The manure I use on my home garden comes from four very fat Lowline steers, known as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Our bovine lawnmowers graze on six acres of grassed river flat just out of Sydney, with plenty of trees for shade and fresh water pumped up from the river. We collect the manure from the paddocks and let it rot down for a while and then mix it into the compost bin.
We’re not quite sure how long our Lowline steers (dwarf black angus) will live, as those in the know usually answer “until you take them to the abattoir“. As they have names, and we’d also have to go through the long, boring and complicated process of getting some new ones to eat down our grass, they will never make that journey. And so they continue to munch, chew, belch and crap, just like cattle like to do.
But it got me thinking about the bags of manure that most other gardeners are buying from their local hardware, produce store or nursery. Obviously someone hasn’t walked around a paddock picking up cow pats from beasts that have names, not when we’re talking that kind of quantity, so the only conclusion is that it must mostly come from from feedlot cattle. And chicken manure must come from intensive, ‘battery hen’ chicken sheds. If you’re someone who prefers to grow and shop ‘organic’, thinking you’re doing the earth a favour, are you really, when you choose to buy bagged manure instead of those packets/tubs of ‘artificial fertilisers’? And is that bagged manure purchase supporting and encouraging the sort of industrial agriculture you’d prefer didn’t exist? And how does it sit with your ‘organic’ views about not buying the meat/egg produce of cattle feedlots and battery hens?
I have a problem with feedlot manure. It’s not because I’m panicking about the manure transferring some ghastly disease – I’m quite sure it’s all well-composted and properly regulated and managed. But I do have a philosophical and ethical objection to putting cattle into feedlots to grain finish them. Grain is not a natural diet for cattle, and they have to be given buffers and antibiotics to allow them to eat it without disastrous and painful acidosis results. During times of severe drought, this is preferable to letting them die of malnutrition. But I don’t think it’s right to do it so cattle will conveniently (for us) stack on weight more quickly. Feedlot cattle also typically have no shade at all and, although they can theoretically roam about their yard, trying to do that with another couple of hundred beasts packed in around them makes that unlikely.
In the USA, what’s somewhat euphemistically called ‘broiler litter’ is also added to cattle feedlot diets, and I’m sure you can guess where that came from. Keeping the proportion of broiler litter in the grain feed to under 20% apparently solves the ‘palatability issues’. Yuckety yuck. I’m sure tests will show it’s ‘safe’, but aren’t cattle supposed to be herbivores???? [Note that most Australian states prohibit the use of chicken litter in cattle feed]
I don’t buy grain finished beef for these reasons and I think if you have similar thoughts, then maybe you should reconsider your purchase of bagged cow manure. And if you only buy free range eggs because you don’t want there to be hens confined to little cages for our convenience, why are you buying the bagged chicken manure output of those battery farmed birds? What’s feel good ‘organic’ about contributing to the profit of an intensive chicken shed? And to further confound the issue, even the allegedly ‘free to roam’ chickens quite often turn out not to be at all.