Compost Learning Center

Animals in the Compost Cycle

The waste of any process is food for other processes. Nutrients follow a cycle: soil provides nutrients to plants, plants provide nutrients to animals, plants and animals provide nutrients to decomposers (in compost!), and decomposers return nutrients to the soil.

We highlight the importance of this nutrient cycle by keeping a menagerie of composting critters at the Compost Learning Center. Each one has its role in the cycle. Chickens, rabbits, and goats feed on farmers market food scraps for a nutritious diet and add their nitrogen-rich (“green”) manure to the compost. Red wiggler worms work alongside microorganisms to break down food scraps and produce nutrient-dense droppings, called “castings”, that make excellent compost.

Here is a list of the means by which our animals contribute to our compost.

Meet Our Animals

Visit the Compost Learning Center on a Saturday or Sunday during the Governors Island open season (end of May-end of September) to meet our animals and get an idea of what animal care at Earth Matter is all about or register to volunteer on a Friday Work Day.


The Chicken Compost Cycle

Chickens help to aerate the piles and provide a key green ingredient- poop!

Scoop on Poop

Manure (poop) is a key ingredient in chicken composting. Manure is very high in the building block of plan nutrition: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K).

Chicken Poop has a higher Nitrogen content (1.1%) than cow (0.6%), or horse manure (0.7%). Rabbit (2.4%) and goat manure (2.4%) have more.

Did you know?

Poop and pee are combined in one dropping and each chicken makes about 45lbs of poop every year!

Chicken Composting

We provide our chickens with a varied diet by feeding them food scraps collected from Governors Island and farmers markets in NYC and spent beer grain. The chickens pick over the food scraps and drop their manure. This extra source of nitrogen (a “green”) helps to heat up the compost pile when the food scraps (also “greens”) are mixed with carbonaceous “browns”.

Deep Litter

Under our chickens’ roosting bars, we layer wood shavings on top of their poop daily to keep the area odor-free and hygienic. The chickens scratch and pick through this deep litter, building their immune systems. The group of microorganisms that break down the manure are anaerobic. Deep litter also generates heat that keeps the birds warm during the winter months. After 1 or 2 years, the compost is ready to be applied to the garden.

Rabbits, Goats, and Bees

Rabbit Hutch and Poop Chute

Our rabbit, Tino, also lives in the Cocoon Room. His rabbit hutch is situated above worm bins with a chute that funnels rabbit droppings into the bins. Rabbits are herbivores, and their manure has a high proportion of nitrogen (2.4%). We find it to be a great feed stock for worm bins.


In addition to playfully eating papers off of your clipboard, our goats serve their place in the nutrient cycle. Like rabbit droppings, goat poop has a high proportion of nitrogen (2.4%). That makes it a great input for composting. Our goats eat and poop around the Compost Learning Center, and we collect their droppings in the Passive Poop Pen, along with browns like wood shavings, to break down anaerobically. In 1-2 years’ time, this material will make great fertilizer for the garden.


We keep a hive of honeybees at the Compost Learning Center for the benefit of the flora on Governors Island. The bees pollinate plants in our gardens and throughout the Island.


Out outdoor classroom area where groups sit quietly and learn about worms, chickens, and composting.

Y(our) animals!

We are open to the public from 12-4:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays during the Governors Island open season (end of May-end of September).

Come visit us and snap a photo of your favorite animal in the compost cycle!

Send your best photos to!

Approved photo submissions will be posted to our website.