Editor’s Note: Our intern Nicki shares her thoughts on poo.
I’ve been at the farm for about a month and a half now, but it was in my first week that I looked down at my hands, covered in microcuts, splinters, and smudges of some unknown brown substance, and wondered to myself “Is that dirt, poo, or chocolate spread on my hands?”
The first possibility is pretty self explanatory. Farming is a tough, and dirty, job. Whether you have a simple kitchen garden, a few hectares of land, or a production with hundreds of cows, each situation requires time and attention to make sure things run as smoothly, and productively, as possible. You’re moving animals, digging, building, picking fruit and vege, myriads of tasks on any given day. Your hands get covered in dirt, and sometimes it seems that no matter how much you wash and scrub, they stay covered in dirt.
The second possibility of what was on my hands, poo, is what I really want to delve into in this blog. Most people see poo and generally want to get as far away from the stinky, messy stuff, as quickly as they can. But not here at Kaitiaki Farm. We love poo, because it’s an amazingly valuable resource. A huge part of permaculture is holding your resources on your own land for as long as possible, therefore, we quite often find ourselves around some variety of poo. I’ll provide a few examples.
One of the main uses for animal poo on the farm is as an ingredient in our compost. Rich in nitrogen, poo is often added to compost to offset the carbon heavy filled piles. With the hot composting Berkley method we use, you want a 25-30:1 C:N (carbon:nitrogen) ratio. At the farm, we currently have six 1.5-meter compost piles. These piles are a mixture of carbon (i.e. brown) rich materials such as straw, wood shavings, and cardboard, and nitrogen rich (i.e. green) materials that may include, but are not limited to, kitchen scraps the pigs don’t eat (coffee grounds, tea bags, onion and garlic peels), hay, and poo. You can use horse manure, cow manure, chicken, pigeon, etc. Often, when we first start a pile, sheep manure collected from underneath shearing sheds and sold by the bagful, is added to the pile to get the compost process started quickly. If one of our compost piles appear dry and carbon heavy, we’ll go to one of the pig paddocks and scoop up buckets of their excrement to add to the pile the next time we turn it. Eventually, this compost gets used on the garden beds and helps to grow rich, delicious food.
Pouring established compost into garlic bed furrows
Chicken poo is useful on the farm as well. The majority of our chooks are kept in portable chicken tractors that we shift daily to allow the birds to graze on new grass. They get to eat fresh grass each day, and we get free lawn care: no petrol or energy wasted mowing the lawn, and their scratching, pecking, and poo makes for fertile soil. We also get bags of mixed wood chips and chicken coop scrapings from a neighbor that are used as an efficient starter for the compost piles.
Turning a new compost pile that is made largely of a wood chip-chicken poo combination
Additionally, this material can also have other purposes. We recently completely removed some strawberry plants from a bed in order to intensively weed the area. Before replanting, we kept the plants in punnets and other containers, with their roots covered in handfuls of the chip-poo mixture to keep the plants from drying out.
Strawberry plants covered in damp wood chip-chicken poo mix
Finally, the last example of poo I’ll discuss is duckling poo. When it comes time to change the duckling’s bedding, we’ll take the hay/grass/poo combination from the bottom of their beds and either put it on the plastic sheets that cover areas where our market and kitchen garden beds will be (the plastic kills the weeds underneath, and we want to cover the plastic to protect it from the sun’s rays, thereby increasing its lifespan), or over the sticks, branches, and soil that our hügelkultur is comprised of. A hügelkultur is a no-dig raised bed comprised of many of the same materials as a compost pile, but it’s a much more gradually decaying area, that depending on the items included, may supply nutrients for decades. These examples are only a portion of the ways in which we use animal poo on the farm.
Duckling bedding that will eventually be used in additional ways
So, animal poo is obviously a crucial resource, but what about human poo? If one would like to dispose of their own waste in an eco-friendly way, a composting toilet is one option. This cuts down on human waste that potentially gets pumped out to our oceans (sometimes untreated!), and saves heaps of water that we waste each time we flush a toilet. Human waste can be mixed with high carbon materials and composted long term. This practice is often frowned upon, but in my opinion, it’s just fecal phobia.
Even your littlest humans can contribute to the permaculture way of life. If you use reusable nappies, that poo can be added to a compost loo as well. Even if you don’t utilize humanure, reusable nappies are an important part of making the earth a better place. They may seem off-putting at first, but the reusable variety are a much safer and environmentally friendly option than the disposable ones. Whereas a disposable diaper can only be used once, contains chemicals and plastic, and ends up in landfill, reusable nappies are made of cloth materials such as cotton, hemp, or microfiber, do not have any absorbent chemicals, and can be washed and reused. They also save parents hundreds of dollars a year!
Permaculture is all about minimizing waste, and using resources as best you can. On the farm, animal poo ends up in our compost piles, on our paddocks, and in the hügelkultur. So, although permaculture may be all about minimizing waste, waste is something that this farm thrives on. We definitely don’t waste waste here!
Oh, and in case you were wondering about that third possibility of what might be on my hands, the chocolate spread? Well, who doesn’t love that deliciously smooth, chocolaty stuff? We consume heaps of it here, so a smudge or two could quite possibly end up on my hands. I suppose it’s best that I resist the temptation to lick my fingers to find out.