Vermicomposting With Chicken Manure

Happy belated Earth Day, everyone! Yeah…you might assume that if there was going to be ONE day I might publish a post here it would be on Earth Day! Sheesh.

Oh well, I guess I like to go against the grain!

All joking aside, my offline worm biz is definitely keeping me very busy these days, but the good news is that I do have fair amount to write about here once I have a bit more time to do so.

Ok…with all that out of the way, let’s get to our Reader Question. This one comes from ‘L’:

I raise chickens and have an 8′ by 8′ compost area situated
right outside the coop roosting pit clean out. I have created a bed
of straw, shredded cardboard and paper, and kitchen waste (veggies,
fruit, coffee grounds). The area is situated to the north of the coop
so that light is limited to late afternoon. The pit is open,
surrounded on three sides by two tiers of cedar logs and one side
comprised of wire mesh. I would like to introduce worms into the pit
but am concerned that fresh chicken manure along with the straw and
pine wood chips could be harmful to them. Question: when is the right
time to add chicken manure to a compost that includes red worms?

Hi L,
Using chicken manure for worm composting be tricky business. It is very dry, contains high concentrations of salts, and can release plenty of ammonia as well – making it a very dangerous material when fresh. To potentially compound the problem, cedar wood can also create serious issues when used for vermicomposting systems, due to the potent oils it contains.

All this being said, I don’t think all hope is lost. Plenty of people have successfully used chicken manure for vermicomposting. The key will be to soak it down, mix it with C-rich materials, and let it age for quite awhile. You sound like you are on the right track, but you might think about adding some water to help drain off excess salts.

Let everything sit for awhile (maybe a couple of weeks) without adding more chicken manure (not sure if this is possible in your case), then dig some of it out and see how it looks and smells. You definitely shouldn’t add worms as long as there is a strong odor of ammonia. It should almost get to the point of having an ‘earthy’ smell. Your best bet is to test it out on a small scale before adding the worms. Take some of the material and put it in a small bin – then add a small handful of worms. See if they bury down in it or seem to want to leave the bin as fast as possible.

As for the cedar logs – I’m not sure what to tell you there. With a big enough system you MAY get away with having them, but it’s hard to say for sure.

I realize all this won’t come as particularly good news, but hopefully it helps a little anyway!

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    • Chicken Mom
    • March 17, 2011

    We live in the urban San Diego area and raise Chickens. We keep the chicken manure in half of our compost area (which is, in total, about 6ft X 10ft) and know it needs to sit for about a year before it can be used in our garden. The non-manure section is not composting as well as we would like. Yesterday we turned it and there were still green grass clippings underneath from a few mponths ago and we’ve had plenty of rain this year. The compost is under an ash tree so it gets filtered sunlight. Will worms help? Look forward to your reply!

    Chicken Mom

  1. Hi Chicken Mom,
    Composting worms should really help with that situation – provided one of those two zones is worm friendly. I’d be curious to know what materials are being put in the non-manure zone.
    Chicken manure is pretty potent, but I have little doubt that the worms would also make their way over into the manure zone (especially older parts) and help you out there as well.


    • keerti
    • May 14, 2011

    hi chicken mom,
    a comment regarding your problem with grass clippings….. i used to have a big lawn mowing business and grass clipping disposal was an area of experimentation… as you are aware grass clippings form a matt that is fairly impervious to water, so it doesn’t rot easily …one thing we found that worked as a trial was to mix equal parts of sawdust and grass in a tumbler and turn it every few days … a little labour intensive…!!!! if you have chickens put the grass clippings in the hen house . the chickens will eat it, scratch it, shit in it and generally have a fine old time while they break it down …than once in a while rake the hen house floor and put the whole lot in the compost .

    • Chicken Mom
    • May 21, 2011

    Hi Bentley,

    In the non-manure zone we add grass clippings and other yard waste as well as kitchen waste, sawdust if we’re in the building mood and any other composting material we have. It’s the “lazy mans” pile! I think that is why there are seeds sprouting in it! We haven’t done shredded paper yet but will try it as we take the daily newspaper (we normally put that in the recycling bins). I looked at the zone between the two areas and you are right. The worms are moving into the manure zone where there is a mix of materials. We have also begun to cover the area to keep the moisture in as water is a precious commodity in southern california!

