Alayne took this photo last week of me spreading manure and bedding from the goat barn. You can see how many of the trees had yet to bud out, which gives you an idea of how far behind everything is this year. Now, 10 days later, it looks very different — there are lots more leaves on trees and shrubs, and the overall impression is one of greenness, though many trees are still not fully leafed out yet even now. The oak in front of the house still has tiny little leaves on it this morning. The manure spreading had to wait until the pastures were dry enough to drive the tractor on them without leaving ruts, which meant we were behind on this project, too. Here’s what the bedding pack in the barn looked like:
That was 16 inches deep at the edge, and probably 18 to 24 inches deep in the center of the barn, where the feeders were. This is wasted hay — goats are very fussy eaters, contrary to the myth that “goats will eat anything” — and is what’they have sifted through in the feeders, pulled out and dropped on the floor because … well, because there just might be something a little better in that flake of hay in the feeder! Horses and cows will do the same thing, too — this is not unique to goats at all, but they do tend to be choosier about sorting through the hay in front of them. Long ago I made my peace with this “wastage” when I finally realized that it doesn’t go to waste at all if you spread it back on the land. Particularly if you spread it back on the same land where the hay came from, because you’re returning organic matter to the field that was originally?removed?when the hay was harvested. (Some articles I read in Stockman Grass Farmer opened my eyes to this a while back.)
Moreover, in the process of sifting and sorting and then dropping hay on the floor of the barn, the goats create their own “bedding pack” that also captures and holds their manure and urine over the winter. We don’t have to go out and buy straw for their bedding (which, by the way, in many areas of the country these days is more expensive than hay!). As the bedding pack builds up, it creates an insulated layer against the cold ground, and keeps them warm and dry. Best of all, because the manure and urine is incorporated deep in the bedding pack and protected from the weather inside the barn, there is no nutrient loss from having rain and snow leach the good stuff out of it.
By contrast, when I spread the manure from the horse corrals that are out in the open, it’s pretty much only organic matter that’s going back on the fields — most of the nutrients have been leached out of the manure over the winter. (The manure inside their sheds still packs a nutrient punch, though.)
Here’s a fun fact you probably never wanted to know: Goat (and sheep) manure has the second highest concentration of nutrients of all livestock other than poultry. For example, fresh goat and sheep manure contains 19.5 lbs (8.8 kg) of nitrogen in each’ton of manure, versus 7.1 lbs for a horse, 11.2 lbs for a beef cow, and 16.7 lbs for a growing pig. Their manure is?also much higher in the other two main fertilizer elements, phosphorus and potassium. (Source is here.)
So when I clean the goat barn out in the spring and load up the manure spreader with the bedding pack, what gets spread out on the pasture is an incredibly rich, natural fertilizer for the fields. It took a total of about four straight days of cleaning and spreading last week between the goat barn and the horse corrals. I know it’s a little odd that I actually like spreading manure … there’s something satisfying about knowing we’re completing the fertility cycle. Of course, after the first day or two of spreading, my sense of satisfaction?gives way to “could we please just get this chore over with!”
With Memorial Day on Monday, I’ll resume posting on the blog next Wednesday.
2014 Shelter Challenge Underway
The second round of the Shelter Challenge for 2014 is underway. You can vote every day at?http://www.shelterchallenge.com/?To search for us, type in our name, Rolling Dog Farm, and Lancaster, NH 03584. We’ve won thousands of dollars in the previous contests, so your daily votes do bring in serious money for our disabled animals!
Please note that I cannot help with technical or voting problems. I also do not have an inside track? to anyone at the Shelter Challenge, and I don’t know any more about the contest than anyone else does. So if you find yourself having issues, please consult their FAQ page and their Rules page.
Thanks for your votes!
I will have to tell my husband about the sheep/goat manure because I’ve always wanted one of those little darlings! He needs to read this particular post in any event. He thinks I’m nuts to clean cat boxes for dozens of cats most days as a volunteer for our local shelter. This will put it into a little perspective for him! Have a great Memorial weekend Steve and Alayne.
Lynn (in Louisiana) says
Do you still have your Draft horses?
Janet in Cambridge MA says
The organic recycling of nutrients is so cool. (Sorry, I can’t think of a better way to say it.) Not much is wasted and the notion of recycling is completed. Love it.
I can imagine how satisfying returning all this material is; it’s soothing and completing. All I can do is compost my kitchen recyclables. But it goes back into my garden and helpsmy plants grow and it enriches and improves my soil. I imagine my plants are very happy. I know I am.
Tonya Allen says
Lots of fun facts here! I was especially interested in the cycle of food pickiness leading to nice bedding, leading in turn to fertilizer for next year’s food. I’m sure it’s satisfying to help complete this cycle, and extra satisfying when it’s all done. “Dunging out” was never anyone’s favorite time on my grandfather’s farm.
Diane Borden, Chehalis, WA says
Thank goodness to our “green” generations past, and hence, the manure spreader was invented. In generations past, they were just reusing, nothing wasted, and so had healthy, efficient farms. I’m quite sure you didn’t see them ordering pallets full of bagged additives for their fields.
I always love reading your posts where you throw in the little known data. I must caution people though, I once threw some horse manure that was only a few months old and rototilled it into my vegetable garden. Planted the tomato plants and next day those lovely healthy plants were GREY! Too hot, I was told. Well, this is how a city kid learns. The manure needs to set for at least a year for those tender annual vegetables. But the apple and pear trees just love it. Thanks Steve.
Anne in FL says
What goes around, comes around. I like your farming philosophy.
The link to the Animal Planet contest is not showing up. I had to go back to the old blog in order to vote.
Steve Smith says
Karen, the link is there in the usual place and says http://www.shelterchallenge.com … it’s not colored but it is a live link, just put your cursor over it. I will try to remember to change the text color in the future to make it more apparent.
And you, sir, are right! 🙂 Don’t know if you hear that much, so I thought I’d give you an “Atta boy!”