When we mention the word poo, you might understandably be thinking ‘ugh’. But for farmers poo – or manure or slurry or dung – is a fantastic substance and one we absolutely love for many reasons. Manure is packed with benefits for our soil, which is why we spread it over our fields. Through hundreds of years of farming, those working the land have come to recognize that animal dung makes an excellent soil builder, improving overall structure and fertility.
When farmers use manure properly, it contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gases. And as it’s a way of using a waste product to good effect, it stacks up to a win-win for us. Spreading dung provides a complete package of nutrients for the soil and can help reduce soil erosion in challenged areas. Where soil erosion occurs – through the actions of wind or water – it can cause issues such as loss of rooting depth, depletion of key nutrients or nutrient imbalance, all of which make it tough to grow a healthy and wholesome crop.
While it seems like something we could just take for granted, a lot of science goes into maintaining productive land. And by science, we don’t mean chemicals. When we plough manure into our soil we boost levels of organic matter that have binding properties to improve the structure, helping worms and insects go about their work and allowing the soil to retain moisture. In keeping with our organic principles, fertilizing with manure is a wholly natural process that’s kind to the land and harmless to wildlife.
Well-rotted manure is a fantastic fertilizer as it contains a range of key nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus. It accelerates crop growth by maintaining moisture and promoting deep root systems as well as releasing readily absorbed nutrition. While arable plants take a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus out of the soil, manure restores them, sustaining next year’s crop.
If we didn’t spread dung or slurry (liquid manure), our fields would very quickly become overworked and exhausted, drained of nutrients by hungry crops. We’d also be left with a lot of waste from our dairy farms and waste is something we avoid at all costs. By scraping out our barns, we’re making good use of a by-product.
So how do we go about the smelly process of collecting the manure? At Coombe Farm, we constantly gather manure from the areas where it’s being produced, such as youngstock barns or feeding areas where our dairy cows congregate. Specialist electronic equipment such as box scrapers allows manure from the pens to run into gullies before being pushed into a slurry pit. We add waste water that comes from cleaning our dairy plant and milking parlour to the dung, meaning the end product is more liquid than solid. We separate the liquid from the solids, the liquid can be pumped to a spreading machine in the fields resulting in less compaction from tractors, our farm team spread the solid slurry onto our fields before ploughing for a new crop allowing key nutrients to reach a lower depth, as a result, our grass and crops thrive, which explains why we think of poo as brown gold.