They don’t read this blog, you know. LOL
Call me dumb. . .
Okay, Becky. You’re dumb.
Slander is spoken. I am not talking out loud. I am writing. The word Becky is looking for is libel. And it doesn’t apply in this case, anyway. What I have written about Becky is my personal opinion, quite clearly. Obviously, I haven’t done IQ tests on Becky, so I have no way to know whether or not she is mentally challenged. My expression (blithering idiot) was hyperbole (look that up, please, Becky and Nicole) and therefore obviously opinion, which is protected speech.
But Becky did “research.” What she means is that she Googled a bit. And she found out that human waste is sometimes treated and then sold as fertilizer. Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been doing this for decades. The product is called “Milorganite.” I’ve actually used it before.
It is treated. That’s the operative word here. Treated. It is contained and treated. Treated how? Actually, that’s sort of interesting. It’s treated with microbes. They are introduced into the sewage and they quite literally eat it, and then they (the microbes) are killed. Milorganite is essentially dead bugs.
Remember that word? Treated.
Of course, our sewage gets treated and then “put into the ground somewhere.” What else would we do with it? Fire it into outer space?
But the issue here is human waste vs. animal waste. Why do farmers spread animal waste on their fields, but the Nauglers can’t fling their poo all around like chimpanzees?
Becky obviously doesn’t know. Nicole doesn’t know. And Erin doesn’t know. They aren’t the only ones. They are just the folks I chose to quote.
Here I go, off the subject again. But not really.
This is Frances the cow. Standing in front of her is Claire, the first calf she had after she came to live with us from the dairy. We were going to do everything “natural.” I told Frances that it was going to be wonderful. She was going to get to keep her calf with her and she was going to love it so much.
And there they are, all happy. Day 2.
And it was great, for about two weeks.
And then it started being less great. Actually, looking back, it wasn’t great after about the first two hours, but I was too starry-eyed and wanting to do everything “natural,” to understand what Frances was trying to tell me. She can’t talk.
Frances was getting sick. Before we realized it, she had gotten quite ill. She got a condition called “ketosis.” If you know anything about the Atkins diet, you’ll recognize the word. It simply means “fat burning.” The Atkins diet, intended of course for human beings, promotes ketosis because the condition burns up a lot of fat, thus causing weight loss.
People generally can handle mild ketosis without many problems. Cows cannot.
Cows get really, really sick and the condition can be fatal.
Frances started looking and acting depressed. She would walk in the barn and stand facing the wall like she expected the wall to move for her. She had “fuzzy brain.” She also quit eating.
When a lactating dairy cow quits eating, you are in very deep trouble.
The condition in dairy cows occurs primarily when the cow’s calorie expenditure exceeds her calorie intake. No modern lactating dairy cow can eat enough calories to stay alive on just hay and grass. Grain is required. But you can’t feed them too high a ratio of grain to grass or you’ll get their digestion all screwed up. So it’s a balancing act and many of them walk that tightrope without a safety net.
Stress can be and often is the straw that broke the cow’s back.
So, when this novice cow-owner finally figured out that something was really wrong, we immediately jerked the calf off her and put the calf in a pen. Frances, I swear, gave an audible sigh of relief.
I then began giving her molasses mixed in water (we call it “coffee”) to up her calorie intake and poured molasses all over her grain and hand fed her for several days. She had obviously lost weight. I felt terrible about it and frankly stupid. It took her far longer to recover than it did for her to get sick.
And she never had that calf with her again. Nor any other calf. Ever.
My cow loves being pregnant, but she doesn’t love mothering. She is really into her calves right after birth. She does the mama-moo thing (wonderful if you’ve never heard a cow do that) for about thirty minutes to an hour. And then she’s ready to go back out to the pasture for a snack and leave the calf with the nursery staff. I am the nursery staff.
From that point forward, she pretty much ignores her calves and within a few days, couldn’t pick her own calf out of a crowd.
So much for “natural.”
So we put the calf in a pen. And that led me to feel sorry for the poor little calf in this stall all alone. So we got some more calves.
