Explore Magazine Volume 2 Issue 1


Compost Has Economic, Environmental Benefits

In an effort to stay ahead of environmental rules that may prohibit burying dead birds, Florida poultry farmers soon may turn to composting the thousands of birds that die daily in chicken houses.

They also may find the compost becomes a valuable commodity, said Roger Jacobs, a University of Florida poultry specialist who conducted a two-year study on the feasibility of composting the birds.

``The soft tissue disappears in four to seven days,'' said Jacobs. ``In 30 days, all you'll find are some bone particles.''

There are about 10 million birds on poultry farms statewide. Of those, about one-half to three-quarters of 1 percent die monthly of natural causes.

While farmers have been burying the birds on their farms, environmental officials are beginning to question that disposal method because of its potential to contaminate ground and surface water, Jacobs said.

In looking at alternatives, Jacobs and his colleagues decided to try composting. With a grant from the Florida Poultry Federation and assistance from Tampa Farm Service in Hillsborough County, he put the dead chickens into a bin and added yard waste for bulk and air flow. The material started out at 50 percent chickens by weight, he said. It ended up as a rich, fertile soil.

The final material, after seasoning, is dry and odorless and contains 2 to 3 percent nitrogen, along with other nutrients suitable for growing plants. The compost is as good as any organic fertilizer on the market, especially for backyard gardens, Jacobs said.

Cindy Spence

photo by Milt Putnam

Roger Jacobs digs up a handful of compost made from dead poultry, which becomes an odorless, mulch-like material suitable for fertilizer.