Chicken-Powered Three-Stage Compost Bin




Introduction: Chicken-Powered Three-Stage Compost Bin

About: Warthog-faced buffoon.

Chickens are way better than people at composting: they have unlimited patience, pre-installed garden-tool feet, integrated nitrogen/potassium/phosphorus dispensers, and an insatiable urge to scratch. So why not put them to work?

Interested parties are encouraged to Google the benefits of a three-stage composting system: you'll come up with a huge, steaming pile of expert testimony, along with copious shovelfuls of plans far better than this one. There are versions out there made of pallets, wire mesh, steel paneling...

Our composter is built using the cheapest (non-treated) wood we could find, and is designed with chickens in mind: should they try to hop up on the slanted roof and jump the fence, they will fail hilariously. The front panels are removable to allow easy critter access, and the lids (roofs?) stay open for easy human intervention.

Note: I entered a Photo 'ible version of this one in the "Garden" contest: if you are so inclined (and if it remains eligible), please vote here:

Thank you!

Mike Craghead

Step 1: Tools, Materials

Circular saw
Driver/drill & bits
Tape measure

Of course your mileage will vary but this materials list should give you an idea:

Item Length Quantity For
2"x4" 10' 6 Base, front verticals
2"x4" 8' 2 Back verticals
2"x2" 8' 3 Lid/Roof
Strap hinges 4" 6 Lid/Roof
Fiberglass roofing 12'x3' 1 Lid/Roof
"wiggle board" 8' 3 Lid/Roof
1"x6" Fencing 6' 32 Back, sides, front
1"x1" 10' 3 Rails to hold in front panels
Screws misc lots all
Nails misc lots all

We stuck with inexpensive, non-treated pine and fir.

Step 2: Base & Verticals

Start by making a 9'x3' rectangle made of 2x4:
Place 2 - 9' 2x4s beside each other, and cut two 29" 2x4s for the ends (2x4s are actually 1-1/2" x 3-i/2" so your small sides will be 3' minus 7", which is 29"). Long nails or screws.

Next, make four trapezoids: mine had 3' bases, 30" fronts, 4' backs, and the slanted "roof" angle ended up being... whatever it ended up being: which was pretty close to 3' long... but all I did was lay the "roof" 2x4 from the front to the back,and drew the angle with a pencil (not very precise, but adequate for backyard construction). Nail or screw the "frame" together.

Once the first trapezoid is complete, clone it thrice for a total of four (yes, you read right- I I actually said "clone it thrice." So sue me!).

Convince the trapezoids to stick vertically to the base, 3' apart. Ask a friend to help. A few nails and/or screws is enough. This part will still be a bit wobbly for now, and that's okay.

Step 3: Back & Sides

The cheapest 1x6 we could find was dogeared fencing: on sale because it was a bit worm-eaten, but I was able to extract enough good boards for the job from the pile of ant-farm-looking junk.

Fill in the back with fence boards. I chopped a bunch of 6' boards in half, so each row across the back is made of a 6' and 3' length.

Fill in the sides with fence boards. For the angles I just held up fence bits and drew the angles with a pencil, but one could get more precise if one were so inclined.

The whole structure becomes quite sturdy once the siding is applied.

Step 4: Rails & Front Panels

To create slots into which the the front boards can slide,  Attach two parallel strips of  30" 1x1" to each of the 2x4's at the front of the structure (see photo). The strips should be less than one inch apart: this will allow the boards to move but won't let them swing out and escape.

Cut boards about 1/2" shorter than the width of the bin, and slide them in!

This design allows boards to be removed as needed to allow a chicken (or two or seven) to do their work, regardless of how deep the compost pile happens to be.

Step 5: Lid/Roof

In my neck of the woods (and maybe in yours, too), corrugated fiberglass roofing material is 24" wide, and comes in 8', 10' and 12' sections. The problem for this project was that the corrugations run lengthwise, so if one wants 36" wide squares, one has to do some chopping:
Cut the 12' panel into four pieces, each 3' long by 2' wide. Then cut one of the 3' sections into 3 one-foot sections, and add a 1-foot section to each 2' piece: that makes three 3' roofs!

Make a "U" shape out of 2x2 that fits the size of the first bin: flush on the left side, and ending halfway onto the angled 2x4 that defines the pitch of the roof. Add an additional strip of wood to make a square out of the "U" (see photo).
Slap it together with screws, and attach it to the horizontal 2x4 at the top, using strap hinges.

