When I was researching options for disposing of dog poop, I read that, in nature, animals just poop and nature takes care of it. This is true. You do not see companies in the yellow pages advertising to pick up deer poop and rabbit poop or bird poop. It is simply allowed to return to the soil to fertilize plants before the plants are eaten and once again excreted to become soil again… full circle.
Okay more info than you may have wanted, but it plants the seed for where I am going.
I feed 31 dogs. If each dog poops a half pound once a day, that’s more than 15 pounds of poop each and every day. But that is just an example. I don’t think I would be lying to say I deal with more than that. So what to do with it?
In the beginning, I would pick it up twice a day in a small plastic bag that I would tie closed and put inside a large trash bag. By trash day, there were usually two of these large trash bags because one could not support the weight of seven days’ worth of poop. Also, by trash day, they STUNK! They were heavy to carry, they stunk, the bags almost fell apart dragging them out to the street for trash pickup, they were full of bugs even though they were tied shut… and I was so sure the trash people were going to eventually refuse to pick them up.
I began searching the internet and came across two valuable resources. One was an article on how the mushers in Alaska compost their dog poop. An “ah ha” moment because Alaska has something like 20,000 dogs on 7,000 acres. More poop than I am dealing with, but up the same road as me. This was where I started: here and here.
As you read down the page in that link, you get to the section about health concerns. And of course, I had health concerns. So I continued my research. That’s where my second resource came from: Joseph Jenkins and his book about human manure called Humanure. Mr. Jenkins has been studying humanure for something like 25 years and has written a book about it that has even been translated into several languages. You can read the book online if you would like. For the purpose of this paragraph, I recommend page 147 where he shows a table of the various parasites and pathogens and their thermal death point… or at what temperature for what length of time it takes to kill these parasites/pathogens. You can click on the image at the left to see the tables.
Done properly, it is quite common for your compost pile to reach a temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) or more for several hours. More than enough to kill the pests. Also, if you worm your dogs regularly, some of these pests are already minimized. As a brief aside, I think picking up your dogs’ poop regularly is also good for checking in on your dog to see how things are going: do they have worms (tapeworms are quite obvious to see), do they have a touch of diarrhea (a little acidophylus will help that), etc.
So how to build a composter?
I wrap a 4′ tall piece of fencing wire into a circle so I end up with a circular bin that is about 4′ tall and 3′ to 4′ across (sorry, can’t find my photos right now). Then I fill the bottom 6-8 inches with hay to keep the poop from having immediate contact with the soil. If you want, you can add a layer of sand to the bottom as well. Then you layer in your poop, covering it with materials like hay, grass clippings, leaves, weeds, or straw and add water occasionally to provide moisture. You want it moist but not dripping. Around the edge of the pile, I add a couple inches of hay to keep the hay insulated inside the pile. Of course, if you have just a couple dogs, you can make due with a smaller bin.
In general, I have several bins that I use in rotation. I use one bin until it is full, then I cover it with a few inches of hay and start a new bin. Occasionally, I stir the first bin to add oxygen to the pile, but because I leave the bin for such a long time, this is not necessary. The hay creates little oxygen pockets throughout the pile. Adding oxygen speeds up the composting cycle, but by having multiple bins, I am not in such a hurry. Stirring also helps the compost break down into small pieces that end up looking like potting soil you buy from the store. When I start the second bin, I will add some compost from the first bin as a starter. The first bin contains already active microorganisms, though you do not have to do this. The process of composting will generate the microorganisms. You can add stuff like septic starters, but it’s not necessary.
I have six bins (because I have the room for them and because I have so much poop). Each bin holds about 2 months worth of poop. By the time the last bin is full, the first bin can be emptied into a flower garden or used to create a new flower bed. I suppose if you have done your work carefully, the compost could be used in your vegetable garden, but I’m not into that just yet. I am happy to recycle it and use it in flower beds.
So, can you compost dog poop? Per Joseph Jenkins in Humanure,
The idea of composting dog manure has been endorsed by J. I. Rodale in the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. He states, “Dog manure can be used in the compost heap; in fact it is the richest in phosphorous if the dogs are fed with proper care and given their share of bones.” He advises the use of cover materials similar to the ones I mentioned above, and recommends that the compost bin be made dog-proof, which can be done with straw bales, chicken wire, boards or fencing.
Here’s a little more info.
So have at it!