You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

There's gold in them thar piles - or the scoop on poop

By Ruth Ehman

angus steers.jpg

Field fertility contributors

Ruth Ehman | Contributor

On a farm, poop is more than something that colloquially "happens." At its finest, it is an integral link in the chain of life, returning vital nutrients to the soil in a concentrated form immediately available to nurture our fields and gardens. At its more mundane it is an indication of health and well being, giving clues into the inner workings of the farm animals.

Farmers and gardeners the world over appreciate the benefits of using livestock poop to enrich their soil in a natural, sustainable way. Soil is a living entity in itself and must be fed to stay healthy and productive; incorporating manure from farm animals is an efficient way to accomplish the feeding. And the farmer can tell at a glance if his animals are healthy and happy by monitoring their rear end outputs; unusual colors, consistencies, smells (yeah, yeah, I know it all smells) and textures can be indicative of digestive tract disorders, stress, or poor feed quality.

Being a diverse farm in operation endows my farm with an equally diverse supply of poop. Ranging from the neat, dry pellets of rabbits to the copious splats freely offered by the cattle, there is ample opportunity to do comparison shopping were you in the market for some good poop.

And there's more to relative differences in various forms of farm manure than just consistency. Poop from pastured animals such as cattle and horses will most likely contain weed and grass seeds, which aren't a problem if deposited back in the fields.

This can cause issues in garden beds, however, so poop to be applied to these more stringently cultivated areas is generally composted first. The heat and moisture of composting will first germinate, then destroy, any seeds that have made it through the digestive tract unscathed.

Poultry poop will not contain seeds as the gut of a bird breaks them down thoroughly. If you think about it, you'll remember poultry are fed grain, which is basically seed; they've evolved to use all the nutrition from this source. Grazing animals, on the other hand, get most of their nutrition from plant stems and leaves; Mother Nature has actually engineered them to be ongoing re-seeders of their environment by assuring most seeds will pass through in viable form.

Poultry poop does have the drawback of being extremely high in nitrogen and will "burn" plants if not used in a well-aged state and mixed with some source of carbon (straw, wood shavings) to help bind the nitrogen.

Of the more common farm animals bunny, goat and sheep poop is the most user-friendly. These animals are designed to fully digest all parts of a plant, their poop tends to be dry and in neat pelleted form, and is "cool" enough to not require lengthy aging periods. Poop expert that I may claim to be, I cannot personally speak to the pluses or minuses of the poop from farm exotics like llamas or emus; you'll have to submit your own research on them.

However, I find the positive merits of poop to be lost on most of my adult visitors. They tend to view manure with either disinterest or face-scrunching revulsion.

Children, on the other hand, are much more appreciative and tend to find it fascinating and "really gross." Now you should know "really gross" is much more fun than a prosaic wrinkling of the nose. "Really gross" leads to poking cow pies with a stick, throwing bunny turds at your sister, and kicking apart the clusters of sheep pellets, preferably while wearing clean white tennies. It's good clean down-on-the-farm diversion with one of the miracles of nature.

Ruth Ehman has been farming her 53 acres north of Dexter for 25 years. Recently retired from a "real job" she now makes her living producing "real food" including operating a dairy, and teaching others skills conducive to a small, diverse family farm lifestyle. Contact her at or



Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

Fun (and informative) article. Thanks!!