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Coffee Chaff Chicken Coop Litter: Creative Upcycling for the Urban Farmer

January 2nd, 2010 · 35 Comments ·

My friend David Ruggiero is working on a new project called “Upcycling Northwest.”  Upcycling, of course, is the in-word for smarter/better recycling, making use of the energy in the initial production of something, rather than using more energy to break it down into raw materials–or, as David puts it, finding “the highest and best re-use for the material rather than the easiest or most obvious.”  David is sure that there is more to upcycling than making arty handbags out of gum wrappers. With Upcycling Northwest, he’s trying to hook folks up with useful industrial castoffs.  And in Seattle, what better place to start than with the coffee industry?

A few weeks ago, David sent an email around to his many intrepid gardener friends, inviting us to try out coffee bean chaff–the light, airy husks blown off the beans during roasting–as mulch and compost.  I said “sure,” and it wasn’t long before David darkened my doorstep with a big bag of the fluffy stuff.

Chaff_Handful

I admit I wasn’t feeling super-hopeful about the mulch idea–the chaff is so soft and light, and the winter garden is so wet and mucky–I thought I might wait until spring.  But David mentioned he’d been using it in place of wood chips in the chicken coop, and that captured my imagination.  Next time I cleaned out the coop, I replaced the white wood shavings with a few inches of coffee chaff.

Chaff_coop

The chickens were hilarious.  Like cats, they can be unnerved by novelty, and I wasn’t sure what they would think of their new chaffy home.  But they all immediately ran into the coop, and started “playing” in the chaff, tossing it up with their bills.  SO funny.  There are pros and cons to coffee chaff in the chicken coop, but on balance, I’ve decided to keep using it.  Here’s my report:

Cons: So light that it flies around, gets in the chicken water.  Turns slimy when wet.

Pros: Free!  Upcycled!  No link to the timber industry.  Smells like coffee.  Light–easy to handle.  Clumps with chicken poop a bit  like scoopable kitty litter–easy to remove from coop.  Swiftly composts.

At first the chaff is so ultra-fluffy, the chickens sort of sink in it.  They seem to really enjoy this!

At first the chaff is so ultra-fluffy, the chickens sort of sink in it. They seem to really enjoy this!

Most coffee roasters will be happy to pass their chaff along to you. Just ask. Usually it is just tossed into the compost bin or, more often, the landfill.  Spent coffee grounds and over-roasted beans are often available as well (check out this little article by Seattle garden doyenne Ann Lovejoy about the many uses for coffee industry by-products–for mulch, compost, garden paths…).  Coffee chaff is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients, and I look forward to mixing it with my vegetable garden mulch.  Tomatoes are reputed to love the stuff.  David is also looking into the use of those great burlap bags in which coffee is imported as a replacement for that plastic weed-blocking material (see his website for info on obtaining and using post-coffee burlap).   More to come on all of this…

Meanwhile, if you are a latte-sipping urban chicken farmer, I hope you’ll give coffee bean chaff a try in your coop, and let us know how it works for you!

chickens, garden, upcycling, urban farming, waste reduction

35 Comments so far ↓

  • Tiffany S.

    Hats off to you AND David!

    I was intrigued that it clumped but it doesn’t sounds like it could actually BE a cat litter alternative. I’ll be interested to hear how it mulches (and we’d be happy to try some – we have a brand new bed going in this year).

    • lyanda

      Thanks Tiffany. You’re right about chaff not working as kitty litter–I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure it couldn’t handle the pee. Good luck with your gardening adventures, and let’s all keep each other posted on our chaff/mulch experiments.

      • Yani

        I’m curious about using it as a cat litter. I use wood pellets and they breakdown with pee, rather than clump. BUT, the odor control of the wood is amazing and worth the little extra work of box cleaning.

      • joseph

        Exciting to read this article: I was recently contemplating whether coffee chaff would make good chicken bedding. Regarding litter, I will share that a couple of weeks ago when my sawdust ran out I began using chaff in my personal humanure toilet bucket and I don’t yet have any complaints.

  • David

    Lyanda – thanks much for the lovely posting, and for offering up your brood as guinea pigs…um, “hens” for this little upcycling experiment.

    Big bags of coffee chaff are always free for pickup to our Seattle-area customers . (We sell recycled burlap coffee bags – great for natural weedblock!- and ground, fresh, non-food coffee, a fantastic soil amendment.) Check out our website, seattleburlap.com . Thanks!

  • dawn

    I want chickens. (fyi our vet here in Bellevue is a poulty specialist if you are ever looking for one, but I digress.) I love the idea of upcycling and will read Ann’s article and look into getting some burlap and coffee for the garden. Very exciting, thanks so much for the info and links.

    • Marsha W

      Hi Dawn,
      We live in the south end of Bellevue, could you please send us your vet (poultry specialist) name. We also have chickens, one has dug herself a dust bath hole and will only get out for cracked corn. Is this normal chicken behavior. It just started today.
      Thanks,
      Marsha
      bestprepgirl@comcast.net

  • Tamar Amidon

    THank you so much. I read this and the next day,today, went to a local coffee company that roasts,sells and distributes coffee. They were pleased as punch to give me chaff, the girls in the coop love it, and the smell is great.

  • lyanda

    Thanks everybody.

    Yani–I still think coffee chaff is not substantial enough to hold up as kitty litter, but it sure can’t hurt to try. Please report back if you experiment…

    Tamar–so glad you hooked your girls up with some chaff! Let us know how you like it after awhile.

  • Betsy

    wow, my friends here in Santa Fe sent me a link to the article on Coffee chaff in chicken coops and that sent me here. My husband Jamie and I are old friends of David. And we have our urban chickens here in Santa Fe and roast our own coffee and use the chaff around the garden. If we get enough of it, we’ll use it in the coop!