[BTW, before Nicole can start, these are well-fed Jersey bull calves. They are skinny. That’s how they come. They grow like weeds and they stay skinny because they are making bone, not fat.]
We raise Jersey bull calves for our local dairy. They buy them back from us when they get to the age where we can’t stand them anymore. The dairy then chooses the bulls they want to keep in their herd and sells off the rest.
So it was all great. Frances was happy and has never had a serious problem with ketosis again, and she is delighted that the nursery staff takes the babies. She gets them back when they are adolescents and they form her “herd” and she bosses them around. It works.
But we began to have a problem. A big one.
The first batch of calves did fine. We have an old wooden barn with stalls. We put the calves in those stalls and allowed them access to the breezeway as a run during the day. They were bedded down on nice shavings and straw. It looked perfect.
We probably raised a dozen or more that way and everything was fine.
But then, they started scouring.
“Scours” is a farmer word for diarrhea. Watery, awful, smelling diarrhea. There are several types, and the calf’s age and the appearance of the scours can vary depending on the causative organism. Our calves are 3-4 days old when we get them, have had their mother’s colostrum, and they were getting sick about a week after they arrived on our farm.
We treated the scours and it got to the point that every single calf we got developed it. Treatment consists of antibiotics to hopefully kill the causative organism and mostly of hydration, electrolyte solution around the clock. If you can keep the calf hydrated, he will likely do pretty well.
And then we got Twister.
Named for the tornado shape on his head, he was a super big guy.
On his ninth morning of life, Dave went into his stall to give him his bottle and Twister was staggering. He kept falling down and refused the bottle. He was scouring.
By 7 p.m. that day, he was dead.
I cried and sobbed and I just can’t tell you how upset I was. He was our first death (of a calf). I knew why he died. I had no idea until then how fast and brutal it could be, but I knew why.
I just didn’t know how to stop it.
I began reading everything I could find about scours. We implemented one practice after another to cure the problem. Nothing worked. Our calves universally got sick and what was worse, they seemed to be getting sicker. We had two or three near-misses with death, and then finally had another calf die.
At this point, I was trudging out to the barn every two hours around the clock to force-feed calves electrolyte solution and we were ready to just quit.
The problem, we knew, was manure. (You knew I’d get back to the subject at some point, didn’t you?) There is no way in the world to sterilize dirt. Our barn is old. We have had lots of animals in it, not just calves, but Frances and the donkeys and the bigger calves. They poo a lot.
We tried deeper straw. Didn’t help.
We tried cleaning the stalls out completely between calves and spraying each stall with an entire gallon of Clorox. Didn’t help.
We tried separating the calves completely in different stalls. Didn’t help.
We had to get those calves off that concentrated manury ground. We thought about creating concrete pens that could be hosed off (complicated and expensive). You name the idea and we considered it. But the big, underlying principle was that our calves were getting sick and dying because they had immature immune systems and they were being overwhelmed by organisms in the ground.
Out on a field, for instance, with beef cattle, the calves stay with their mothers and move around the field, never staying long in any place that is concentrated with manure. (Although beef calves can get bad cases of scours and some of them die. Scours is the number one cause of calf death. )
Anyway, nothing worked. Nothing even helped.
And then we looked at how dairies do it. You know, those evil, Big Agra, unnatural places that are cruel to animals. How do they keep calves alive?
This was not practical for us for a variety of reasons, but we started thinking about it. Those hutches are moved between calves to new ground, and the ground is dug out and the floors of those areas filled with new sand. The hutch itself is thoroughly cleaned. Those calves don’t die.
So Dave built this. We now have two of them, the second one located to the left of the first.
The “floor” is made of milk crates turned upside down on a gravel floor. Dave dug out several inches of the stall flooring and filled it with gravel. This is a stall that we have never used for animals, but mostly for hay storage, so there is little to no build-up of manure.
Here’s a little guy in the pen. We put a good thick layer of straw as bedding. The calf is not on the ground. His feet never touch the ground. Between calves, we take the whole thing apart, take the milk crates outside, hose them down, spray them well with Clorox (a whole gallon per pen is the rule) and leave them in the sunshine for a couple of days. The wooden parts of the pen are saturated with Clorox, and of course, the feed and water trays are cleaned.
