Composting, Chickens and Rats: Oh My!

Composting Chickens and Rats

This reader’s question is from Bobbi, who recently became a faithful reader of Go Gingham.  Bobbi shared with me that she’s ready to get disciplined about being frugal and is on a financial cleanse.  Love it, Bobbi, congratulations and great job!  Bobbi writes, “We started chicks this year and we are having fun.  Here are my questions:  Do you add the pine shavings into your compost?  I wasn’t sure if that was ok or if just the poo was supposed to be added.  Were do you get your oyster shells and when should I start giving it to the pullets, who are about 14-weeks old?  And, do you just have a composting pile or do you actually have a compost bin?”

Do you add the pine shavings into your compost, too?

Yes.  When cleaning the chicken coop, just take all the pine shavings and chicken poo and put it right into you compost bin.  The pine shavings/poo mixture needs to work through the compost before you add it to your garden.  Don’t put the fresh pine shavings and poo directly on your plants.  It’s too strong for them.  Yes, I speak from experience here.  I should clarify, my kids put the pine shavings and poo in the compost.  It’s one of their weekly chores.

Cleaning Chicken Coop

Where do you get your oyster shells and when should I start giving it to the pullets, who are about 14-weeks old?

My oyster shell comes from the local to us (Portland, OR) Urban Farm Store or Concentrates.  Most feed stores sell oyster shell.  I buy it by the pound but you can also purchase it in 50lb bags.  Laying hens need oyster shell for the calcium to help them make egg shells.  It’s not very expensive (about 75 cents a pound).  You can crush up and toast your old egg shells in a toaster oven and give those to your hens.  I don’t recommend this.  The one and only time I did this our kitchen smelled terrible.  My kids were comparing the smell to ….. well, you can probably imagine.  If you want to go this route, toast the shells before you give them to your chickens.  You don’t want your hens to get a taste for fresh egg shells because then they’ll want to eat their newly laid eggs.

I’d start giving your pullets the oyster shell now.  Even though they’re not laying yet, it can’t hurt them.  We sometimes mix a little chicken scratch (also available at feed stores) into the oyster shell but don’t mix too much.  Chicken scratch is like candy for chickens and we want those hens to have a well-balanced diet, not a junk food diet.

Do you just have a composting pile or do you actually have a compost bin?

Double compost bins

I have 2 compost bins.  When we bought our house 17-years ago, the previous owners had a 3-sided open compost bin that we eventually replaced with 2 covered compost bins.  With our open compost pile, we had a rat problem and Vector Control came to our house and verbally spanked us, left us with a VHS video to share with our neighbors, and told us to get covered compost bins.  We’re not much into rats so we quickly get compost bins and began using them immediately.  When setting up your compost bins, make sure you put hardware cloth (pictured below) underneath the bin.  This will keep rats out.

Compost bin to keep rats out

Having 2 compost bins is really helpful for our family because we only have once a month garbage collection and we have a very small garbage can.  We also have really great compost that we mix into our dirt every spring for our vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden with compost

Bobbi adds, “Thank you for your commitment to people who need to hear your ideas and thoughts about how to live without constantly being in need of things.”

Bobbi, you’re so welcome and thank you for reading Go Gingham!

Go Gingham related links:

Find all the readers’ questions here or ask one yourself here
Once-a-month garbage collection
A house re-do project with once-a-month garbage collection? Yes – here!
Are backyard chickens right for you?  What are the good and bad points of backyard chickens?
You may fall in love with backyard chickens like we did!
Chicken coop basics can be found here and setting up a brooder for chicks is here

Sara

Sara, creator of Go Gingham, is passionate about cooking and feeding her family healthy, real food. She's a green enthusiast, too, who loves to grow food organically. Sara loves to travel - especially by trading houses. An avid runner, she can also be found chasing after her chickens in the backyard.

7 Comments


  1. I love your complete explanations, Sara! We really do need to know the details, because this doesn’t come as easily to us! So do you stir your compost bins? Do you use the compost once a year? thanks!


    1. Annie! My husband skips the gym and stirs the compost regularly. As noted above, we have a stirrer that has little wings so it’s a poke and a stir in one motion. We use it mostly just once a year – I think the design is poor on those bins because the door is way too small to fit a shovel in! We put scraps in our compost bins practically every day and it just keeps working.


  2. Hi Sara, I’m curious about your hens and their feed. What did poultry farmers feed their hens for calcium back in the “olden days”, before availability of ground oyster shells.
    We have once a month pick-up on our garbage, as well. So we try to make sure that nothing goes into the garbage that could have gone into the compost. My kids are great about this, too. They’ll even bring their banana and orange peels home in their lunch bags, so we can compost them, as they don’t have a compost bin at school.
    And we only aerate our compost once in the life of the pile. When the bin is full, and this happens several times in a summer, (as we also put our yard waste into it) we lift the bin off of the pile. Then that pile gets turned onto a fresh piece of dirt. That’s the only aerating we do. Aerating would help it all decompose faster, but this is just one of those things we let slide — it’s work to turn a compost pile. I have my eye on a tumbling composter to put closer to the back door, so in winter I wouldn’t have to traipse across the yard to empty the kitchen bin.


    1. Yes, the aerating – my husband does it – and I think it’s a hassle but he thinks it’s a workout. We have a pole that has wings on the end that kind of poke and stir at the same time. I love that your kids bring home their veg scraps. Our kids’ school composts so they leave their scraps at school.
      And, I don’t know what chicken farmers did before oyster shell from feed stores became available but I’ll do some checking.
      Thanks, Lili!


  3. Sara, love it! I’m off to find some oyster shells and I’m going to be keeping my eyes peeled for a good deal on a compost bin. We have acreage and the field mice would have a hey-day with a compost pile as well! Thanks again for answering my questions! Blessings today!


  4. Sara, I love your site, so helpful! Have you heard of problems with mites on chickens? My co-worker got some chickens but she has now gotten an infestation of mites and hates the chickens now. Is there a way to prevent them? Do the chickens smell? We can have them in our area, (we are in an unincorporated area of the county), although we live in a development. Do you think the neighbors would notice them? Thanks! 🙂


    1. Hi Janet,
      I have not heard about mites on chickens. We don’t seem to have that problem.
      The chickens don’t smell except when it’s very mucky (like right now!) outside and I’m up close to their coop. They really don’t smell otherwise and our backyard is very smell. The only thing your neighbors may notice is if you have a rooster. Roosters are very noisy and we can’t have them in the city. We’ve accidentally had a couple. They crow often! I’d check with the county ordinances about whether you can have chickens, first, before building a coop, etc.
      Good luck, Janet, please let me know how it goes.

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