  • David

    Letting y’all know that all of the following are still available from us – just visit http://upcyclenw.com for a full and complete list any time -

    1) Coffee chaff – free! Large quantities, already bagged. Chicken coop bedding and primo soil amendment.

    2) Ground and whole bean roasted coffee (non food-grade! for garden and sachet use only) – 500# or more available as of 1/15/2010.

    3) Green and partially-roasted whole bean coffee (for beautiful garden paths that actually improve the soil and repel pests) 600# or more available as of 1/15/2010.

    thanks!
    David
    Upcycler-in-Chief / UpCycle NW

  • Justine

    Hi, I think this is a fabulous idea for chickens, but before I start composting large amounts of it in my backyard, I’m wondering if pesticides are a concern. Do you know? Thanks!!

    • lyanda

      Great question. Coffee is roasted at nearly 500 degrees, so any pesticide residue is completely burned off both the beans and the chaff. When we choose organic coffee, it’s for the health of the workers, wildlife, soil, and water, rather than direct concerns over personal health, since both organic, and inorganic beans, once roasted, have no residual pesticides. Since all chaff (no matter what kind of farm the coffee was grown on) is destined for the landfill and free (so we’re not supporting chemical agriculture when we use it), there’s really no ecological downside.

      • Justine

        Thank you for your response, I’m thrilled to hear that. Sometimes in urban settings it’s hard to find bulk materials for soil building, so this is really great! Now I need to load up with some chaff!

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  • Kathleen Hunt

    A lovely hen just appeared in our yard yesterday and is still hanging around today. We saw a big falcon in the tree that we imagine was stalking the hen. There are lots of bushes for her to hide in…
    I’m wondering what you feed your hens?
    I put out some corn meal but she didn’t seem to be interested. Thank you!

    • Mrs. Clucker

      Feed hens quality nutritionally balanced chicken food — sold as bags of layer pellet or layer crumble. Mix in a little bit of scratch grains as a treat. Layer pellets/crumble and scratch are sold at farm supply stores like Del’s Farm Supply in Auburn, WA. There is a farm store next to Molbaks in Woodinville too. Sold as 10lb and 50lb bags. Cluck!

  • Mrs. Clucker

    To keep the chaff out of the chicken’s water source, hang the water source from the ceiling so it is up higher off the ground. The water can be at the level of the hen’s back. Or put it up higher on concrete blocks. It can also be placed on a raised platform made of a wooden frame (2 X 10 or 2 X 12) with hardware cloth nailed over the top, which is then set on top of the chaff.

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  • Tamra Tays

    If I can’t get coffee bean chaff from you, where can I get it with out waiting until fall. Thank you

  • Rick G.

    Lyanda, I have a hard time believing you when you say the pesticides are ‘burned off’ during the roasting. Does that mean the pesticides are in the air now ? WONDERFUL. And as for recycling or up-cycling or whatever you think to call it, how about finding a local substitute for that addictive bean these corrupt coffee companies are importing at enormous costs of carbon, chemicals, and third world labor. I don’t drink coffee, or support anything to do with it. Death to Starbucks.

    • Anthony C.

      As my dear departed father often reminded me, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should shut up and try to learn something.

      Sure, the coffee industry is huge. As a matter of fact, one-out-of every two human beings starts their day with a cup of coffee. Coffee is a plant which nourishes the earth and oxygenates the atmosphere. As far as “third world labor” is concerned, I suggest you travel to Costa Rica, Vietnam, Jamaica or one of the hundreds of other coffee growing regions and suggest to the locals that they should stop growing coffee (you might as well suggest that they stop feeding their kids). Better yet, go down to Columbia and suggest that they stop growing marijuana, which after all, is universally burnt up each year by the GigaTon, adding to the carbon footprint inestimably. I suspect that the locals in any of these places would shortly educate you on how to use human remains for fertilizer.

      Finally, not only are any pesticide residues “burned-off”, but actually incinerated completely by 1600 degree afterburners (or even climate friendly catalytic oxidizers) which even remove all traces of smoke.

      The challenge for humanity has always been to discover what we want, and how best to get it without hurting ourselves. Today, add to that “ourselves and the earth”. That’s what this entire post has been about before “Rick G.” muscled in with his sophomoric condemnation.

      I suggest Rick quiet down, light up a joint of Columbian, heat up a cup of water with his solar panel, and brew some of the tasteless green tea (& bugs) he grew in his back-yard without fertilizer or pesticide. Better yet, eat the weed so as not to pollute the air further. In the meantime Rick, try not to drive your car, sit on any furniture made of animal skins, synthetic fibers, cotton, wood, glass, plastic, metal, or bamboo. Also, do not wear clothing, use any electronics or eat any off-season-produce since all these things were no doubt produced at a huge carbon cost, by corrupt companies employing those poor, starving third-world workers, who would much rather be living on Welfare in the United States.

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  • Rebecca

    hi just wondered if its possible to get it in uk as it sounds great would like to use it with my chooks but any ideas links ext to get hold of some?

    • lyanda

      Hi Rebecca. Chaff is a necessary by-product of the coffee roasting process. If you can find a roaster close to you, they will usually give it away. If you have a coffee shop that uses locally roasted brew, maybe ask them who their roaster is…Good luck, and I hope you’ll let us know how you fare.

  • beth

    we have four chicks arriving tomorrow and just secured a bag of chaff from a local roaster for the coop : ) thanks for all the info!

  • Beverly

    Can anyone share with me a local (seattle) roaster that has been willing to share their chaff with me? I asked a couple and all I got were funny looks. THANKS!

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  • michelle

    are you still using? any issues?

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