Thursday, September 6, 2018

Compost and Deep Thoughts

(post by Jason) Last week I finished servicing the manure spreader and getting the smaller tractor ready to haul composted manure. I moved all the equipment......tractor, spreader and loader the front pasture and worked a few hours to spread the first (and smallest) pile of composted manure on the farm. As long as the equipment holds together spreading composted manure gives you lots of time to think, and as is often the case my brain went back to my boyhood.
When I was a boy up in Ontario due to some combination of mud, frozen ground, cold and snow from November through early May virtually all livestock was housed either indoors or in partially covered outdoor dry lots. Almost all the animals were bedded with straw or shavings; thus almost all the manure these animals produced was of the solid variety. It was pushed and dumped into one or several humongous heaps with the hope being that it would get spread and incorporated before planting time in the spring. On most farms when I was a kid, spreading manure was the first all consuming spring chore. It started during or immediately after maple syrup making, literally as soon as the ground was fit, and sometimes/often on the frost when the ground wasn't fit.
Spreading solid manure this way....while it was heavy, wet, completely uncomposted and often partially frozen......was necessary and it was hard, heavy, stinky, miserable work even with front end loaders and large PTO driven spreaders. The manure had to be gotten rid of quickly.....most barnyards were completely full by early spring.....and it added tremendous amounts of fertility and organic matter (organic matter seriously improves soil structure) to the soil in the fields where it was spread. It was never a job anyone looked forward to BUT it made all the difference to the look and yield of our collective pastures and crops, especially in lean years when purchased fertilizers were too hard on the pocketbook.
I've never forgotten how big a difference spreading manure makes to soil fertility. Fast forward to today and despite my reticence at the workload we pile, stack, compost and spread every bit of dropped hay and manure these horses produce around the hay feeders in the winter. From a strict dollars and sense perspective, certainly if I counted the cost of my labour, it doesn't make any financial sense. But it's one of the things I can do to put back the fertility I take out as the horses harvest the grass. It's good stewardship of this earth and it's the right thing to do which makes me feel good about myself and my role as a farmer. And when I compare my soil tests to those of my neighbours, or honestly when I compare sward height, density and grazing pressure with my neighbours, it's immediately obvious that spreading composted manure pays big dividends.
It's the type of job that I never enjoy but am always glad is done.
Jason using both tractors, one for loading and one for pulling the manure spreader

Cino and Taylorimg_0610-800x600

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Taylor and Merlin having a fun game of halter tag with Alfie standing byimg_1363-800x600

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