Here in IL, now that we have a real barn with real stalls, a good sized garden with lots of green stems and leaves growing (and dying) in it, and lots of animals which produce lots of manure, we also have a much larger compost pile than we did in CO.   Unfortunately, a large compost pile does not remain piled neatly very long when there are lots of free-ranging chickens present.  A compost pile is like chicken heaven with all those bugs, seeds, food scraps, and other items just sitting there waiting to be eaten.  In fact, by the time they’ve spent a couple months scratching through it, it winds up looking something more like this:

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I needed a better set-up.  It was time to tackle another project on my list and build a compost bin.  We actually don’t produce as much compost as you might think.  When the animals are being rotated on pasture, we don’t scoop manure since they already spread it for us.  We also don’t normally house animals in the barn (except rabbits), so stall cleaning only happens in spells where I do need to house some critter for some reason (like weaning calves).  Garden waste happens more seasonally, with just little bits here and there.  Nonetheless, it all adds up over time.  By allowing it to be scattered, I was loosing all those precious nutrients to leeching or evaporation.  In order to turn all the waste into the priceless black gold that makes up a good compost, I needed a bin that would allow me to pile it roughly 4 cubic feet (considered the ideal size for rapid, aerobic composting).

After taking a look at my scrap lumber and coming up with a plan, I decided to speed up the process by using the wood as-is rather than trimming it down.  I used 7 foot boards on the back wall, with old fence posts as the corner bracing.  By adding an additional post to the middle of the wall, I was able to divide the bin in half.  I used 6 foot boards on the sides and in the middle.  This created 2, 3.5 x 6 foot bins.  I used old cedar fence rails for the sides and back.  The untreated cedar doesn’t decay quite as fast as other wood, but also doesn’t contaminate my compost with chemicals often used in wood treatments.  By leaving gaps between each board, more oxygen is able to penetrate the pile.

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This project took me about 2 days.  That included building the bins, cleaning my stalls,  cleaning up the original, scattered compost pile, and filling the bins, layering as needed.  If I can remember to turn and wet down the pile once in a while (if we don’t get rain), then I should be able to have an abundance of nutrient rich compost for the garden come spring.  I may have to build a couple more, as all the animals have been moved to a sacrifice paddock now.  I will discuss that more in another post.  In any case, though, it means I may have a lot more material than normal needing to be composted as winter approaches.  Notice in the next photo that, for now at least, I situated the bins on a slope.  With the front boards, I needed to raise the wheelbarrow up a hair to dump into the bins easily, so I just piled a “ramp” out of some of the original compost pile as I raked it in.  This made dumping into the bins MUCH easier!

The finished compost bins.  Amazingly, the original pile, the stall I cleaned, and the misc. other stuff I put into it only filled it about half way.  This means I can flip it into the other bin as part of the stirring process when it's time to start the next pile later.

The finished compost bins. Amazingly, the original pile, the stall I cleaned, and the misc. other stuff I put into it only filled it about half way. This means I can flip it into the other bin as part of the stirring process when it’s time to start the next pile later.  

Once S arrives, he will probably redo these bins and we may even decide to relocate them.  To make them more permanent, I should have buried the posts.  I wasn’t sure if this is where I wanted them, however, so I just left them sitting on the ground, where they’ll work for now.  We’ll see how I like it in a few months and change if needed for next year.

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