The Manure Diaries

| 12/2/2010 4:02:41 PM

Manure ChickensYesterday was manure-spreading day, one of the annual mileposts of the manure calendar. In winter our goats and sheep spend a lot of time in the pen next to our barn, where the shed shelters them from wind and snow. Their manure mixes with hay and they trample the whole mess into a thick, fecund mat. In spring we scrape it up and pile it near the vegetable garden to digest itself into useful compost. In late fall we till the garden and then spread the composted manure on the tilled ground. In spring we till it into the garden soil before we plant.

And yesterday was manure-spreading day.

Like most of the rituals on the farm, manure-spreading is an observance which attracts a diverse audience. Chickens are attracted to every manure-related activity. In winter when there’s very little around our yard for a chicken to scratch and peck, the fresh piles in the sheep pen provide rare, cold-weather opportunities. In spring when I scrape out the pen, it’s apparent that I uncover many, many items highly prized by the poultry palate. They swarm the pen and spend several days there, apparently dining on delicacies I’ve exhumed. When I mix spring compost into the garden I am, temporarily, the chickens’ favorite companion. They follow at my heels, up and down the rows, excavating tiny treasures from the newly tilled soil. And when I spread compost on top of the garden beds each fall, as I did yesterday, the chickens help out. They are out there right now, climbing over the little piles in the garden, kicking and pecking at the dry manure in search of tasty morsels.

Biologists tell me the chickens are foraging in the manure for weed seeds, insect eggs and all kinds of bugs. I read that they eat fly eggs and maggots, significantly reducing fly populations around large livestock. Once in a while I see one eat a beetle or an earthworm. Most of the time I can’t tell what they’re after. They scratch, they peck and they swallow. That’s all I know for sure.

Manure is almost as fascinating for the dogs. They run to smell it. If it’s fresh, they sometimes roll in it. On occasion, they are inspired to roll in fresh manure or the reeking carcass of a raccoon or a possum. If I see them do that, I’ll keep my distance for a few days. More often, I don’t know about the mischief they’ve been in until I pet one of them.

As I was spreading manure yesterday, Mop the border collie found something in the excavated mound that appealed to her culinary sensibilities. She ate several large mouthfuls from the middle of the pile and then ran over to give my wife, Carolyn, an affectionate lick. Carolyn declined the honor.

3/3/2011 1:29:26 PM

You made my day, Celio.

Celio Costa
3/3/2011 1:25:47 PM

Reading Judy´s comment made me remember that the origin of the word "human" is the Latin word "humus" that translates to English as "manure". Makes sense for in the humus are the nutrients for all sorts of new lives. Including human´s. The English word "man" is certainly derived from "manure", following the same reasoning. So, no wonder every creature, including men on Bryan´s boots, get crazy on Manure-Spreading Days.

12/21/2010 7:40:41 AM

You might try some of the older stuff out of the piles, Judy, as a comparison. I find that mine like the seasoned compost with its populations of insects!

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