Poultry manure is often considered a good choice of fertilizer for vegetable gardens and fruit.
Using poultry manure as a fertilizer has many pros and some cons. Poultry manure has more of the three components needed in a fertilizer – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – than other animal manure. Using manure instead of commercial fertilizers can have environmental benefits and can be less expensive, especially if poultry manure is readily available for collection. Using poultry manure is more labor intensive than buying commercial fertilizer. There may also be some chance of contaminating vegetables with manure if proper processes are not followed and if the products are not washed well before consumption.
One of the pros of using poultry manure as a fertilizer is also the cause of one of the cons. Bird manure contains large amounts of nitrogen, which plants need to grow. The level of nitrogen in poultry manure is so high, however, that the manure must go through a process before it is applied to plants. If fresh poultry manure is applied directly to plants, the nitrogen content is so high that bird manure can burn the plants and even kill them. This means that using poultry manure as a fertilizer is much more work than using commercial fertilizer or even some other types of animal manure as a fertilizer.
The nitrogen content means that poultry manure must go through a composting or aging process before being applied to plants. This process brings nitrogen levels to a point where plants can use it without causing harm to the plants. In the composting process, poultry litter, including manure, is placed in a compost for six to 12 months. It should be watered and rotated periodically during this time. Once the composting process is complete, the compost is spread throughout the garden and a natural fertilizer is added to help the plants thrive.
Poultry manure composted for fertilizer is likely to increase carbon in the soil, can help reduce soil erosion, and can reduce nitrate leaching from the soil. Nitrates are necessary for plant growth. Nitrate leaching refers to soil nitrates that are removed from plants as water passes through the roots.
The risks of product contamination from using poultry manure as a fertilizer are low, especially if the manure is composted. To further reduce this risk, bird manure for fertilizer should be applied to plants at least two months before the food is harvested for consumption. It is also important that food grown with manure fertilizer is washed well before serving.