Sunday, December 12, 2010

June 10th, 2010 - The Manure Adventure


June 10th, 2010 - The Manure Adventure
Even though I have chicken manure on the farm available at some cost from our tenant, cattle manure is the kind to look for. In a cured state, it is dry, flaky, and almost odorless. If I had known this before I made my first sizable compost and spread the surplus all around to house to fertilize the garden. The smell of ammonia was unbearable. It took weeks until finally the odor subsided leaving the soil conditioned. It was worth it, as most of the soil was dry and hard. But this is an experience not to be repeated.
Once I learned that cow manure was a way to go, I have been avidly searching for it.
Cow manure is cheap for the seller but expensive for the buyer, being so, there is little available. Small milk farmers don’t want trouble in selling it, so most of the time they just dispose it as slurry outside the barn when they don’t use it themselves to fertilize the pasture. The beef cattle in Brazil is left grazing on long extensions of land without the need to indoor them for the winter. Thousands of tons of manure are lost in the open air… Lack of manure leave people like me begging for it from farm to farm. I sometimes see horse dung on the road. I fantasize in collecting it to feed the worm bin. I often see cow manure totally disregarded on the field, even though it fertilizes the trees and shrubs. I have thought of raising goats or sheep, but most people tell me that they are trouble for gardeners as they are voracious eaters.
Last time I needed cow manure, I visited a milk farmer with the largest ranch (which means he milks more than 10 cows a day) certain that he would have lots of it. He said that I could help myself with the pile just outside the barn. My father took a helper to find the pile gone. A few more visits were necessary to get permission to take the manure. When I finally found a hauling truck with two helpers (to find helpers are very difficult nowadays), they arrived too late and no manure could be collected during milking time. I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t take from a new pile – he said something like it being too wet and heavy. I felt that he didn’t want to give it away to me as if he was holding form somebody else. I was sent (by him) to other nearby small farmers (with 10 cows or less) to scrape very little manure they had. The truck stopped by three different farms to unload it after dark. So much work and spent money for little delivery. Not even a ton. Next day, we built a compost pile that for being so short, it looked nothing serious.
A few months ago I got California worms to get worm-worked compost. I started from a little can full of manure and a few worms. I learned that I needed to feed them solely with cow manure without the urine. Afraid that my worms would die starved, I loaded the back of my almost brand new automobile with buckets of manure I collected myself. This was the first time that I realized that I had lost the prejudice against animal droppings. Manure gained a status of something worthy of being carried in a car so precious (and rare) it is.
My cel phone rang yesterday. It was my neighbor letting me know that he had some manure available. I had before begged for some, offering to pay for it. He told me that he never sold any, he didn’t know the price, that he would give it for free because we were neighbors. What a sweet man.
I showed up the very end of afternoon with oven fresh mandioc cake with a unappetizing name of “Naked Manuel”. He is a farmer with everything that I could give him as a thank you gesture. So I remember that everyone that eats this cakes loves it. It takes about two hours, discounting the other hour to dig the mandioc roots. The cake asks for coconut milk and cheese, among other regular ingredients. It is a lot of work (and ingredients), but it hopefully would make the man happy for the trade.
My father’s 1973’s pick-up Jeep is part of my childhood. For some years, it was the only vehicle we had. I don’t even remember how the whole family of five went to wedding cerimonies we were often invited to. Maybe my older brother sit in the pick up, while my little sister and I were squeezed by my parents. Today we used the very same vehicle to haul manure. I was a bit worried as the car sometimes go backwards when placed on first gear. The cabin smelled like gasoline, with cabin without working seatbelts, and driver’s door that doesn’t close well. We went shaking on a dirt road that leads to my neighbor, less than a mile away. So close that my dogs followed us and barked at the neighbors’ wife on her own farm.
Guarded by two of our five dogs, quickly my father piled up dry manure using a draw hoe while I half-filled a basked. Then, I helped to lift it onto my father’s shoulder who would dump on the pick up. We clean up the small barn while we were dusted from head to toe, and got back home in an hour.
While I was shoveling the manure in the dust with my elderly father (79), I decided that I should charge the fair amount for the veggies I grew from now on. The manure is not free. It comes from hard work of networking and friendship, paid hauling job, and what makes me feel guilty: exploiting my father’s willingness to help me in my new endeavor.
My relationship with what used to be just droppings to what is today, manure, has changed over the months. I ran after it, I beg for it, I offer to pay, I even work with it. But I still don’t do what real farmers do: grab it with my bare hands to admire it.

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