In his insightful new book, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, contrary farmer Gene Logsdon provides the inside story of manure-our greatest, yet most misunderstood, natural resource. He begins by lamenting a modern society that not only throws away both animal and human manure-worth billions of dollars in fertilizer value-but that spends a staggering amount of money to do so. This wastefulness makes even less sense as the supply of mined or chemically synthesized fertilizers dwindles and their cost skyrockets. In fact, he argues, if we do not learn how to turn our manures into fertilizer to keep food production in line with increasing population, our civilization, like so many that went before it, will inevitably decline.
With his trademark humor, his years of experience writing about both farming and waste management, and his uncanny eye for the small but important details, Logsdon artfully describes how to manage farm manure, pet manure and human manure to make fertilizer and humus. He covers the field, so to speak, discussing topics like:
How to select the right pitchfork for the job and use it correctly
How to operate a small manure spreader
How to build a barn manure pack with farm animal manure
How to compost cat and dog waste
How to recycle toilet water for irrigation purposes, and
How to get rid ourselves of our irrational paranoia about feces and urine.
Gene Logsdon does not mince words. This fresh, fascinating and entertaining look at an earthy, but absolutely crucial subject, is a small gem and is destined to become a classic of our agricultural literature.
Holy Shit – Managing Manure to Save Mankind
Gene Logsdon C2010 ISBN 978-1-60358-251-3
I read this book a few years ago, but when the subject of dealing with organic tofu waste from a local business came up, I re-visited it and re-learned some good things. To me that’s the sign of a good book: beginners to Permaculture will learn a lot from this book, but those who’ve been involved for years will still enjoy the humor and quite likely learn something useful.
This book was written in 2010, before fracking took off and oil prices dropped and Mr. Logsdon was quite looking forward to manure regaining the respect it deserves. The first chapter covers the economics of keeping farm animals for the value of the manure. The second chapter touches on the need for generous bedding material to capture and hold critical, easily lost nutrients like nitrogen and potassium so they aren’t “lost to oxidation, fermentation or leaching.” He doesn’t shy away form the odiferous truth that some animal shit is stinkier than others and that diet can make things tilt even further.
Chapters 3 and 4 cover how old family farms used to manage animal waste for better or for worse. Chapter 5 showed me just how much I don’t know about pitchforks!
Of course once you’ve aged manure, if you’re a traditional farm, you need a way to spread it and that’s the topic of Chapter 6. In Permaculture, our goal is frequently to move the animals around the farm so they spread it themselves, but there are limits and exceptions to every model.
Chapter 7 is devoted to chickens. He again stresses the importance of deep mulch and rotational grazing. He doesn’t try to claim one perfect approach, but points out pitfalls to avoid.
His statistics on horses in Chapter 8 are to quote him, “Kind of scary.” It’s clear he recognizes the huge waste related to these over-sized pets. (No offense – I do know that there are a few good people using horses as responsible partners in their farm plan.) It does make me feel guilty that I don’t have the time to rescue a lot more of this local, poorly managed resource.
He then carries on with chapters on sheep and goats, dairy cows and pigs. Following that is a brief chapter covering “Guano and Other Offbeat Manures”. That was enough to convince me I should move the building of bat-houses higher up my ‘to-do’ list and to make sure when I do that the output will be sheltered from the rain. Chapter 13 dwells on the joy and ecology of cow-pats, although the information relates to other “distributed” offerings, both domestic and wild. The lack of dung beetles in modern agriculture is mentioned, and he suggests there is work afoot to decrease our modern dependence on de-wormers, but he doesn’t elaborate. Hopefully we have some Permies working on that one.
Mr. Logsdon takes the gloves off for the next few chapters, starting with “Cat Litter and
Dog Dung”. I dislike stepping in dog poop as much as the next person, but I really can’t
abide by sending such a valuable resource to the land-fill (he specifically mentions how
rich in phosphorus dog poop is if the dog is allowed to chew on bones). For those of us
lucky enough to have composting toilets, we’ve already got an easy alternative location
to let it age, but really people, this is *not* rocket science! This is closely followed by
the outrage many city growers are exposed to in “Oh My Goodness, Manure on Your
Garden?” This chapter also covers the use of manure to make hot-beds and the benefits
and pitfalls of this process.
Chapter 17 introduces the biology of poop and healthy soil. The importance of our soil
microbes and organic matter and the damage done to both through soil disturbance is
introduced. He mentions that compost made with animal manures can protect some
plants from illness, the need for mycorrhizal fungi for tree growth, and the historical
reality that humans have been destroying farmland for millennium and paying the price.
He admits that “disease, war and overpopulation” are part of the pattern, (in fact, I wished
he’d emphasized the last one far more – it is not “how many people can we feed” but
“how responsible population control of humans is required for the beneficial survival of
the rest of the ecosystem”.) He’s only touched these important areas but mentions names
that interested readers can follow up on.
Chapter 18 is not for the squeamish as he tackles the thorny issue of human excrement
and immediately sidetracks into the practice of feeding excrement from one group of
farm animals to another. He acknowledges the paranoia part of our human poop problem
- we’re afraid of excrement but not automobiles – and that the barbaric nature of most
outhouses doesn’t help. (So I guess we need a thread on Permies with pictures of rocketmass
heated composting toilets – that’s a challenge folks!) He mentions several
resources and approaches to humanure composting – the techniques for doing it well are
out there, it’s the need to change attitudes and priorities (and the Departments of Making
you Sad) that are holding us back.
Chapter 19 moves on to the debate about applying treated human biosolids to farmland.
The difficulties can be summed up with the “ick” factor and the “you can’t control what
people flush” problem. Education and reliable testing (for drug and heavy metal residues
in particular) may help but as Mr. Logsdon says, “we live in an imperfect world.”
Mr. Logsdon sums up this delightful book with the reality that BIGGER is not
necessarily better or sustainable. As a Permie, I may not completely agree with his
assertion that the old ways are better – after all, societies have been destroying their
farmland since farming was invented, but we certainly have things to learn from some of
the old farming ways about making the best use of a resource that is currently
I give this book 10/10 acorns for beginners, although more widely experienced permaculture groupies might think it's only a 7/10 read.