Feather Meal: A High-Nitrogen Organic Fertilizer

Ed Wike
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Benefits of Feather Meal

Feather meal is a highly-nitrogenated fertilizer that is sometimes produced from poultry, but is usually derived from the feathers of ducks and geese. Some companies use feathers that come directly from slaughter house waste, but these feathers can be unsanitary if not washed.

Feathers are heated to break down collagen in the feather, which yields a high-nitrogen factor. Feather meals also contain calcium and other minerals, and are an excellent source of protein. Though feather meal may sound like a poor alternative to fertilizer, it’s actually a better substance than NPK or chemical fertilizers.

The downside is that the softer feathers turn into fluffy dust when ground, so they work best when mixed with a slow-release pellet. The finer the feather meal, the better it will work. Feather meal is a rapidly-available, well-balanced organic fertilizer that is effective as a topdress or an ingredient in larger fertilizer mixes.

It is particularly effective in hydroponic situations, especially if you don’t have much nitrogen in your water. It has an excellent nutrient-to-weight ratio, and can remain effective for 10 to 20 years. To extend the shelf life of dried feather meal, sprinkle it with flour and/or store it in a cool, dry spot. It is especially effective in baked goods, pancakes, and pasta dishes.

How to Apply Feather Meal

Feather meal is a beneficial, organic fertilizer as well as a great soil conditioner. When prepared, it is easy to use, and plants absorb it quickly and easily. It makes a good companion to a dried, pet-safe, organic bug repellent.

Feather meal is made by heating chicken feathers in a pressure cooker, and then grinding that powder into a fine powder. Once the powder is prepared, it is ready to use.

One of the best ways to use feather meal is to use it in homemade compost. Whenever you add to your compost pile, you can add a shovel of freshly prepared feather meal. If you are making your own plant food mix, add a spoonful of feather meal to every 12 quarts of mix.

Feather meal can also be used as a great alternative to blood meal. It provides an amazing 2.2% nitrogen content, and it works nicely as a companion to dried blood flakes, as mentioned previously. Add a spoonful of feather meal to each 12 quarts of premixture to use with dried blood flakes.

Feather meal can be purchased online, but you can make your own. It is very easy to make and can be made without a pressure cooker. You'll be left with high-quality feather meal as a byproduct, and you can use the feathers to line your cat litter box or stuff cushions.

Potential Safety Issues

There have been a few reports that feather meal has been contaminated with some heavy metals, and that it should not be applied to foliage, berries or grains. However, in our experience, it is one of the best, least expensive sources for a high-nitrogen, organic fertilizers for your crop.

Research has found concentrations of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in feather meal from up to 22 ppm to 840 ppm. Although high, this is still below the allowable Levels established by the EPA.

Many organic fertilizers contain high amounts of nitrogen. However, feather meal is a more concentrated source and is derived from poultry that may be treated with antibiotics, thus making it a possible source for bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the product you are using is fresh, and not from a bag that has been sitting outside of the barn or feedmill for a few days or weeks.

To be assured that you are not introducing a pathogen, you can mix the feather meal with coir or compost before adding it to your garden. This extra step will reduce the likelihood of contamination.

As with any organic fertilizer, it is important to note the pH and the amount of Nitrogen in any product that you use, and make sure that the product is appropriate for your needs.