Our calves live here for three weeks. On Day 21, they graduate to the mob that live in the breezeway and stalls. By then, they have developed an immunity to the various organisms that cause scours (pretty much).
We have not had a death since we started using these pens. We have not had a single case of scours. We’ve had a couple who thought about it, but one day of electrolyte solution and we’re good. And we’ve raised maybe 20 or so calves this way.
The microbes in manure can be deadly. Cow manure was deadly to our calves. Poor little Twister.
So why are we more cautious about human manure than we are about cow manure? Because we are humans.
Dave and I have to be really cautious about cow manure around baby calves. People have to be cautious about human manure around people, especially the elderly and babies who have underdeveloped or failing immune systems.
There are organisms in human manure that are specific to human manure and harmful to humans and not to dogs or cows. Ditto with cow manure and cows.
There are a few organisms that are present in all manure and pose a problem for people, mostly commonly listeria, e. coli and salmonella. And in fact, those three manure-spread organisms show up in food-poisoning recalls over and over again.
And the biggest offender seems to be produce, but not just produce. Specifically green leafy veggies that are eaten raw, like baby spinach and that bagged, ready-to-eat salad. ( I won’t buy that stuff for that reason.)
Another interesting thing is that buying organic doesn’t help.
I was stunned to discover that of the recalls for those three organisms (listeria, e. coli and salmonella), way more than 5 percent have been organic produce or organic products. The figure is about 25%. I can’t link to anything because to figure this out, you have to find the stats and then laboriously go through and count them and look up each company to see if the product is labeled “organic.” It’s tedious and this article is too long now. But I won’t buy organic if I can help it.
Why is that?
It’s because organic farmers are far more likely to use manure on their fields since they cannot use chemical fertilizers. Ordinarily that isn’t a problem. We use animal manure here on our garden.
But we don’t put raw animal manure right on the garden on our growing plants. Do you know what happens if you do that? The plant will probably die. Manure has to “rot.” It has to sit for a while. Nobody would do that more than about once.
When farmers take raw manure out and spread it on their fields, they are not spreading it in their corn, or soybeans. They are spreading it out on the grass. We do it. There is already cow manure out there because that’s where Frances and the older calves live. We just add a bit more and spread it out. We are not eating any of that grass. They are. And they carefully eat around the shitty areas until enough time and rain has occurred that they deem it okay.
So how does lettuce get contaminated with e. coli if the well-rotted manure is put on the lettuce field and plowed in? The usual way it happens is that there is a pile of manure someplace near the field and the fresh manure is rained on and the run-off goes down into the field and gets on the lettuce. It’s not the rotted stuff that is plowed in that hurts us. It’s the raw manure, with living e. coli in it that is culprit.
Notice the common denominator here? With our calves, the issue was figuring out a way to keep calves away from a build-up of fresh manure. With organic farming (or any other farming for that matter), the issue is keeping the crops away from any contamination with fresh manure.
So we’re back to shit.
Why are outhouses okay? They’re okay, if dug properly, because the waste is kept from leaching into streams or ponds (the water supply), and because people can’t be exposed to it because it’s way down under the ground, and because the ground itself at that depth provides a good filter. In practice, sometimes it isn’t really all that good, which is one reason people who are not on a municipal septic system (like us) generally have septic tanks.
Septic tanks provide a safe, contained place for the waste to rot and then for the overflow (effluent) to be sent out into a drain field (all underground). People are in no danger of being exposed to a properly functioning septic system. Once in place, it’s a no-brainer and human error ceases to be an issue.
Humanure is fraught with chances for human error to screw up the whole thing. At every step, it can be done wrong. From spilling the bucket, to not constructing the compost bin in the right place or the right way, to not managing the compost bin so that it heats up correctly, to run-off, there are issues where those who are the neighbors of people who are using humanure systems have to trust that those crunchy, back-to-the-land, self-described “beginner” homesteaders really read the book and are doing it right.
Why should the Nauglers’ neighbors have to worry about that?