We get this question a lot once the snow flies.
Pretty much we farmers just sit around and think about sh*@.
No,really. We do.
Here are a few gems from Gene Logsdon's recent (irreverently titled) book on the subject of manure:
*"Generally speaking, over half of the nitrogen and potassium in manure is in the urine." (Hence the need for bedding. Good for the animals, and good for the fields, soaking up and holding all that excellent nutrient content.)
*Manure contains all kinds of goodies: starch, celllulose, lignin,fat, proteins, carbohydrates of various kinds, minerals, and vestiges of the digestive juices that began the process of decompostition in the animals; intestines."
*"In Japan, Korea, and China manure (in the early 1900s) was treated like a precious gem because it was a precious gem. Every scrap of animal waste, human waste, and plant residue was scrupulously collected and reapplied to the land. So precious was manure that Chinese farmers stored it in burglarproof containers. The polite thing to do after enjoying a meal at a friends' house was to go to the bathroom before you departed."
*"What we humans must always keep in mind as we go about making sure there is enough food to go around is that this body of material we call manure, or compost, is niether a factory machine noer a barren waste, but a lovely, intertwinng jungle flock of living things to be fed and managed lovingly, much like we manage the other livestock on our farms. Our most important livestock, in fact, are invisible to the naked eye."
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Farming is in essence the art of managing manure.
We are a poo-diddled culture. The very mention of the stuff brings distasteful expressions and repulsion. But if we are serious about sustainable agriculture, and small local farms, we've got to get serious about manure. One of the tragedies of the concentrated animal feeding operations is that the waste from those poor animals is just that: waste. It is being put to no good use in our farmland, nor can it given the condition of the animals generating it. Our local stables are sitting on piles of literal pay-dirt. For a field in regular cultivation Logsdon writes that experts agree 10 tons of manure will fertilize an acre. (Eliot Coleman advises as much as 2-3 times more for vegetable growing.) This application will not require any other fertilizers. One horse can produce near as much in one year! Joel Salatin in Virginia and Anne and Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA have both demonstrated on their farms the beautiful work that hogs can do, in turning soiled bedding and manure and "finishing" it, by rooting around in it, and tossing it in the air as they search for hidden pockets of corn. Animals are the unpaid, unsung laborers on the farm, and it is never-endingly fascinating how they can be partners in rewarding and sucessful agricultural enterprises.
The glory of the small farm is precisely that it is small. It can become a small closed circle of fertility, regenerating itself each season through itself...a viable model of sustainability...if we include the animals. If we embrace manure.
*Many thanks to all you generous Stillwater and White Bear Lake donors of Fall leaves for our winter bedding/composting. The laying hens, goats, and sheep are all cozy for the Winter, and hard at work creating the perfect compost for the veggie acreage and hay fields next year!