North Carolina “Poultry Frenzy”
I read a very thought provoking article from Mother Jones this morning called North Carolina Poultry Frenzy: 500 Million Birds and “Zero Transparency”. In light of the recently confirmed avian influenza outbreaks in backyard flocks, there are a lot of articles about chickens in the news these days.
The “Poultry Frenzy” in the article refers to the unregulated / unlicensed poultry farms that are popping up seemingly overnight. Regulators are having difficulty discerning hog farms from chicken farms – with chickens being housed in similar structures as hogs. The main difference noted is their waste disposal.
Now, obviously, these farms discussed in the article are MUCH larger scale than our little backyard flock of 40ish chickens, but I also know exactly how stinky the waste of “just” 40ish chickens can be when not managed well. I also am very aware of the methods we use at our farm to keep our backyard flock as well as the entire farm safe. Chicken manure is an awesome fertilizer when used correctly, and is even available to purchase commercially for home gardeners (if you don’t have chickens of your own, or if you don’t know a chicken farmer who wants to get rid of his or her own chicken poo).
The thing about chickens is they poo all day and all night long. The poo is more concentrated by location at night because they are in one location for hours at a time. Our free range / completely cage free / antibiotic and hormone free / pasture raised chickens make a substantial amount of poo that we use as an amendment to fertilize our fields.
Designing the new coop
Last year, Brian designed the most amazing chicken coop for our girls (we have hens only at the farm – no roosters). After seeing nightly skirmishes for the top roost, he decided to make everyone a roost that was on the top!
At the farm, you walk through the chicken coop to get to the goats. And honestly, this coop design is the most photographed structure by farm visitors.
This photo was taken the first night on the new roost. We were still trying to get everyone used to their new home, so most of the chickens were still out wandering around and not yet settled.
Poo: a natural heat source
One feature that I love is that their poo goes directly under them. We shovel used hay from the goats next door under their roost, and let it naturally compost through the winter. (Composting creates heat. Heat rises, and the decomposition of their own poo makes the coop warmer. Absolutely free heating!) Since we add used hay very regularly, there is very little smell. In the spring, we dig this entire area out and shovel it into our manure spreader. We then use the composted poo from our chickens to help fertilize the fields.
I fully realize the commercial farms in NC are much larger than the small-ish flock we manage; however, I wanted to share how we manage the waste from our chicken operation in contrast to the commercial flocks. There are opportunities to reduce smell, to reduce the ammonia generated, and to improve the soil and not cause further damage by introducing harmful pathogens and antibiotic runoff.
If given the opportunity, I wonder what ideas we all could dream up to help with this “frenzy?”
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