Cut two identical strips of wiggle-board to fit the upper and lower edges of the roof, and tap in a few short screws to hold them in place. Fit the fiberglass onto the wiggle-board, overlapping as needed to make one 3' roof out of your 2' and 1' pieces. Secure all around with wood screws. If possible, use the self-tapping screws that come with their own pre-installed rubber washers, because those are extra cool and weatherproof.

Repeat for the other two lids, taking care that they all can open & close without bumping into each other.

Step 6: Add Compost & Chickens

Now start using the darn thing:
Manage your compost in three stages- keep the roof closed for greenhouse-effect heating, let your chickens do a whole lot of the heavy lifting, and enjoy your vastly improved compost!

Note: Watch this 'ible over the next few weeks- as the composter gets into full swing, I'll post some images of our chickens in action!

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    Question 11 months ago on Step 1

    I’m a little confused on the application of the wiggle board, what is it doing? Is that different than the pictured 2x4’s?


    Answer 11 months ago

    The wiggle board provides a flat surface so you can mount the corrugated roofing without gaps at the top and bottom edges.


    5 years ago

    What an excellent plan. Great, easy to follow 'ible and hilarious to boot. Love the "pre-installed garden tool feet" and the descriptions of the ladies! Thank you for the info and the laughs!


    6 years ago

    I plan to use several instructables to create my chicken coop / composter.

    a feeder like this

    under the 16x64 lean-too on the south side of my barn i will be converting a 8x16x8 storage shed, width by length by height. adding insulation to all walls and floor. then cover with rolled linoleum flooring cut and shaped to form a tub. will have vents added to deal with moisture. will also be adding a temperature/humidity sensor

    there will also be a large outdoor screened area under the lean-too . cannot have free range because of all of the predictors in my area. the fencing will have part of it under the ground in an L shape, with the bottom of the L facing away from the chicken area. the nesting boxes will be sloped to role the eggs away from the hen.

    nesting boxes like this, with a little more slope to get the eggs out from under the hen.


    7 years ago on Step 6

    yes, I had to google numismatist. thanks for the new word of the day.


    8 years ago on Step 6

    We just began our chicken adventure, and my first instinct with them was to throw them into the worm bin and let them at it! They haven't cared for any worms- but they LOVE grubs and roly-polies. So, half their meals come from the worm composting box, and the rest from the yard/garden (bugs, low lying leaves, etc) Right now they are sharing the double level hutch with my rabbit, and they are all getting along great! I just bought wood today to make brood boxes... so, off to find an 'ible on that:)
    Thanks for the great ideas!


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    Best of luck with your next chicken project. We use a bunch of 5-gallon buckets for our nest boxes: there are eight of them resting on their sides in a wood frame, with one removable board holding them in, covering the bottom 3 inches or so (to hold in the nesting material). We like this setup, because you can pull out one at a time to clean it without shutting the whole coop down for maintenance.


    8 years ago

    Thank you. Love this idea and will try it.


    Reply 8 years ago

    Glad to hear it!

    An update: We emptied it all out while planting veggies this spring, and there was no rotting wood, even at the base! I find that kind of weird because I live in Humboldt County, CA which is a truly soggy place, and much of this bin is in contact with moist soil 24/7. So I figure I must have lucked out on the fence boards, perhaps more durable than I gave them credit for?

    In any case, completely emptying the structure periodically (seasonally? every 2 years?) allows it to dry out all the way, and that's bound to prolong its life, right?

    Best of luck with your build, and say "hi" to your chickens from me.



    10 years ago on Step 6

    You know, we've been using our chicken coop clean-outs to fuel our compost bin for years... I never thought to let the chickens at the actual compost itself. Absolutely brilliant!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Chickens rule! There are two flocks on my block in suburban Philadelphia. If you don't keep a rooster, and keep to beautiful bantam breeds, you'll have no neighborhood complaints. Complaints are what get you in trouble. Collect the eggs and give them to your immediate neighbors as peace offerings. One omlette and you are home free with the ones who would cause the problems. We refer to our girls as "decorative garden fowl".

    Baritone Blues
    Baritone Blues

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Are you sure that you are not allowed?

    For the longest I thought that I was not allowed to keep chickens because I live within city limits. When I finally checked into it by looking at my city's website, it turned out that I am allowed!!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Covenents here in my exact area state no livestock of any kind. I have three acres, but still can not raise chickens, cows, horses etc.,etc. If I could I woudl have a cow, a pig and some chickens and rabits.