Manure - Spreading the good word
Growing your own
Up until fairly recently, manure was spread onto the fields of Mhaigh Eo from the back of a cart pulled by a donkey, and its value was well understood by those that worked the land. The dung-heap was held in such esteem that it was often within sight of the farmhouse so that the farmer could take comfort in seeing it when he sat down after a hard day’s work. He knew that this pile of animal poo would feed the land and hence there would be the promise of feeding his family into the future.
Nowadays, as more and more people choose to live under the bright lights of the towns and cities, where food comes in packaging and is sourced from a supermarket shelf, the crucial role that manure plays in feeding soil isn’t given much thought. However, keeping soil’s fertility up is every bit as important today as it ever was.
From dust to dust, excreta forms an integral part of nature’s cycle; the law of return. Put simply, things that grow and live will die. When they do stop living, they rot and this decaying material, from either plant or animal source, will replenish the goodness taken up by those living things that used the fertility in the first place. Brilliant!
This straightforward chain of events – to enrich soil by adding nourishment by means of manures and broken down vegetable matter (compost) has of course been largely messed up by modern man in today’s antiseptic age. This is due to putting excreta where it doesn’t belong – into water.
Dung requires oxygen to break it down (aerobic conditions) and when it’s added to water we now take away the oxygen (creating anaerobic conditions), which slows the breaking down of the material to a virtual standstill. Because of this plain fact, slatted sheds for example, where animal dung drops into a reservoir of water positioned underneath them, will never be an efficient way of dealing with manure. It is also a detrimental thing to do to that other precious resource – water.
Undeniably, handling stuff that comes from the back end of an animal isn’t going to be anyone’s favourite job, but fertilise we must, as nations endure only as long as their top soils; we need to make sure that manure ends up on the land.
It is necessary, and it’s our obligation to do the right thing to make sure this valuable resource isn’t wasted.
Look at the alternatives.
Artificial fertiliser production relies heavily on petroleum and these synthetics are not entirely absorbed by the soil and can leech out to pollute watercourses. Because oil production is inevitably going to go into decline, some day soon we will have to take our heads out from under the sand and face up to the fact that we need to find alternatives to much of what we do – alternatives that don’t use up finite resources.
Solutions need to be found that reduce our dependence on oil, and it’s hard to see any better way than taking a shovel and a wheelbarrow – the method still employed by most riding stables – to pile up manure to form a dung-heap. Sound familiar?
This brings to mind an Arab man, who told me his grandfather drove a camel. His father drove a jeep, and he himself drove a Mercedes Benz. His son now drives a jeep, and his grandson, when he grows up, will drive a camel.
Next time The new fuel
Chris Brown runs Brown’s Farm, a small farm in Louisburgh. He is an advocate of sustainable, natural farming methods and buying local.