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Dear Friend and Gardener

Water and Livestock – Blog Action Day 2010

Our Frog Pond

Water is beautiful. Our Frog Pond is beautiful. We can’t drink this water, but in July of 1990 it helped keep our house from burning down. The previous owners of our house used Conservation funds to enlarge the pond enough to qualify as a Fire Pond. We are so glad they did. Mostly, though we just use it for fun, swimming, catching (and releasing) newts, and ice skating in the winter.

Water is essential. Out here in the  country most of us depend on wells for our water. Some of us have a gravity feed spring.  This year I nearly ran our drilled well dry. No more watering the garden. I have never watered a lawn. We have become even more careful of our water.

Many people are now aware of how they use water, for economic reasons as well as for environmental reasons. We don’t water our lawns. We have low flow shower heads. We have low flow toilets. I admit that ever since my friend Kari Huus Kaill ranted about people who leave the faucet on when they brush their teeth, I always turn the faucet off. Mostly. Many gardeners are now building rain gardens to keep rain water on  site, and to prevent dirty water from overwhelming storm sewers and polluting our streams and other waterways.

But huge amounts of water are wasted, and cause serious environmental problems in ways we never imagined. I first became aware of the lakes of manure slurry in 1991 when I read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.  I was horrified but even then did not realize the full implications of this type of farming.

I just finished reading Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon.  Logsdon has many concerns in this book, from the decline in soil fertility because manure is wasted, to how much money is spent to handle animal and human manure, and how animal and human health is affected by the way manure is handled.  There is a push to get humans to use low flow toilets, but before this book I never heard anyone talk about the amount of water wasted when a barn floor is turned into a flush  toilet. Logsdon, who has visited large farms, described how dairy barns are hosed  out twice a day with hundreds of gallons of water, flushing all the manure into a slurry lagoon. The manure loses up to 70% of its fertilizer value,  and when sprayed on the fields it does not help maintain the loamy structure of fertile soil the way composted manure does.

The United States is known for producing state of the art systems, but there is a price when these are copied in very different parts of the world.  Logsdon talks about farms in Saudi Arabia being patterned on California farms.  A desert country? No problem. They dig a mile deep well.  The well does dry. No problem. They dig a two mile deep well. Saudi Arabia is a rich country, but is this the way to build a sustainable agriculture?

We cannot live without water, to drink, to water food crops, and for cleanliness and health. We need to consider well how we get, use and protect our water supply. For more about water logon to Blog Action Day 2010.

Whittemore Spring - a Heath Emergency Water Supply

8 comments to Water and Livestock – Blog Action Day 2010

  • An excellent post, Pat! I read “A Thousand Acres” a few years ago, too, and remember being disgusted by the thought of that manure slurry. Years ago, when my Dad still raised a few cattle, the manure was handscooped out of the barn into a manure spreader and then spread across his fields. Raked leaves went the same route–lots of free fertilizer. My mother’s vegetable garden is now sited on the old cow lot where years of manure have composted–no wonder my parents have such thriving vegetables:)

    It seems we always take our natural resources for granted until it’s too late.

  • Pat

    Rose – I was talking to a friend last night who has two farmers in the family and she gave me the full lowdown on loafing sheds. I am glad our area is using these good practices.

  • Hello, this kind of garden has been here also a long time ago, manure going to a slurry to just let it decompose, or a rainwater impounding area for future use. This it very useful. However, this time it proved more hazardous because of teh dengue carrying mosquitos, Aegis egypti. It is now wrecking havoc here, with many deaths this year, aggravated than previous years. I had nephew and niece (brother and sister) who were hit and the nephew was in ICU for 4 days. There is no vaccine yet, so very dangerous. So our impounding water system were closed, even plants like taro and bromeliads which carry water between leaf sheaths were destroyed.

  • Fabulous post Pat! Very interesting and your pond is beautiful! So glad it was there to save your house. ;>)

  • Pat

    Carol – We are not the only ones who get the benefit of our Fire Pond aka the Frog Pond. Our neighbors, who are actually a tiny bit closer, also get a break on their insurance.

  • Thanks for the great post – especially the references to books to read for more on these issues!

    Your readers may also enjoy the images I found on the Flickr Commons showing methods of transporting and acquiring water: http://www.spellboundblog.com/2010/10/15/blog-action-day-water-flickr-commons/

  • Pat

    Jeanne – Thanks for sending the link to those great images.

  • I probably shouldn’t have read this post while eating lunch – lol, but you make some excellent posts. I think I read somewhere that there is more water waste in agriculture than in manufacturing. Not to mention the water it takes just to raise livestock in the first place.

    Thanks, too, for stopping by my blog and commenting on my Blog Action Day post.

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