Garden Compost With Help From Laying Hens

Vermont composter uses chickens to turn and even enrich his marketable garden compost.


| May/June 2016



Compost

Karl Hammer’s compost gets turned by his laying hens.

Photo courtesy FARM SHOW

Karl Hammer, owner of Vermont Compost in Montpelier, Vermont, has been raising hundreds of chickens and collecting thousands of eggs for more than 18 years – without buying chicken feed. He simply lets the birds feed on the compost at his commercial composting operation.

It all started when a friend who owned a local restaurant needed a place to get rid of food waste. Since the city wouldn’t allow the restaurant to have its own composting bin, the owner asked Karl if he would take the material. Karl noticed that his chickens were naturally attracted to the food waste.

Karl soon bought a couple hundred chickens and expanded the collection of garbage to other local businesses. The process is simple. The combined ration is placed in windrows inside simple high tunnels for the layer flock to forage on for feed. The tunnels allow the birds to feed on warm windrows year-round. Chickens tumble and agitate the compost searching for bugs, grubs, and bits of food to feed on – all the while depositing protein droppings.

Karl’s main motivations were to not only produce eggs from “garbage,” but also to increase the quality of his compost by the addition of chicken manure and to protect the value of the chicken itself. He believes the chickens are healthier, live longer, and produce larger, better quality eggs than most commercially raised chickens.

Karl says he has a very loyal customer base, and that they prefer the taste of his eggs compared to store-bought and other producers’ eggs. Karl’s eggs are in high demand and sell for about $4 per dozen. He is quick to note that raising chickens this way is no way to get rich quick, and you would also need to consider the impact of large compost piles on your neighbors.

Visit Vermont Compost to learn more. – Brad Miller





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