Eggs and the Hidden Farm
liot Coleman writes about finding your “hidden” farm by continuously cropping and keeping all your ground productive year round, by using methods like succession planting and season extension. With that in mind, I wrote this earlier post mainly about dual purpose ideas for vegetables and how we utilize that concept in our garden planning. This past weekend one of my tasks was to finish cleaning out the “chicken house” greenhouse in preparation for moving the hens in order to prepare for spring meat chickens.
As I was doing that I realized that the most overlooked hidden farm on many farmsteads is the ongoing fertility needs or lack any kind of permaculture stacking theories utilized in regards to a most precious resource – manure generated on-farm.
More precisely turning said manure into a product like this pictured above. I can think of many organic gardeners and farmers that would dearly love to get their hands on this kind of brown gold. But sadly, lots of chickens or livestock are left out in the cold, so to speak, with not much thought to how to gather the manure. That idea stems from the simple facts that manure handling is a big job, and the other problem is the current trend to pasture everything. All. The. Time. All. Year. I have to agree handling manure is a chore. I do it every single day. I also agree there is some finessing involved. Usually even on a farm with multiple holons, you don’t see a lot of attention paid to manure, you do need a plan for all of it. Just having a multi-species farm doesn’t guarantee diversity or sustainability. All the parts of the puzzle have to relate to each other in some way.
For the most part here, our cow manure from the beef cows is mostly for the pasture, during the grazing season the cows put it in place and during the winter we keep the cows on deep bedding and save as much manure and urine as we can. The house cow manure is used for our gardens in winter sheet mulch fashion and when the gardens are covered the rest goes to the pasture either in a sheet mulch, or piled in our composting area. The jewel of the manure composting “problem” here though is our little hidden farm, the farmstead laying flock.
As long time readers know I have sacrificed my pastured egg days for keeping my small flock in confinement. The quality and volume of excellent compost I can generate with this triskaidekic flock far exceeds my needs for pastured eggs. The work is still there, I’m not moving fence to take the chickens to vitamin rich forage, I am moving greens and other foodstuffs along with small amounts of carbon bedding material to the chickens in a fixed location for my food garden compost program. This puts my flock in the “tool” category. The eggs are an added benefit.
For the most part as the laying season progresses, I add a small amount of bedding daily, sometimes straw and sometimes sawdust. Since I have been preparing to move the flock to new quarters, I have slacked off on bringing in any new carbon, (besides veggies) and instead I have been turning and piling the current bedding on top of the night soiled areas where the chickens bed down. My nose is my guide, there should only be a composty smell, never an ammonia-like smell or any kind of stench. If I do smell anything, I either stir the bedding or add new. In an effort to get this broken down more, I throw out a handful of whole grains to encourage more hen scratching. It works pretty well as you can see from the finished compost photo, the hens do an admirable job and are happy to oblige me.
For the most part I had gleaned all the compost out of the greenhouse last fall, and had left the dregs and leftover vegetable stalks. My first order of business was to pick up the woody stems and discard them so I could shovel the remaining compost into the wheelbarrow.
A flat shovel works well with this light and easy material. The task is something akin to scraping rather than digging.
I scrape down to firm soil and form a pile.
In all, I collected four more wheelbarrow loads of fine compost which I promptly spread in weak areas in my large greenhouses.
Final tasks including hosing down the walls (greenhouse poly and scratching chickens are not a pretty mix), and hauling in about 8 wheelbarrow loads of horse manure/sawdust mix for a base to continue the compost building process anew.
Finding your hidden fertility farm may be as simple as keeping some of your animals under cover over winter and bedded with adequate bedding to keep the animals comfy and the nutrients tied down.
I live in a special management area with concerns towards downstream water quality, one side of our drainage goes to the Columbia River, and the other side to the Sandy River. Needless to say we keep all our compost piles and animal congregating areas far away from any stream. Point source pollution becomes a real factor once you start confining animals or manure piles near waterways.
While most of our bedding is inside during the rainy season, we do have outside windrows of stacked deep bedding that sits for a year. We keep those covered to avoid loss of nutrients and non point source pollution.
Sometimes too it may be that you have too many animals or the wrong species for your land. I know we can’t generate enough compost for our pastures and gardens. I can’t imagine having enough to give away or sell. As it is we can’t cover each field with compost every year, so we rotate the compost spreading much like we rotate the cows.
Be open-minded to ways to gather the manure your animals provide for you in the off-season, each species may require a different approach. Keep it simple for the operator though or it may become too burdensome to handle. Find your hidden farm!