Just down the road from me, there is a farm that embodies everything I hate about modern industrial farming. It is a relatively small (by industrial standards) dairy operation with maybe a hundred head closely confined to a feeding barn, a milking barn and the “exercise yards” that join the structures.
The ground around the main barns is soup, cow-knee-deep manure. In this rolling terrain, much of that manure washes right into the creek that runs through the farm polluting the water for everyone in the area. Not to mention the horrific conditions the cattle are forced to live in where they are knee-deep in their own waste for 90% of their lives.
Slatted floors in the barns pump their manure into a huge vat where unadulterated manure sits vaporizing all of its nutrients into the atmosphere polluting the air for everyone in the proximity. Entirely liquid manure with no carbon has two major implications. The nutrients have nothing to bind to and the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (C:N) is non existent meaning all those nutrients in the manure are biologically inactive. The latter point makes the manure all but useless to apply to soils. Neglecting to replace carbon along with the nutrients in the hayfields that feed this farm is rapidly depleting those soils.
I had the unfortunate timing of driving by the farm when a truck was departing the farm having just been filled with the pure manure soup from the vat. The drivers hurried mindset to pull out ahead of me onto the highway sent a tidal wave of manure out the top orifice of the truck. Coupled with the normal leak from the rear of the truck, the pavement was now covered with polluting manure and emitted one of the worse smells I have ever experienced.
How is this legal? Thank the industrial farm lobby for all of the regulations creating barriers to entry for small, responsible dairy operations that completely omit any consideration for public health.
Remember that anytime you smell a farm especially from a distance, that farm has a major nutrient mismanagement issue. Whether it be ammonia from poultry operations or manure from cattle or pig operations, it indicates a shortage of carbon to bind to and capture those valuable nutrients resulting in their vaporization into the atmosphere thus creating the smell that reaches your nose. Lucky for industrial farmers on the eastern side of the US and unlucky for all of the other residents, specifically those who depend on the Chesapeake Bay, remnants of hurricanes come through every few years to flush the toilet of manure lagoons into the waterways.
Experiences like this double my fortitude in implementing a sustainable farm model.