Whole Corn Cobs Make 

Great Duck Litter


by Carol Deppe


Producing my own cornbread and polenta produces lots of corn cobs. I don't, alas, have a wood stove. So what do I do with the cobs? Keeping ducks requires some sort of moisture-absorbing litter in any indoor quarters. I have been buying straw. You would think that I would have tried to put these two problems together a decade or two ago. Somehow, I didn't think of it until fall of 2012.

I was not being quite as slow as it seems. I always recognized the potential of corn cobs for duck litter. It's just that I thought I needed to run them through a wood chipper-shredder first...that chipper-shredder that I don't have because I hate noisy stuff like that and invariably end up not using it even when I own it. Whole cobs are much lumpier than the straw I have been using for duck bedding. I assumed that the ducks wouldn't find the cobs very comfortable to sit on. My breakthrough was to quit making assumptions and just ask the ducks what they thought about it.

"Asking the ducks" meant putting down a section of cobs and seeing where the ducks bed down. One possible approach would have been to put down a section of cobs and a section of clean straw and see where the ducks bedded down. I didn't do that. What I had was a pen full of straw matted down and coated with duck muck and several bushels of whole corn cobs. I didn't really need to find out how well the ducks like fresh straw, since it becomes coated with duck muck within a day or two. The issue was, which would the ducks prefer-- mucky straw or lumpy cobs? It took the ducks less than 24 hours to give a definitive report. Every time I checked on the ducks they were all sitting happily on the cobs. The report was all the more definitive since they had been sleeping standing up on the mucky straw.

The coarse cobs have plenty of space for duck poop without becoming matted. They also roll a bit as the ducks move over them. This rolling probably helps distribute the manure around on all sides of the cobs and further prevent matting.

I leave figuring out whether to use corn cobs for chicken or turkey litter as an exercise for the reader. Chickens, though, with their smaller volume of drier poop and their scratching behavior, don't create such mucked up bedding so rapidly as do ducks.

The manure-saturated cobs offer interesting possibilities. Matted together straw and duck poop make a great source of garden fertility, but they aren't especially easy to handle. The manurey cobs are basically pelleted fertilizer. Just big pellets. Maybe I should toss one into each hill of squash (leaving half the hills without, of course, as a control). Or I could plant a row of cobs between double rows of corn. Or just toss a few cobs on the ground between corn rows or near squash later in the seasons to give the plants an extra boost. There are lots of things to try...