    Hi Keerti,

    Good idea to put the grass clippings in the hen’s yard. They have turned the area to dust (looks like moon scape!) and I know they love green grass! Will have our lawn mowing people leave it in a pile for us to give to the girls. They love the green stuff!

    Do either of you know about bare butts? Two of our girls have recently lost their feathers and I wonder if they are starting to moult? I’ve read a bunch of stuff on line and there seems to be a lot of opinions but nothing definate. They act healthy and we think they are still laying. No bugs we can see.

    Thanks again for your comments!

    • Krystina
    • January 18, 2012

    im doing a project on how chicken manure affects worms and there reproduction and had a few questions i would love for some one to tell me what they no so i could make a good hypothesis and to no what imn getting myself into so any kinda of tips would be awsome exspeshally knowing what kinda container to keep them in for best obsirvation and there living comfort

    • betsy
    • June 18, 2012

    I also have been testing the worms with fresh manure.. Using a huge horse bucket I shoveled it 1/4 way full with manure & pine shavings & soaked it really good ( there are tons of holes drilled on the bottom ) I soaked it really good then added some dirt & finishing worm dirt. Then threw in some red worms, it has been 3 days & they are doing good.. they stick to the top alot right now because the manure is still pretty hot.
    Vermicasting with manure is a lot better because it doesn’t attract the ants 🙂

    • Keen and Green
    • June 20, 2012

    I am about to build a tray for worms to live under the false floor in my hen house. I realise fresh manure may cause me trouble but love the idea of having the two animals working together. Any ideas would be appreciated. Wish me luck.

    • Jay
    • January 31, 2013

    @Keen and Green (and anyone else who is trying this out):

    Make sure that your worms have plenty of depth to hide in/eat in if the fresh chicken manure is too ammoniacal for them. Also, try adding layers of newspaper on top of the worm farm every couple of days, or at least once a week so the layers of manure have an opportunity to mature before they get to where the worms are.

    I would recommend you look into cultivating some oyster mushrooms in straw and using the cultured straw as a layer instead of the newspaper (or culture the newspaper or use cultured cardboard instead.) Oyster mushrooms are particularly easy to cultivate and they will add an extra level of processing the chicken manure so that it will be easier on your worms. Mushroom cultivation is beyond the scope of this post, but for more information I’d recommend ‘Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms’ by Paul Stamets for all you need to know, and more. If you just need a mycocultured substrate to use you could either use spent substrate or not even worry about processing for harvesting – just get the mycelium going and dump a layer of substrate where the manure falls.

    Lastly, I’d recommend two things in your worm farm design:
    1) A space which is large enough for your worms to live where no chicken manure will reach. This way if the manure section is uninhabitable, the worms will hang out in a different area and they will be safe. You could even consider making a rotating design – once every 6 months, shift the worm farm so that the older manure is the ‘safe zone’, and the new manure falls on the old ‘safe zone’
    2) If possible, create a zone where the worm farm occupies space within the chicken run, and make it quite a lot shallower than the rest of your worm farm. This way your chickens will occasionally harvest the stray worm who venture into the chicken run zone. If your worm population explodes, I would expect that there would be an abundance of worms in the shallow end which your chickens have access to – and they will soon figure out that this is the best area for finding worms. Free protein feed for your chickens and free population control for your worms!

    • Darla
    • February 25, 2013

    Well, I found this page page because I was looking for what I did wrong: just killed a bunch of my worms with chicken manure…

    I added old dry chicken manure to the bins, which then started smelling strongly of ammonia. They worms seemed okay, but I kept worrying and decided to “fix” it. I got out as much of the chicken manure as I could: genius me had layered it so this was no easy thing. Yesterday I decided to water down the remaining mess and drain it. Today I found a bunch of dead worms and a bin that had the wonderful odor of ammonia + death. Spent the entire day rescuing any live worms and any cocoons I could find, and only got through half of one bin! Back killing me from hunching over all day, I just used a bunch of those chinese restaurant soup containers to divide up the worms I’d rescued already into fresh temporary housing. The remaining half of the worms are just going to have to tough it out tonight…I mixed in a bunch of yard dirt to dry things up, and gave them paper and cardboard for moisture and to get away from the manure mixture.

