Why Manure Is The Unsung Hero of the Homestead

This cow isn't afraid of a little poo! Ian Barbour / Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I lived in the city, I had the luxury of ignoring poop. If a neighbor’s dog left it on my tiny lawn, it was a rude, unusual inconvenience. Aside from what I delicately flushed into oblivion with the touch of a lever, my experiences with poop were largely nonexistent.

My suburban upbringing trained me to think of it as something dirty, something that I paid city services to dispose of, and something that had no meaningful impact on my life.

Fast forward several years, and I am now a new homesteader whose daily life is all about finding, collecting, processing, cleaning, and analyzing the very poop that I strove to ignore during my urban days. But I do this with (mostly) delight because on a homestead, poop is hardly considered waste.

Poop is one of the more valuable resources we have at the moment, and in these early stages of our homesteading journey, it’s one of the keys to making our land more than the unkempt scrub-field that it was when we first moved here three months ago.

So strap on your muck boots and uncurl your toes. We’re going to explore 3 reasons why this under-appreciated material is useful.

1. Poop Is Generous

Most plants thrive when the optimal balance of air, water, and nutrients are achieved through humus-rich, aerated soil. Even before compounds like nitrogen and phosphorous had been identified or given a name, people knew that there was something about manure that was necessary for optimal plant growth — particularly for food crops.

That's what we like. A glistening pile of poo. Yum. #organicmanure

A post shared by Flower Pod Southwell (@flowerpod.southwell) on

If you have animals, you have the capabilities of amending your soil in amazingly effective ways. The utility of an animal is not restricted just in their meat, fur, eggs, or milk, but in what they produce through straight-up digestion.

The manure from any livestock you own is a fabulous resource for making both your pastures and gardens more productive and lush. On our homestead, we pasture rabbits specifically to harvest their manure. And let’s admit it, there’s hardly a cuter animal for such purposes.

Now, with most manures, if you apply them fresh, the high nitrogen levels–particularly in chicken manure– will burn and/or kill plants. You need to compost it before applying it to your gardens–it counts as the “greens” in your compost pile.

Rabbit Manure

Rabbit manure, however, is ready-made to be spread in the garden, with the added benefit of helping retain moisture as well! With so much work to be done quickly as we settle into our first year on the homestead, any bit of saving time is worth it to us!

If you don’t currently have livestock, don’t fear–if you yourself are reasonably healthy and not on too many medications, a source of nutrients for your land may be more personal than you realize.

Humanure

Though it is hardly dinner table talk, human waste can and has been used as fertilizers for centuries. One way to use it safely after composting is to enrich the soil around your fruit trees, though it is not recommended for leafy greens that you plan on eating raw.

It’s a low-cost way to take responsibility for your own waste, reduce water use, fertilize your orchard, and certainly give your in-laws something to shake their head at. For more information, check out the Humanure Handbook .

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYKtYdoAc9P/?tagged=humanmanure

If the very thought is making you want to stop reading this article, let me run this past you. Go into any home improvement store and check out the gardening aisle. It’s very likely you’ve seen a product called “Milorganite,” sold as a garden fertilizer.

This product, so nicely packaged and widely available, is the bio-solids from the city of Milwaukee’s sewage processing plant. I have to say, if I have a choice between the two, I’d rather know the source of my “black gold” than get it sourced from strangers in a different state.

2. Poop Is Informative

Anyone who keeps animals needs to be keenly aware of both what goes into and comes out of their creatures. A chicken with a pasted-up backside, soupy poop in your sheep pen, or weird colors coming out of your ducks are often indications of something wrong.

Sometimes, this is could be the first indication you have of disease and a sure call to action. Even when my animals all seem to be in good health, I make it a point to check their poop daily.

Whether I’m collecting it for composting, spraying it off the porch, or tilling it into the ground, it is a constant source of feedback about what my birds have been eating, how my rabbits are feeling, and what my goats have been up to.

3. Poop Is Strong

Believe it or not, it can be used as a fantastic building material. Oh, don’t wrinkle your nose like that! People have been doing this for centuries and with fantastic results. From the gorgeous Kassena homes of Burkina Faso, the Beehive houses of Turkey, to the wattle and daub roundhouses of England, cow manure is known as one of the finest natural plasters for natural building.

Manure isn’t just used because it’s cheap — it’s incredibly durable as well. Compare the longevity of the British roundhouses, many of which are standing to this day, with modern construction. For example, stucco and piano wire, a modern “equivalent” often begins to degrade within five years!

I can personally vouch that using manure neither smells nor attracts insects to the building project. When my husband built our Earth Oven, he wanted to build it as naturally as possible ( see our YouTube playlist of the build here! ).

To finish it off, he collected fresh cow manure from a friend down the road and spread it straight on the oven to seal the construction. Our wood-fired pizza was delicious, there was no scent of poo in the air, and you couldn’t ask for a more earth-friendly or natural material!

When it comes time to finally build our home, we’re planning to use all natural materials from our land, so you can bet when it comes time for plaster, we’ll be using the gifts from our (eventual) milk cow to get the job done.

All I’m Saying Is Give Poop A Chance

Though poop is often relegated to the conversations of seventh-grade boys in the hallways or juvenile jokes, I truly believe that it needs to be redeemed from its lowly consideration.

brown cow standing in grass next to pile of manure
This cow isn’t afraid of a little poo, and we shouldn’t be either! Ian Barbour / Flickr (Creative Commons)

This material has always been produced as long as anything has been alive, and it’s a completely undervalued resource in much of the world today. On our homestead, we try to use everything on the land as fully as possible.

In order to be self-sufficient and responsible for all that comes into and goes off of our land, we don’t have the luxury of just flushing it away. And frankly, we don’t want to…it’s too valuable!

Resources

Today’s Homestead Story on poop comes from Michelle Shall of Simple Life Homestead. She and her husband recently quit their jobs as teachers in Ohio, moved their family to 12 acres in the Missouri Ozarks, and are in the middle of establishing their dream of a self-sufficient, off-grid homestead. In this article, she shares how useful this under-appreciated material can be on the homestead.

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