Mountains of Manure

Each horse produces about 50 lbs of manure every day.
Each horse produces about 50 lbs of manure every day.

Now that spring is here it’s become apparent what was hiding under all that snow: mountains of manure!

A 1000-pound horse produces 35- 50 pounds of manure every day. With two horses in the pasture during the approximately three months that we were unable to push a wheelbarrow out into the field, that means we have at least 7000 pounds of manure that needs to be removed one wheelbarrow at a time! Okay, some of that has dispersed into the ground, but you get the picture.

It’s a Sisyphean task. Every day new manure takes the place of the old. There is no respite.

Horses deposited tons of manure on the dirt streets of San Francisco.
Horses deposited tons of manure on the dirt streets of San Francisco.

Of course, horse manure used to be a problem of epidemic portions in the cities of the late 19th century. According to historian Stephen Davies, a senior lecturer in history at Manchester Metropolitan University in England in The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894,

London in 1900 had 11,000 cabs, all horse-powered. There were also several thousand buses, each of which required 12 horses per day, a total of more than 50,000 horses. In addition, there were countless carts, drays, and wains, all working constantly to deliver the goods needed by the rapidly growing population of what was then the largest city in the world. Similar figures could be produced for any great city of the time.

The problem of course was that all these horses produced huge amounts of manure. A horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day. Consequently, the streets of nineteenth-century cities were covered by horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere. In New York in 1900, the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of horse manure per day, which all had to be swept up and disposed of.

The problem did indeed seem intractable. The larger and richer that cities became, the more horses they needed to function. The more horses, the more manure. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed—by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilization was doomed.

Civilization was saved by the invention of the automobile. Maybe what will save me is the Bobcat!

2 thoughts on “Mountains of Manure

  1. too bad folks didn’t use composted manure on crops instead of chemicals.

    I LOVE the smell of horse poop.

    I thought the great horse manure crisis was during George W. Bush’s administration (oh, wait….)

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