Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Delights of poo picking

When our children (three girls) were young and we drove past farmland that had recently been manured there would invariably be cries of "eewwww" or similar. And invariably at the same time I would take in a deep breath through my nose and say "lovely" or similar. Hence the creation of the family myth that Dad loves the smell of poo. 

The fact of the matter is that although I do not class the smell of poo among my favourite scents I am not repulsed by it in the least. It should be pointed out here that I am referring to the poo of herbivores such as sheep and cows and not that of carnivores like cats and dogs, nor indeed omnivores such as humans. Steaming pats of cow dung, and the defecated output of horses, sheep and pigs are fine. 

The reason for this is that I see (and smell) manure in its wider context and it's deeper significance. Any serious gardener or smallholder appreciates the value of bulky organic matter (BOM) for improving the soil. I can never get enough of it. So when the smell of a manured field fills the air I think of all that goodness going into the soil. Digging in manure (or perhaps just adding a thick mulch layer if you prefer) into the vegetable plot or flower bed is one of life's satisfactions. This is particularly so as you see the soil gradually improve with each passing season.

When I visit the gardens of friends and acquaintances I'm not convinced that they get the same level of satisfaction from manure as I do. Just take a look at their composting area if they have one. It is frequently a chaotic mess. There is little sign that it is integral to their horticultural operations.

On my sandy soil I need a lot of BOM and I have to be systematic with manure collection and composting of vegetative material so that it is sufficiently decomposed ready to add to the growing areas in late winter or early spring. I'm just about self-sufficient in this area but would never turn down the offer of more. I currently have five bays measuring 6' x 6' x 4' high. These are each filled in turn during the year and manure is a major contribution.

Composting area showing different stages of de-composition

Commonly quoted advice is to run your pigs on a piece of ground so that they can dig it over and manure it ready for growing vegetables the next year. You can then rotate round and save yourself a lot of effort digging and manuring each year. As a one off exercise to prepare fresh ground to become a vegetable plot this might be useful. Otherwise this is impractical advice if you have any experience of pig containment and all that it entails with fencing and electrified wire. 

I have two permanent pig paddocks and move the pigs between them each year. To keep the paddocks reasonably clean and help minimise the risk of worm infestations I collect the pig poo every morning after feeding (them not me). I pick up a 40 litre trug full each day and this all goes into the compost. 

I do the same in the hen houses and chicken manure will have some chopped straw included as well. I use chopped straw for bedding in the hen houses in preference to wood shavings as the chopped straw rots down much quicker. Poo picking in the hen houses each day and topping up with fresh chopped straw if need be makes the bedding last longer before it needs completely changing.

With the sheep I pick up the poo around the hay rack and troughs and where they tend to lie down but otherwise leave it to manure the grazing fields, relying on the weather to break it down. In the spring when the grass is lushest and the sheep produce big poos (not the maltesers  that they tend to produce later in year) I might also pick that up too. Being of a slightly wetter consistency this is a useful complement in the compost to the dryer pig poo.

Poo picking doesn't take that long each morning and it is gratifying to see the compost bays gradually fill up. Manure also acts as a composting accelerator so when mixed with vegetative matter from the vegetable plot or garden the decomposing process works really well and you can feel the heat being generated. I visit the composting area daily and my heart leaps with joy when I see steam rising from it. It augers well for the future.


  1. Our allotment is on a former gravel pit so organic matter is vital. There are free deliveries of stable waste, but it's all wood shavings. So we bag up horse manure & waste straw/hay from a local paddock, which can be very smelly (as neighbouring plots tell us!), but we only smell its' vitality.
    Every scrap of usable green waste from plot & home is satisfyingly composted, turned and emptied regularly to be used through out the season. Sadly on most plots, the compost heap is also the rubbish heap, & soil fertility comes only from commercial fertilizers. There is also a recent trend for some plot holders, instead of composting, to take ALL green waste to the local green waste facility, thus depleting the overall site of organic material. Most worryingly, in windy weather, it's possible to see these under-manured/composted & over-raked soils literally blow away in USA Dust Bowl style.

  2. Our sandy soil would certainly blow away without liberal amounts of compost. Not making use of ones own green waste on the allotment is a bit of a wasted opportunity.