Sunday, 14 February 2016

MAN AND MANURE


                      Where there is muck. there is luck .
                                 Old English saying
                         Manure puts cake on the table.
                                   Old Danish truth
          A farmer's worth is measured by his manure pile.
                                    French bankers


    Since 1840, Man, over-confident because of his victories over Nature, has increased his food production by the use of artificial fertilizers.  In fact, up to 60% of our food became dependent on manufactured fertilizers.  We are now paying the price in loss of soil fertility and water retention.  We now suffer polluted waterways, and the death of wildlife and essential bacteria.
    Fortunately some of us can learn from our mistakes.    Voices extolling good old manure are heard once more in the land.  Of the nutrients they eat, livestock void 90% of the potassium, 80 of the phosphorus, and 75% of the nitrogen.  As with anything worthwhile, a little care is needed in collecting and protecting all this good stuff for use when needed to enrich the fields.  Suitable litter for urine absorption and cover for manure stored in barns are necessary.  When grazing animals apply this natural fertilizer themselves, knowledgeable farmers control the movements of their animals.  Chickens, who void urine and feces together, provide the best manure.  In fertilizing a grain or corn field it is advisable to let pigs follow cattle. Cattle void undigested corn which pigs eat and then void it in a form more to the liking of plants.  The United Kingdom, which needs to import much of its food, feeds imported linseed and cotton cake to cattle for the production of good manure in order to lessen food imports.
    How old is this connection between man and manure?   Much of what we know of early civilizations comes from the graves of the wealthy who could afford to have their favoured earthly trappings buried with them.  If they had manure carts, they must have considered it more prestigious to be buried with war chariots.  We have found many war chariots in graves but, alas, no manure carts. Of course, along such rivers as the Nile, Hwang Ho, Tigris, and Euphrates, annual floods provide new nutrients, so farmers could afford to be careless about manure. 
    If graves are empty of manure, literature is full of it.  Homer, in writing the Odyssey, tells how Odysseus, returning to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars (1200 BC), found his faithful hound guarding a manure pile that was to be used to fertilize the fields.  In 411 BC, Lysistrata of Sparta argued that he much preferred carting manure to his fields than to chasing around inserting his spear into other peoples’ bodies.  Christ, in his parable of the fig tree, emphasized the value of manure.   Cato of Rome (95-46 BC) advocated movable sheep pens to permit grazing sheep to adequately fertilize one area before moving on  to another.  Verro, in 35 BC, had his servants' privies placed over the manure pile to add something more of value to it.
    When Rome fell, so did manure!   Barbarians knew that horses were for riding and cattle were for eating, but they did not understand the finer things in life.
    Humans must eat, so the manure renaissance preceded the art and literature renaissance.  In England in 1086 the Domesday Book listed fines for serfs who failed to adequately manure their lord's fields.  The "Plowman" (Chaucer 1340-1400) hauled many loads of dung.  The Agricultural Revolution occurred in the Low Countries and in Britain in the 1700s.  New enclosures permitted selective breeding, field rotation, and concentration of manure.  Greater food production was achieved with fewer farmers.  The excess rural population went to the cities to fuel the Industrial Revolution.  So, all those cars that crowd our roads can be traced back to manure.         As a boy I trailed horse-drawn carts to collect manure for my backyard garden.
  Irish emigrants, fleeing the potato famines of the 1840's, continued to endure poverty in Canada while they struggled to create a new life.  As their prosperity gradually increased, they did not forget manure, but a few housewives started to put on airs.   In North Bay, Ontario, Kelly (who became the father of a National Hockey League star) was delivering a load of manure to one of his customers named Casey.   Mrs. Casey answered his knock and he asked: "Is Mr. Casey t'home?"  She cautioned:  "The name is K'Say."
    Kelly raised his eyebrows and asked: "Oh, is it now?   Well, would you be after telling Mr. K'Say that there is a load of K'Shit out here for him."
   The rotation of enclosed fields from pasture to crop land to pasture retained soil fertility.   When Danish farmers figured they could make more money with a sugar-beet monoculture, they turned to artificial fertilizers as cattle no longer grazed these fields. After several good yields productivity declined steadily due to lack of organic matter in the soil. These farmers have now returned to integrated farming.  The use of dung for fuel rather than for fertilizer further impoverished such countries as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and India.  The great loss of livestock in two world wars seriously reduced manure production in Europe necessitating food importation from overseas including Australia where farmers consider sheep raising and wheat growing complimentary activities.  Sheep graze the stubble and fertilize the fields. Except for Argentina, South America lacks good soil.  Brazilian orange growers will operate dairies at cost or at a loss in order to get prized manure for orange groves.  One of the benefits of European colonization of Africa was the introduction of manure.  Africans had never tumbled onto manure as a good thing.  Human excrement produces healthy plants in Eastern Europe, China, and Japan. Commonwealth and U.S. prisoners of war in Silesia, Germany, including me, who had been disdainful of such fertilizer, were quickly converted when they found they could grow much-needed food in their otherwise sandy-and-barren camps by the use of their own excrement.    
    After World War II, munition plants converted to making fertilizers especially nitrogen.  Profits ensued so, today, we see arguments that exploding populations need ever-more fertilizer which is easier to transport and more land needed that could be gained from removing forests.  Yes, it is true that a farmer, returning to manure from a fertilizer-infested farm, will see reduced yields for a few years but numerous world-wide studies have proven that, once manure is again entrenched, yields can equal and surpass fertilized fields without the harm to the environment. Varied crops and crop rotation reduce harmful insects and the need for insecticides.
    Closer to home: In 1946, a friend who was a crew member of one of our aircraft used the relief tube to go down in history as the first man (at least a non-Russian one) to fertilize the North Pole. As the Pole is now thawing this organic donation may come into its own.
    Man and manure have come a long way together.  They can still go places together. Can you imagine an unmanned vehicle fertilizing Mars?

georgesweanor@comcast.net                 www.yeoldescribe.com





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