Chicken Litter Compost vs. Synthetic Fertilizer

Photo of Kassandra Smith

Kassandra Smith

Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops

Last Updated: 30 May 2014

What is fertilizer and why do plants need it?

In order to grow, your plants need a range of essential nutrients.   Fertilizer gives them an extra helping to stimulate their growth, and keep them nourished.

Plants require three main nutrients:

  • Nitrogen: promotes vegetative growth

  • Phosphorus: stimulates flowering

  • Potassium: regulates plant metabolism

Fertilizer is rich in these three nutrients - but what’s better for your plants?  Buying commercial fertilizer, or making your own compost with added ingredients from your flock?

Isa brown chicken standing in chicken litter compost

What is Chicken Litter Compost?

‘Chicken litter’ is the name given to chicken manure and wood shavings (or whatever other bedding material you may use) that is great for fertilizer. All the poo and bedding that you usually rake off the coops floor and throw out is actually gold for your garden, and the perfect ingredients for the best compost.

Essentially, it’s the same idea as kitty litter.  Therefore chicken litter compost is just compost with these elements specifically added to it - a favourite of coop keepers who are also avid gardeners!

A great compost usually comprises of the following ingredients:

  • loose soil

  • kitchen scraps

  • chicken litter - manure and bedding

  • ‘green manure’ - leaves that have fallen, old crops, grass clippings

The compost should be well mixed, as this allows the plants to grow easily through the loose soil.

Some of the benefits to using chicken litter compost include:

  • non-toxic ingredients, and that it’s chemical free

  • microorganisms and worms are essential to a healthy compost as they break down the food waste, chicken litter, leaves etc. The microorganisms much prefer chicken litter compost because it is non-toxic.

What is Commercial Fertilizer?

Commercial fertilizers supply the necessary nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for plants to grow.  Their ingredients include:

  • ammonium nitrate

  • super-phosphate

  • sulfur-coated urea (controls the release of the fertilizer)

Some commercial fertilizers are fast-release, some are slow.  Overuse of the fast-release version often leads to the aforementioned ‘plant burn’, as the intense dose of the manufactured nutrients is too much. In addition, many synthetic fertilizers are considered ‘toxic’ due to the fact some contain pesticides and other chemicals.

Your average bag of fertilizer costs around $20, depending on the brand and weight.

Which one is better?

When it comes to the issue of pollution, incorrect management of both chicken litter compost and commercial fertilizer puts the environment at risk.  They have such strong concentrations of nutrients that it can poison the environment if it reaches places it shouldn’t.  Simple precautions can be taken, such as not leaving fertilizer near sidewalks, gutters, driveways or places where water can leak from the moist fertilizer and carry excess phosphorous off into other waterways!

In terms of what is better for your plants, the chicken litter compost wins out because it doesn’t contain pesticides (unless you add them!), the nutrients aren’t manufactured and you can definitely trust the source of the ingredients. Plus, it's free!

Sources and further reading