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The Composting Chicken Machine

Posted by on October 6, 2014

I love compost. That rich, dark, soil-amending wonder. My only problem? I suck at composting. I know people who toss all their scraps in a bin and magically have a bin of that glorious richness waiting for them some time later.

I have smelly, rotting, moldy food scraps surrounded by flies.

Your Chickens - The Master Composters- Chicken Composting Machines -  IdlewildAlaska

I’ve read all the “how-to compost” blog articles and books, which is usually followed by the thought of, “But that’s so much work! I just want to toss it in and forget about it.”


Then I got chickens. So I started a “cleaned-out-the-coop-chicken-bedding” compost pile. Whenever I let the girls out of their run to free-range, that’s the first place they head. My first thought about that? “Ew, you’re not supposed to like that. You’re supposed to be eating all the weeds and bugs out of the garden!”

Then I heard about letting your chickens do your composting for you. Say what??!?!? Why was I not told about this glorious plan? Why is this not in every “How to raise chickens” book? AND it’ll save me $$$ on chicken feed? Yes please!

Northwest Edible Life wrote a great article about the whole idea. Nice to know I’m not the only “crappy composter” out there.

“My chickens are master composters. Seriously, if they could just find a way to drive to Master Composter Certification they could totally teach that class. (Except they’d eat all the red wiggler worms, but whatever.) Chickens are aerating, nitrogen-pooping, humus-creation machines. I have permanently off-loaded nearly all my composting duties to the hens, and I’m never going back.”

Read the full article HERE.

Wait… what about all that stuff you’re not supposed to feed chickens? What can I toss in this compost pile and not get a coop full of dead chickens?

The Master Composter - IdlewildAlaska


I decided to not toss my homemade composting trashcan quite yet (but I am going to do some “fixing” to it). There are few things I won’t be chucking into the chicken run. I printed out a list to hang on the fridge, “Compost Bin AKA Don’t Feed These to the Girls.” (Print out your FREE copy below!)

Compost Bin AKA Don’t Feed This to the Girls

Apple seeds (or at least, not a lot of them. Apple seeds contain trace amounts of arsenic. With that said, I’m not too terribly worried if they get their claws on a core or two.)

Avocado skins or pits

Banana peels

Citrus (Can potentially cause issues, but it seems like most chickens don’t like it anyways)

Coffee grounds or Tea

Dry beans (cooked are okay)

Green potatoes and plants

Onions (Again, at least not a lot. Small amounts are okay.)

Raw eggs or uncrushed egg shells (I don’t want any egg eating cannibals! Any shells the girls get, which are a great source of calcium, I’ll grind up fine.)

Rhubarb stalks or leaves

Some flower seeds, such as sweet peas and morning glories

Tomato plants


Chickens Who Compost - IdlewildAlaska

Frank and Gandalf

There are other foods that you shouldn’t feed chickens too, but as I wouldn’t put them in the compost anyways (aka chocolate, salty food, etc.), I didn’t include them on the list. has a great full list of foods that are great for treats and foods to avoid HERE. Another good list is over HERE at


Now that I have my list, I do believe I’m going to gather up a big pile of mulch (leaves, grass, and perhaps a bundle of straw), along with removed coop bedding, and dump it and my chicken-friendly compost into the run and let the girls go to town! My very own composting chicken machine! Not only will it give them something to munch on, they’ll be adding their own “contributions” and turning the pile for me. I can’t wait to amend my garden soil with this richness this spring!

Composting Chickens - IdlewildAlaska

Blondie and Harlow, ready to get to work.

Don’t forget to print out your own list! Download your FREE printable here!

Compost Bin Don’t Feed the Chickens List – IdlewildAlaska

Easter Eggers - IdlewildAlaska

Meet the new girls! We’re all still working on getting to know each other.


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11 Responses to The Composting Chicken Machine

  1. Nicole

    As if I needed more reason to want my chickens!! This is so perfect, I love the fact it is a win win for the chickens and my compost

  2. Sarah

    I love feeding my chickens our scraps. I didn’t know you shouldn’t give your chicken tomato plants. I am going to have to look into that because I always throw my old tomato plants into their area when I tear them out of the garden. oops! 🙂

    • Idlewildak

      I knew the leaves were a no-no for people, so I guess it makes sense they’re not good for the girls either! I had to look it up too cause I was planning on doing the same thing. Although it is really funny to watch them chase the bouncing ball when you toss in a ripe tomato 😀

  3. Skye

    I had no idea this could work. I wonder if I can convince my husband that we need chickens so we can start composting?

  4. Jenn

    Chickens aren’t for me (I may live in Amish Country, but I grew up in Philadelphia, so all I know about chickens is that they’re quite tasty when double-dipped in batter!), but I think it’s awesome that you can take care of two needs at once: composting, and feeding chickens. 😀

  5. Rhonda Crank

    You are right, chickens are great composters. I turn my flock out into the garden for a few months during winter and they really help clean up and get the garden ready for spring. Your pictures are really great. The girls are beautiful. Thanks for sharing,

  6. Maria

    Did your experiment work? Maybe I put too much bedding and not enough other stuff, or maybe my run area is smaller than ideal for the amount of bedding I threw out there, orrrr maybe I need more chickens to effectively dig around, but I ended up with a flat, hard mat of chicken bedding with periodic pieces of pineapple “skin” or whatever. My husband insisted the following spring it would reek something awful and dug it put before the weather got too warm.. I only threw bedding from the coop out the coop door in the warm weather, or so, but once it started dipping to freezing, I didn’t for sure. So maybe I should have stopped adding long before that? Not sure. We ARE in Anchorage and so we didn’t want to risk making neighbors mad via awful smell.. Maybe once we move out to the Valley this will be more successful because time and not worrying about neighbors will be on our side? Eh.

    Maria :]

    • IdlewildAlaska

      Well, I can’t say I’ve had a lot of “other stuff” to throw in the run, but I love the finished product! At just a glance, the run looks like fairly compacted dirt, but once you dig in and loosen it up, it’s gorgeous. Most of our compost usually consists of coffee grounds, onion skins, garlic skins, and the occasional bits of produce. Coffee, onions, and garlic is a no go for chickens, so they get our bits of produce and the old bedding goes in the run. There’s no smell to it whatsoever. I should mention though, I only use wood chips for bedding in this coop. I used straw once in the larger coop and then tossed it into the accompanying run. It reeked horribly. I don’t use straw anymore. Something about it just doesn’t take care of the smell.

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