    I do not recommend chicken manure for your worms. If you do use it, soak it a long time and stir it and drain it, then add more fresh water. Do that several times for not less than a week. When you put the poo slurry in, only add a tiny bit. Personally, I will not risk my worms again…

    • sue
    • June 20, 2014

    My husband thought I said to put the chook poop in the worm bin last year and I did not find out until a week later. The whole top was covered by around 4 inches. I thought I lost all my worms and didn’t feed or water for months. The warmer weather came and I decided to confront it and start again but was very pleasantly surprised to find 4 x the amount of worms. Now, the poop had been sitting for awhile, had been wetted down after the rain and dried somewhat but there was not much ammonia so maybe that has something to do with why they thrived. I also have a two tiered enclosed bin system and only the top tier had poop in it so the worms can retreat to the lower bin if they want.

    • Kristina
    • March 12, 2015

    What will happen if you collect the chicken poop in a container without draining and it burns down a bit befor mooving it to the wormbin. Will this remove the ammonia from the manure?

    • Bentley
    • March 12, 2015

    Red worms never cease to amaze me with their resilience. Clearly, under certain circumstances, in certain types of systems you can get away with adding plenty of this material. As Jay points out above, the amount of quality habitat the worms have access to can make a big difference. In larger systems with plenty of ventilation you’d be far more likely to do ok than in a tiny enclosed plastic bin.

    Apart from ammonia, it’s been said the poultry manures can contain high levels of harmful salts as well, so if I was planning to use this material I’d likely make sure it was pretty well rinsed/drained (leaving it to sit outside exposed to the elements for a few months should do it).

    Anyway – I am definitely hoping to start experimenting with poultry manure vermicomposting this season – so we’ll see how that goes.

    • paul
    • February 19, 2019

    I have about 100 lbs of a combination of broken down wood bedding pellets and chicken manure that is dried and has been sitting for about a year…(had a family emergency and have not been in the brood building since last year). would this material be ok in a new bathtub worm bin along with coir, cardboard strips and shredded paper.

    • Bentley
    • February 20, 2019

    Hi Paul
    My suggestion would be to get it nice and wet and then test it out on a smaller scale first. Probably great stuff, especially if it has remained fairly dry for quite a while (since that would slow down the breakdown process) but I would never assume so. Maybe start with the other materials (although I am definitely not a coir fan) along with the old material on just one side. If the worms readily move over to the side with the old stuff (which I suspect they will do) you are probably good to go and can add a lot more.

    • Tint Tint Htun
    • April 5, 2019

    I also have been testing the worms with dry goat manure . When the last a week all worm die. Please explain for that. Thank You.

    • David
    • July 18, 2021

    I have 12 chickens with their roost sitting above a well ventilated collection area. The bottom is slatted so the manure falls or gets washed down below. They are out during the day so it’s only their nightly deposits.

    I have not cleaned out the collection area for a few years, it’s about a foot deep, and it seems to be breaking down on its own since the levels have not gotten any higher.

    I know fresh chicken manure isn’t good for the worms and I don’t want to bring any indoors to my kitchen worm bin.

    I was thinking if I put a cardboard or newspaper layer on top of the old manure every few weeks to a month it would catch the fresh manure and by the time the worms worked their way to the next layer up it should be OK for them. Any thoughts or has anyone tried this?

    • Bentley
    • September 1, 2021

    Hi David – this sounds like a fantastic idea. Have Red Worms ended up down in the older manure zone yet? If not I would suggest adding a bunch of worm-rich material from another active system and see if they move from that down into the old manure zone. I would guess that the age would make it fairly worm-friendly stuff, but moisture content is definitely an important consideration as well. Is it fairly damp down there?

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