Raising chickens is one of the greatest joys of homesteading. Besides the bounty of delicious eggs, the birds provide endless entertainment with their quirky antics.
Like every animal, though, keeping chickens can be wasteful if you do not know what you are doing. Luckily, there are easy ways to reduce waste in your chicken coop.
Use Chicken Coop Bedding for Fertilizer
When you are cleaning out your coop, keep that dirty straw, scat and feathers for fertilizer. Many commercial fertilizers are made using some byproduct of feather meal, so the material coming out of your coop is not too different from what you would get in a store.
The combination of chicken bedding and manure is handy in a number of different ways.
“I always have plenty of mulch,” said Lisa Steele, blogger at Fresh Eggs Daily and author of several books including “101 Chicken Keeping Hacks.” “I mulch the garden in the fall with it. In the summer, I put it on my strawberry beds, herb garden and vegetable garden. In the spring, I put it in the compost pile.
Try Deep Bedding in the Winter
If you are looking to save a little bedding during the cold winter months — and save your frostbitten fingers and toes from having to go outside as frequently, quite frankly — Nancy Wolff, homesteader and blogger at Nancy on the Home Front recommends a deep bedding technique.
“For our chickens we would do deep [litter] bedding in the winter so we weren’t changing it every week,” Wolff said. “All the shavings when we were cleaning out the coop went into the compost.”
By adding fresh shavings every so often instead of cleaning out the coop, the bedding will not only form a fantastic fertilizer, but the active microbial life in the bedding will help keep the coop warm.
Save on Energy
Believe or not, chickens do not need supplemental heating, even in the winter.
“Your chicken coop doesn’t have to be heated,” Wolff said. “Our chicken coop was insulated with a heat lamp, but we kept chickens the first year in uninsulated barn and they were fine.”
Wolff said to check the combs for black tips, which is a sign of frostbite, but for the most part, the birds are relatively cold hardy. By letting your chickens enjoy the chill, you can reduce the amount of excess energy used on your homestead.
Thrift for Coop Supplies
The market for high-end backyard chicken coop supplies is robust.
“You can spend $45 for big galvanized chicken water trough,” Steele said. “That’s a lot of money for something that’s going to rust in a couple years.”
Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on troughs, check your local thrift store for supplies. Steele said to keep an eye out for enamelware especially.
“Enamelware doesn’t crack in the winter. It doesn’t rust like the metal does,” Steele said. “Enamelware is great for feeders and waterers and troughs because it’s coated. Enamel roasting pans are especially great because you can put cover on so rats can’t get into feed.”
Reuse Your Eggshells
One of the best parts about raising chickens is the steady supply of fresh eggs in the mornings. Save those eggshells after you crack them on the pan, though. Eggshells have many uses around your homestead, including as a fertilizer and pest repellant for your plants.
One of the best uses for eggshells is as an extra source of calcium for your chickens. Chickens needs calcium to make shells for their eggs, and while commercial calcium supplements are usually made from pulverized oyster shells, many chickens prefer their own eggshells (don’t worry, it is unlikely to cause an unauthorized egg cannibalization). Rinse the eggshells, crush them coarsely and add them to a dispenser or bowl in your chicken coop.
“It really is a nice circle,” Steele said. “Everything has a second use after you get them from your chickens.”
Every effort to homestead more sustainably — even with your poultry — brings you one step closer to a self-sustaining, closed-loop homestead.
Sam Schipani is a staff writer for Hello Homestead and the Bangor Daily News. She loves watching hummingbirds, eating flowers and shopping sustainably. She has previously written for Sierra, Smithsonian, Earth Island Journal, and American Farm Publications.