickens are moved to new grazing area, the manure is left behind and slowly breaks down, leaving soil enriching nutrients behind. When the droppings are worked directly into the soil by the chickens, they nourish the organic matter in the soil, providing more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than any other livestock manure. In addition to adding crucial nutrients to the soil, chicken manure increases the beneficial biota of the soil as well as its capacity to retain water, resulting in a nutritious and positive environment for plants to thrive.
Whenever possible, regenerative farmers work with the land using natural processes rather than synthetic solutions. For example, instead of applying synthetic fertilizers or soil amendments to replenish grazed soil, regenerative farmers (like Pasturebird) allow the natural manure produced by the chickens that have grazed on the land to feed the land in return. That’s part of what takes regenerative farming to a level beyond sustainability.
By raising chickens on pasture and letting their manure regenerate the land, regenerative farmers are leaving the land better than they found it, without the use of synthetic supplements whose detriment to the environment in the long term may outweigh their benefit in the short term. Regenerative farming is a constant symbiotic cycle and in this case, once the manure is worked into the soil through pecking and scratching, the chickens are moved to a new patch of land and the grazed area is allowed to regenerate before being used again. This is aided by the naturally composting chicken manure left behind.
Chickens are the key to Regenerative Agriculture
Leaving behind their nutrient rich manure is just one of the benefits that chickens provide to the regenerative agriculture cycle. This article from Regeneration International perfectly sums up the importance of regenerative agriculture, and the crucial part chickens play.
A regenerative system is one that can continually recirculate the natural energy from the soil and air to deliver not only a healthy environment, but also healthy foods, fiber and other vital outcomes of a regenerating landscape. Livestock on the landscape is critical to this process. And when it comes to livestock, chicken reigns supreme.
So why are chickens so important to the regenerative agriculture movement? Well, as far as the difficulty of raising animals on pasture, chickens are pretty easy. Raising chickens has the lowest upfront investment cost, and the shortest economic cycle, making it easier for small scale farmers who want to make a difference to jump on the regenerative bandwagon. Chicken is also the most culturally accepted protein source, making it an easy sell no matter where the farm is located. Not to mention, while operating a large scale pasture raised poultry operation like Pasturebird is a full time job that requires experience and education, incorporating a few chickens into a backyard homestead or urban farm is something almost anyone can do. You often hear about “backyard chickens” or “hobby chickens,” which are much easier and efficient to maintain than a “hobby cow”, unless you have a large pastureland or are an experienced farmer.
Studies have shown that the quality of soil continues to improve the longer chickens are present. In fact, one Louisiana based study showed that the growth of vegetables was markedly improved when they were planted 14 days after chickens had grazed on the same plot of land. The combination of fertilizer from pasture raised chickens and appropriate ground cover crops were shown to have a significant positive effect on soil quality, even in climates with arid weather and poor soil.
Chicken Poop is Awesome, but Read this Before Putting it in Your Veggie Garden
While chicken manure is one of the absolute best fertilizers due to its ratio of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, certain precautions should be taken before it is used in a home garden. First of all, it’s important to make sure that manure from backyard chickens is composted before being added directly to garden beds. This ensures that the manure isn’t so strong that it will burn your plants (due to the high nitrogen content), and that any bacteria or disease organisms in the manure are killed off before being added to soil.
This process isn’t necessary when it comes to pastureland, as long as the manure is left behind and worked into the soil by the chickens, because when the manure is scratched into the soil and the chickens are then moved to new grazing area, the manure is allowed to naturally compost into the ground. However, if you raise backyard chickens and want to raise the quality of your garden soil by adding composted chicken manure and coop bedding, you’ll want to give it sufficient time to cure in a compost pile before working it into your garden soil. Once the compost has had an appropriate time to cure (usually 45-60 days) and the compost smells and looks like soil, it’s ready to be added as an amendment to your garden.