GENE LOGSDON: Manure — The Gift That Keeps On Giving



The Contrary Farmer

Our son, Jerry, gave his mother a big trailer load of cow manure for her birthday last spring. She could not have been more pleased. Where can you buy even from Neiman Marcus, barn manure aged for three years with a bouquet somewhere between old English leather and woodsy leaf mold? My brother-in-law, Brad, does one better. He not only gives his sheep manure to family members who live nearby, but delivers it by the forklift load and spreads it neatly on their gardens about four inches deep. We are all real nice to Brad. If we don’t already get the gift that keeps on giving, maybe next year. And if you wonder about whether it really keeps on giving, you should see my sisters’ gardens after receiving this kind of treatment for a few years. Luther Burbank would be jealous.

Making barn manure compost is simplicity itself if you have a front end loader. Just scoop the manure bedding out of the barn out into piles, like around six feet high and eight feet in diameter, and watch it turn into black gold over several years. Brad turns his piles with the loader once or twice a year to hasten composting, but Jerry just lets the microorganisms do the turning and waits a year or so longer for the composting process to complete itself. He has plenty of space for it around his barn far from human habitation so no paranoid twenty-first century health faddist will raise unfounded fears of odor, rodents or microbes of devastation. The heat of composting and three years of decomposition renders the compost almost as pure of harmful bugs or pathogens as the driven snow. Yes, it would be better to have a roof over the pile but the amount of plant nutrients lost to rain is minimal.

If you keep only a dozen hens or so, you don’t even have to scoop the manure out into a pile. I don’t know how often I have written this, still to be countered by disbelief sometimes, but a small flock of hens constantly scratching in its bedding will turn the manure into an odorless loam without any help at all if you provide at least four feet square of space per chicken. Just keep the floor well-bedded and dry. Even the manure under their roost disappears into compost in short order. I scatter table scraps on their bedding and what they don’t eat as well as what they do eat disappears into compost too. Wonder of all wonders, their manure contains Vitamin B-12. In fact scientists discovered B-12 in barn manure in the first place. Chickens bedded on their own dry litter seldom resort to  cannibalism. Pecking in their own manure, they ingest B -12 and no more pecking bloody wounds in each other.

There are other amazing manure miracles that we are just beginning to discover. If you bury dead animal carcasses in piles of manure, they will compost right along with the manure and magically disappear. I find it hard to believe, but I’m told by reputable sources (haven’t tried it myself) that even the bones dissolve into rich fertilizer. And I’m sure you’ve heard that medical science is combating certain human abdominal disorders by injecting feces from healthy humans into the ailing digestive tracts.

Recently I talked on the phone a long time with Aaron Tartakovsky, the Director of Business Development at CB Engineers in San Francisco. His company is developing another manure miracle. The engineers are perfecting a process whereby a small plastic sack of, say, dog or cat scat can be turned into odorless compost fertilizer in a matter of minutes. They feel sure that they can revolutionize our whole waste disposal system, including human waste, into a simple, home based process if only humans will open their minds to view manure as a valuable resource, not a waste product. I don’t see why this idea won’t work. In a way, it is just speeding up a natural process, something science is good at doing. Aaron promises to keep us posted.

I said above that you can’t buy our kind of distilled barnyard manure but actually all sorts of composted wastes are coming on the market. Just tune in to Google or Yahoo. I am tempted to box up small amounts of my pure, undiluted chicken litter compost in brightly wrapped Christmas packages and give them to friends who grow potted plants. Holiday Greetings from the Merry Makers of Miracle Manure.

One Comment

We’ve been using crab shell this summer, since we live on the coast and it’s available from the local crab guy. We will dig it into our raised beds and plant four days later. Works VERY well.
We’ve got a new neighbor who is keeping a horse. Now we get horse manure every two weeks. Wonderful stuff. Smells good when it’s heating up the compost bin. My motto, “You can never have too much manure.” 🙂