Dirty Money – Turning Chicken, Worm and Cow Poo into Dough

posted in: Nature and Budgets

Money can come from a myriad of sources, but “Dirty Money”?

From my recent blog stories you can tell I have a penchant for quirky and fun stories, yet always focusing on repurposing, especially to eliminate waste of all kinds.

Visit Chickity Doo DooWell, this time I’m REALLY going to share some stories of companies eliminating the waste of waste – the dirty stuff. Let me warn you, this topic can get “dirty”.

Note: No animals were harmed in the making of this article.

Years ago, while living in the Silicon Valley area, I was asked to interview owners of innovative and green companies for Green Business Innovators, an online space designed to “Help small green businesses make a big impact.”

One of the first companies I showcased was Chickity Doo Doo near Madison, WI. That’s right, we’re talking chicken poo. The company name alone makes me grin.

How often do we think about… what happens to all the waste those famous feathery egg producers leave behind every day? In the old days, when you lived in the country, farm manure used to be spread over the fields. Eventually the volume of poop, new laws, and health and environment concerns changed that practice.

chicken-manure-pellets_190Since a flock of 100 laying chickens produces 20 to 34 pounds of manure a day, it was only a matter of time before excess chicken manure was going to be a critical and costly issue in the future for the commercial size poultry farms.

As they say, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”. John and Katy Weiss (owners) were some of those young, innovative and visionary thinkers in the poultry industry, who started seeing the necessity for change and had the business mind to start brewing up an idea for a new invention.

Over time and with extensive experimenting, they perfected a patented process for converting those never ending manure piles into pure, odorless, organic, granulated fertilizer. Boy, talk about patience and vision!

soil-amendments_230At first the major market was golf courses around the country. Eventually the product made its way to the residential market. Being mentioned on the Martha Stewart Show, certainly didn’t hurt! Can you just picture Martha running her hands through that glorious rich fertilized dirt, carrying on about this product derived from chicken poo?

And yes, the company certainly did start to make a lot of dough from that poo.

The next time you’re out fertilizing your favorite roses with Chickity Doo Doo™, would you ever believe there could be a possible connection with those eggs you had for breakfast?

Okay, chicken poo is one thing, but turning worm poo into dough? By now you probably heard the famous story of TerraCycle. This company not only started out making liquid fertilizer from worm castings (such a polite word for poop) after the hungry worms feasted on recycled garbage, but initially used all recycled products for operating the business. Talk about making dough from waste.

Tom Szaky video...That whole venture (see video) started in the very early 2000s. Tom Szaky was a freshman at Princeton University and wanted to find a business idea for the Princeton Business Plan Contest. While staying with friends he noticed they were feeding table scraps to red wiggler worms in a composting bin and then using that fertilizer for the indoor plants. Now the version I remember reading in those early days was that those indoor plants were marijuana, which made the story all the more interesting.

Worms in compost...The light bulb went on for young Tom. He could use worms to eat organic waste, make a quality fertilizer and address a major environmental issue all at the same time. Pretty soon Tom and his roommate were sharing their room with their employees – buckets of over 10,000 worms.

Tom Szaky RecyclingThe duo knew they had a winning idea, but had no money for packaging their liquid compost (nice technical term). They had to think differently. They came up with the brilliant idea of turning to the local schools to send in their used soda bottles. What better way to sell a “recycled” product, than with recycled materials and becoming the world’s first product both made from and packaged entirely from waste.

His company has since moved on to the environmental recycling scene as a major international leader in eco capitalism, manufacturing creative recycled products out of garbage. The company is coming up with solutions for everything from candy wrappers, to used cigarette butts to even dirty baby diapers. More on those ideas in some future blog.

That initial program for finding plastic bottles has since turned into a world-wide Bottle Brigade Program with over three billion units of waste repurposed.

Terracycle LogoOh yes, about that Princeton Contest, Tom and his tiny company went on to win over a $100,000 through business contests. He even turned down a million dollar offer when he knew there was not a matching alignment with his core environmental values.

Next time you’re flying somewhere, take a look at your bag of chips and notice the TerraCycle logo. Remember, it all started with the simple little repurposing of worm poo.

A typical cow patty... cow pooNow cow patties are a whole different story. They’re not pearl sized or bits of liquidy dirt. Cow poop can be the size of…. Oh sorry, we don’t need the graphics here. However, as a kid I do remember flinging those dried cow chips at each other while visiting my cousins on the farm.

Who would have thought those dirty old chips could have so many uses… or that cows could have such volatility? So much so that some governments in Europe actually proposed a bovine fart tax.

Cow farts and methane gas...
This cows face has been hidden to protect the innocent…

Did you hear the one about the burping and farting cows who triggered an explosion and nearly blew the roof off the barn? No joke. It happened in Central Germany for real early in 2014 when 90 dairy cows apparently put out a little too much gas.

Oh my, I just had to have a little fun with this story. There’s certainly a lot of dough (and many stories) being made from the captured bovine methane gas, but let me move on to the real cow poo to dough story.

Entrepreneurs know how to see gold in the most unusual places. Matt and Ben Freund, two Connecticut dairy farmers were no exception. When a single cow produces close to 120 pounds of manure a day, it’s time to turn manure into cash.Visit the cow Pots Website...

And the natural solution to this abundance of raw material? Cowpots™ of course.

If you ever watched “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, you probably saw Mike Rowe driving the poo plow. The idea of making biodegradable flower pots out of 100% composted cow poop came from the Freund’s need to manage the manure in a more environmentally sound way.

For you gardeners, you’ll appreciate learning that you can seed the pot indoors under grow lights, transplant the entire pot and plant into the garden, and once in the ground, these pots will decompose three times faster than other biodegradable brands.

Some of the videos showing the processing of these massive mounds of manure are a bit gross, but the end-resulting (and yes, odorless), seed-starting pots are truly amazing and a brilliant sustainable, repurposing concept.

Once again, capturing the attention of Martha Stewart and Larry King certainly helped convert some poo into real dough.

There is just so much more to each of the above stories, so if any of them catch your fancy, do enjoy the links for the websites and videos.

Recycle your copper wire.Well now…. what potential dirty money do YOU have around you?

Do you live out in the country where you can rent out the use of some of your land? My friends in Wisconsin have beautiful acres of soybeans growing in the rich dirt around their property.

Are there big chunks of dirty scrap metal laying around or piles of materials and cable from some old remodeling projects filling up space for years that have some hidden “gold” in their value?

Buy your flowers from local sources...Or, is there some way you can support these “dirty” sustainable companies and use their products to benefit a long-term sustainable culture?

This could include your local Farmers Markets with their delicious produce, herbs and goodies.

With a little searching in your community, you may find some wonderful local services. One example is having fresh cut, longer lasting, local grown flowers delivered to your door on a regular basis.

Be imaginative – think dirty – think dough.


  1. Larry Ponder

    Hey there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to
    all your posts! Keep up the outstanding work!