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.