Pat Leuchtman brought up an interesting subject when she reviewed my book, “Holy Shit,” on www.commonweeder.com. She reminisced about her early experiences on the farm and how much she liked the smell of cow manure in the barn when she was a child. Lots of us agree with Pat but it has been awhile since I’ve heard anyone praise the smell of manure right out loud. It got me to thinking about the subjectivity of nasal sensations. I wonder if you, dear reader, would agree with my list, below, of the worst and best farm smells, or if you have riper candidates.
The worst farm smells:
1. A bucket of decaying potatoes.
2. An egg so rotten that what remains inside the shell is just a rubbery, almost dry remnant of yolk.
3. Liquid manure slurry from factory hogs fed with a high soybean meal protein supplement. When this manure is being stored in underground pits, the odor will lay you out prostrate on the ground.
4. Buzzard vomit. I don’t know this from experience but my father always said this was “by far the worst smell God ever created.” If you are innocent enough to approach a buzzard nest, this might be your fate.
5. Rotting plant residue on a cabbage field after harvest.
The best farm smells:
1. Wild grape blossoms
2. Good quality hay curing in the mow
3. Freshly-turned, rich, moist soil
4. Air filtering through a woodlot in the spring after a rain shower
5. Blooming apple trees over an orchard floor of white clover.
The odor of barn manure after it has been soaked up and mixed with straw bedding and aged a bit is not offensive to me. It smells like money. As I try to show in my book, high quality manure is going up in value. That’s because commercial chemical fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. It takes about eight to ten tons of barn manure to fertilize an acre of corn adequately and its enriching qualities tend to build up over the years so that less becomes necessary. The cost of commercial fertilizers for an acre of corn is around eighty to a hundred dollars and rising. A cow produces annually about 20 tons of manure with the bedding, so as a replacement for commercial fertilizer on corn, that yearly output is worth something like $200. And that does not count the value of the organic matter in the manure. Agronomists haven’t figured out just how much organic matter is worth in dollars and cents. It is priceless.
But here’s the interesting thing to me. The more the manure pack ages and breaks down into humus, saving its plant nutrients from leaching or washing away when spread on the field, the better it smells to me. Would an agronomist allow me to say that the more my nose likes the smell of manure, the more it is worth?
This kind of evaluation works both ways. In my nose’s opinion, fresh runny manure from cows on a ration high in corn silage or from hogs deriving most of their protein from soybean meal, smells repugnant— much worse than cows on high quality hay instead of corn silage, or hogs being fed alfalfa meal for their protein instead of soybean meal. The corn silage and soybean meal diets produce chronic loose bowel conditions that can’t be healthful. Dare I say that the less offensive the fresh manure smells to me, the healthier is the colon from which it exits?