Though most farmers use more colorful language, the polite way to say it is that cows "poop and pee." And they poop and pee a lot--once about every 20 minutes. An 800-pound Jersey cow will make over 100 pounds of manure per day. For folks who are not familiar with cows, the sight of a cow pooping or peeing can be absolutely shocking. I took my first trip to a dairy farm when I was three, and I swear I can still remember the first time I saw a cow poop.
So why is this important? If you are thinking of milking a few cows and don't have bovine experience, the first thing you are going to have to come to terms with is cow manure. Besides milk, it will be the most valuable thing your cows produce, if you handle it correctly. Also, a cow's manure is a key indicator of her health and well being. Most common cow ailments can be identified by the consistency of their manure. So you can't be squeamish.
Manure closes the loop between good farmers and nature—what we take and what we give back.
Cows eat grass and convert it to milk, which we harvest for food. Manure is the byproduct of the cows' milk production, which we return to the soil as an excellent crop nutrient. Compared to other "industrial byproducts" manure is better than benign. It is gold. I can't tell you how many times I have heard dairy farmers comment that fields coated with a fresh layer of manure "smell like money." An experienced farmer knows that manure will increase crop and milk yields while adding valuable tilth and organic matter to the soils.
Every winter I pile my manure from my cows on a relatively flat yet well drained area where I compost it.
During the spring and summer I spread most of it on my pastures. What I don't spread I sell to friends and neighbors by the pick up load. One of my neighbors is very happy to exchange a cord of firewood for a dump truck load of my manure. Every fall he delivers a cord of cut and split firewood to me and leaves with a truck full of manure. I also put a generous amount of my cows' composted manure on my gardens each fall or spring, which really helps the veggies grow and keeps the soil fresh.
So when I have my boots on and am standing in my barn's gutter shoveling the day’s manure from my four cows into the wheel barrow, I don't see or smell poop and pee, I see and smell a valuable commodity that is a vital to the health of my Micro Dairy.
But there is one problem. Most people in the world today do not appreciate the sight or smell of cow manure. Family dairy farms no longer line the roads of New England, and to most, the smell of manure is foreign and unpleasant. I have been working with cows for fifty years but during that time I also went to school, social events and have held a variety of off-farm jobs while I was working with cows. As a result I have spent my life changing out of my barn clothes into clean casual clothes that do not smell of cows. Depending upon my day I sometimes may have to change two or even three times per day. During the summer it isn't all that difficult or time consuming but during the winter here in Vermont it can be a real pain to put on and take off boots and layers of clothes several time per day. But as it turns out - that is my lot in life. In today's world the interface between dairy farmers and the rest of the world can be difficult to manage for many reasons. But for me it is worth the effort.