The Fragrance of Fertility

The Fragrance of Fertility

It’s Molly’s favorite time of the year – chicken manure time. It’s not the fragrant aroma of spring she’s been eager for, but it’s a necessary part of our long-term plan to regenerate our soil.

It’s really hard to describe the smell of being down wind of 100 tons of chicken manure.  It’s an acrid stench that assaults your senses, almost like sticking your tongue on a nine-volt battery. You may be too young to know this sensation but trust me when I say it’s shocking.

Those who joined us on our Farm Tour last year, you might remember the memorable scent that accompanied our hayride. Unfortunately, due to a breakdown in the spreader, we couldn’t distribute the manure before the event. This hiccup is just a glimpse into the realities of farming – real challenges, real smells, and real solutions as we address our soil restoration needs.

Our ranch is in the Post Oak Savannahs of far East Williamson County. All of the neighboring properties are covered with a multitude of oak trees, however, our land was cleared many years ago.  What remains is colloquially referred to as “sugar sand.”   When the oak trees were plentiful, they would nourish and shade the soil. The leaf fall from the oaks and the multitude of understory trees cycle nutrients from deep down and deposit it on the soil surface, replenishing the organic matter thus building hummus.  This resulted in a lovely sandy loam. 

With that cycle now broken due to clear cutting, compounded by decades of conventional farming, we have to take dramatic steps to rebuild the soil and restore the land. Rotating livestock is one tool we deploy to rebuild soil (a topic we’ll review in-depth during the farm tour), but in order to accelerate the process and kickstart vegetative growth, we bring in thousands of pounds of chicken manure each year. Two hundred thousand pounds to be specific. In addition to a heavy dose of carbon (35%) poultry manure has a wonderful blend of thirteen essential nutrients to nourish the grasses and microbes in the soil. The added carbon helps retain water in the soil giving the microbes a place to live. Through the magic of photosynthesis, the plants convert sunlight into sugar to feed the microbes, and in exchange they make those nutrients bioavailable to the plants and, ultimately, the livestock.

If you’ve been following our journey, you’ll know that we brought in over a hundred truckloads of woodchips from the freeze in early ’23.(Read more) This will take several more years to breakdown, at which point I’ll spread it out on the pasture (I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to do this). Because our soil is so sandy, the water tends to penetrate to the clay layer that resides about a foot below the sandy soil. As we’re prone to deluges, the water quickly penetrates the sand and flows along the soil/sand interface, rushing off to the nearby creek.
I’m convinced that the woodchips will have a huge benefit on the water holding capability of our sand, but until then, we’ll continue to bring in chicken manure (despite Molly’s protests) to help boost fertility and aid in water retention.

Be sure to join us for our Spring Farm Tour to learn more about how we manage our pastures in an effort to heal the land.

The Fragrance of Fertility
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The Fragrance of Fertility
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Amber Oaks Ranch
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