Gold in Them Thar Commodes


March 13, 2016

I never notice it during the summer. Well, maybe never is a little strong, but for the most part I do not. When I think of it though, how does one walk pastures and not notice it? After all, folk who know a lot more than I say that for roughly every thousand pounds of weight, a steer produces close to 9.8 tons of manure.

Let’s see now, we have roughly eight or nine thousand pounds of steers on the farm. 9.8 tons times 8 and you have…well, a lot of shit. Just imagine what must be going on with urine.

With those numbers, one would think mountains of manure would cover the farm. However, the moment manure hits the ground it begins its work of fertilizing. During irrigation season or rain season or when snow melts, cow pies break down fairly fast. The break down is best though during the growing season. This stuff is full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—combined you get roughly twenty pounds per ton of manure—and the pasture soil and plants eat this stuff up.

Recognizing that whole circle of life thing, it is nice to know the soil gives grass the will to live, the grass does the same for the steer, and the steers manure in turn enhances the wellbeing of the soil. Makes one rethink the value of shit.

Manure is more than steers, goats, and chickens though. You would think healthy humans naturally know this truth with their daily bowel movement. However, I imagine few folk living with modern bathrooms give it much thought as they push the toilet handle. Gene Logsdon gives a reminder in his book Holy Shit that this was not always the case. At one time, the worth of human manure for fertilizer was very valuable in China. So much so, that when your neighbor invited you to their home for dinner, the neighborly thing to do was to visit the bathroom before you left. Really! You can’t make this shit up!

Makes me wish the manure language a few of our politicians provide us concerning hardworking, landless Latin@’s, Muslim migrants, women, and about any person that doesn’t fit their particular mold, could be put to use growing something worthwhile. Give me the choice between hanging with cows and stump preaching politicians…I’ll choose the barnyard.

Along the lines of politician manure is the excrement of confined feeding operations (CAFO) and large diaries. Small diaries of fifty to one hundred cows (and there ain’t many of these any longer) use their manure to promote plant growth in their fields and pastures. CAFO’s and large diaries though, create as much manure as a small city. Not having the land to spread it on in a healthy manner, it is piled into mounds—equaling small hills in some cases (where it blows to the neighbor with the next good wind), or it is watered down and held in lagoons and ponds (where too often it seeps into the soil and ends up in the groundwater). Recognizing there is little difference between human and animal manure, it might be wise to ask why these facilities are not required to manage their manure like any town or small city? Isn’t the health of our land a priority? Maybe that clean toilet bowl after flushing is a little too clean.

Every summer, visiting workgroups stay at the local Grange. Once in a while, the summer intern will get a call from a teenage member that goes something like this.

Intern, “Hello?” Teenager, “Our toilet is plugged.” Intern, “No problem, next the toilet is a plunger, just use it and you’ll be in great shape.” Teenager, “WHAT?” “Just use the plunger and you’ll be fine.” “But there’s, there’s…I don’t know how! Someone’s got to come!” Intern takes a calming breath, “just stick the plunger in the toilet and push up and down until it’s all gone.” “I can’t. That, stuff is in the way.” Intern, “Don’t worry, when you are all done, swirl the plunger around in the bowl water. It’ll wash off.”

Well, you get the jest. They go back and forth until the teenage figures out the intern is not going to plunge the toilet for them and they will have to deal with their own shit until they do something about it.

Maybe we would all be a little better off if we paid a little closer attention to our shit and taught our children to pay attention to their own. Maybe, if we began to see value in our manure, as small farmers see value in their animals manure, we would put it to good use. Maybe, if we understood manure is life giving, we would no longer think of some of our politician’s ideas as bullshit, but just plain poison. Who knows, if we understood shit just a little better, we could fertilize healthy thinking, healthy lives, and a healthy spirit.

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