cow pies and hot spots

Cows don’t like to graze where a cow pie has been slowly decomposing; the forage around an old flop is dark green, lush, and lovely, but cows, with an intelligence humans have lost, know better than to eat something they have fouled.  And while cow poo gives life to our soil, it also harbors the maggots that become flies to pester our cows.  Scratching birds like chickens and turkeys will spread cow pies and eat maggots, but  it takes a lot of birds to clean up after even a small herd like ours — that’s a LOT, hundreds and hundreds.  So the hot spots dot the pasture, as the cow pies slowly decompose, and the flies in the dairy keep tails switching in our eyes, hooves waving around milk buckets.

Wherever Nature experiences a concentration of nutrients, sooner or later appropriate life moves in to make use of it.  Note the sequel.

In our third year on these pastures, the cow pies we were kicking over had black beetles making tunnels in them.  The holes looked like homes, and we stopped kicking cow pies, wanting the beetles to be happy.  In the fourth year, orange manure flies appeared in April; these are not pest flies, but occupy the same manure-dwelling niche, competing with the biting black flies and decreasing their numbers.  Earthworms –not just one, but several — began to appear under every upturned cowpie.

And this year, five years, or is it six, into our caretaking of the monastery pastures, a tipping point seems to have been reached.  Nary a hot spot is to be seen; despite our wet wet spring and early summer, the biting, cow-tormenting flies are at a historic low; and cow pies less than a week old are already going back to the soil from whence they came. Fertility is everywhere; the forage in our pastures is rich, rank, and in many places 50% legumes — red clover, as high as my waist in places, low Dutch white clover, some vetches and alfalfa in spots, other things I name only with uncertainty — and staying green long after the temperatures used to bring on dormancy.  Not planted by us, just volunteering.

Nature doesn’t know math; one plus one is five, or fifty, or five hundred.  We take her hand humbly, and there’s no anticipating the places she will lead us.



7 thoughts on “cow pies and hot spots

  1. I have been scooping poo patties near the barn & placing them in compost pole but you are saying let them lie in the pasture- use the Sheer Total Utter Neglect approach w regard to cow pies? What do orange manure flies look like?

    1. Hi, Sue! Well, if the pies are in the pasture, I would leave them; but if they are in the barn, the lane, or anywhere I object to pies, or where they are not useful, putting them on the compost pile sounds perfect. In the pasture you are trying to build a cow-pie-friendly ecosystem. Orange manure flies are, well, orange, and a bit larger than our local biting black flies . . . Good grazing to you!

  2. Hi. Huge fan, love your story and everything I’ve seen from y’all. I just wanted to point out that “from whence” is redundant. Whence means “from where it came”. So, something returns “whence it came”.

    Thank you for your very informative posts.

    MK Parish

    1. Hi, MK,
      I got to wondering why the phrase “from whence” was in my head, and went to look up the language the English used in times past when passing sentence of death on a prisoner: sure enough, ‘to be taken from here to the place from whence he came’, or something like that, but the ‘from whence’ is for sure. My OED reading friend Fr. Vincent Huber tells me ‘whence’ was once synonymous with ‘where’. Your way does sound better, though, I think —

  3. Beautiful description. I first went to the pasture at dawn in summer to drive the cows to the barn, when the grass was cool and wet from dew and my bare feet enjoyed the warmth of fresh cow pie. Now, seventy years later, I still treasure the contentment and the serenity the cows share when coming in to be milked.

    I am keeping three Jerseys: grandmother, mother and heifer calf, on three acres of dry-land pasture with a portion of the Gallatin River running through it. I use electric fence to make three pastures. Since we have a long winter, I collect manure from the barn and paddocks and make compost. In the spring I spread the compost on the pastures and use a steel-tooth drag to breakup pies. I add grass seed as needed and drag again. In this climate, at 4,500 feet elevation, with snow in June and September, that seems to work great to recycle manure back into healthy grass in about two years. John Noreika

    1. Hi, John,
      Your farm sounds beautiful. Our climate/soils are such that biological activity can get pretty accelerated, but in the high and dry of the western mountain ranges and the plains to the east of them it makes sense that things can take longer to cycle. Are the composting and dragging sufficient to prevent any repugnance when the cows go over the pastures in spring? Blessings —

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