Chicken Manure in “Organic” Fertilizers and Soils—Can you say “cheap cheap?”

For the same reason that “sewage sludge” was deliberately renamed as “biosolids,” plain old “chicken manure” has now been linguistically elevated on the labels of bagged “organic” soils and fertilizers. And the reason is simple; when you have an excess of something, clever marketing helps dispose of it. Whether you call it “poultry waste,” “composted chicken manure,” “dried poultry waste,” or “poultry litter,” chicken manure is still the same old inexpensive filler, with a new twist: a growing list of environmental concerns.

I believe there was a time when manures— like steer manure and chicken manure—were actually very good ingredients to use in the garden. But those days are long gone. Today’s consumer demand for inexpensive poultry has created a dangerous new world when it comes to raising chickens, and it does not even remotely resemble the picture most people have of chickens roaming freely in a farm yard, pecking on the ground for bugs and small plants. And the changes that have come about mean chicken manure is nothing like what it once was either.

Today’s commercially raised chickens—living creatures with as much right to a healthy, natural life as any others—spend their brief existence in unsanitary and grossly inhumane conditions on factory farms called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). The people running these operations don’t have to tell us what they feed the chickens they raise. It is not unusual for factory chickens to have a little arsenic added to their feed, as arsenic promotes growth and gives the meat a certain color that consumers have come to view as “healthy.”

Condemned to Die—Prison Camps for Chickens
Since these birds must reach a marketable weight in a mere six to eight weeks, they are pumped full of hormones, growth enhancers, and of course, antibiotics. When chicken live their lives confined to small spaces, diseases flourish. And in order to control the inevitable pests and the spread of diseases that could result, their environments must be sprayed heavily with chemical pesticides. Back in the days of our great-grandparents’ family farms, many of these chemicals hadn’t even been invented.

Such concentrated populations of chickens produce huge accumulations of manure, scraped off the floors of the buildings periodically, but usually not until a deep layer forms. The material collected contains manure solids, urine, feathers, and more, including all the chemicals chickens ingest and are exposed to.
If you think of chicken manure from factory farms as still being a natural, nutrient-rich addition to garden soil, you are mistaken. By the time the feed (already unhealthy) passes through the chickens’ bodies, it has potentially been contaminated with pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. Then it sits in huge piles near the fields where it will eventually be spread, exposed to the elements. Pollutants like arsenic, E. coli, and fecal coliform bacteria end up in the runoff after heavy rain or snow melt and ultimately reach nearby ditches and streams. And they enter more than just bodies of water; these pollutants can enter your own body as well, when contaminated manure is used for food production. No wonder we keep hearing about food recalls. They are directly related to this unsafe situation.

Poultry poop pays off in manufacturers’ profits
If you spend $5-$10 for a 4-lb. bag of “organic” fertilizer, and most of it is chicken manure, you have just wasted your money. If it is chicken manure you really want, save yourself a fortune, and simply buy a 40-lb. bag of pure chicken manure for less than five dollars. I am really disappointed when companies take advantage of consumers by selling certified organic fertilizers masquerading as premium fertilizers, when their fertilizers are formulated with chicken wastes as the base. If I wanted to, I could buy 2,000 lbs. of chicken manure from a factory farm for about $50, even less from others, if I committed to a truckload—which is what large scale fertilizer manufacturers buy. That comes to ¼ of a cent per pound. Then some fertilizer manufacturers turn around and sell a 4-lb. bag for $8, when 50% of its content is chicken manure.

This seems like an unethical practice, in my opinion. Frankly, it’s robbery. The worst part is that this far-from-natural manure—with its high potential for dangerous contamination— is actually allowable by “organic certifiers” as a usable ingredient in bagged organic soils and fertilizers! That is no bargain, at ANY price. Read the labels on bagged organic fertilizers and make sure you are getting what you pay for!

Gretchen Taylor
Dr. Earth Company