Manure, Varmints, and Bugs

One good thing about grazing cattle is that they fertilize as they harvest the grass. When they’re confined in a barn or shed or cattle yard, bedding has to be hauled in and spread around. And then, the manure has to be loaded up and spread out in a field. So the whole process of grazing, feeds the soil as well as feeding the cattle. “The small underground livestock (soil microbes) are fed by the large above ground livestock,” as grazing advocates like to say.

This is a pair of pies from late last season. The pictures were taken earlier this year and about the only thing that’s happened is that they’ve dried out. Not much biologic activity above or below ground during the dormant winter months.

But in the early spring things start to happen. The grass is getting green and varmints are going after bugs. These cow pies have been tipped over by someone looking for something to eat…maybe a skunk or a raccoon or a woodchuck? Down in the pasture, even “varmints” have a job to do that fits into Nature’s overall system. They break up the hard manure and make it easier for the nutrients to be released.

But, homeowners aren’t always enthused about varmints hunting bugs in their yard. These divots in the house lawn are probably dug by the same critters that were flipping pies in the pasture. However, in a manicured lawn we’re encouraged to spray poison to kill the grubs and then shoot the “varmint” who’s trying to dig them up. Seems confusing and counter-intuitive, but it reflects the dominating approach that many people take toward Nature’s systems. 

Here’s some nice fresh manure from this spring grazing season. Varmints aren’t the only ones collecting food from around the cow pies. Birds are busy too, so there’s bird poop on the cow poop in the photo on the left. And, if you look really close you can see the flies on the pie in the right photo.

The flies are really easier to see on this left photo and the right photo shows the results of their work. Flies do cause some animal health issues, but they’re also important in breaking up the manure. Their larvae drill down in to make holes to help release the nutrients that feed the soil microbes. I once did some biologic soil sampling that “demonstrated” the links between big cows and tiny soil microbe communities. I’ll have to share that someday. Grazing cattle are a good example of “recycling” and of the “circular economy” in Nature’s systems.

In the meantime, all this talk about manure reminds of a story that I once heard about a regional poet who used to visit nursing homes in southwestern Minnesota to read his free verse poetry. Although his work was published extensively and regarded highly in academic circles, when a little old lady was asked how she liked the poetry, she said: “Sh*t, sh*t, it’s all sh*t.” And, so is this post! Happy Spring!

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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