New Zealand

‘Horn Manure’ – Is it a load of bull?

Hear me out then feel 100% free to make up your own mind.

Stuffing cow horns with manure and burying in a pit for 6 months may sound little woo-woo to some. But the rich compost that comes from it is the foundation for biodynamic farming.

When did Biodynamic farming come about? 

Steiner developed the Biodynamic farming principles in 1924 in response to farmers requests for his thinking about the declining quality of their produce and yield of crops.

His biodynamic philosophy was his way of improving the stability and richness of the soil by enhancing its organic matter, by avoiding synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides – to give the produce back its vitality.

Ok, we are all keeping up with that.

Where we may lose a few people is that he also claimed that “cosmic vital forces” have a large impact on plants and animals. He recommended processes of using cow horns as vessels to vitalize the soil.

The process goes a little like this.

Cow horns are filled with manure (this is called Process 500) then buried for six months below the soil surface. They are then dug up and the rich substance inside is stirred with water for one hour. The vitalized content is then sprayed across the property.

This “dynamized solution” in designed to enhance plant growth and improve the quality of the crops. The spiritual theory behind it is that by planting death and decay into the soil – breathes vitality and new life into the earth.

Whilst no statistically significant positive effects have been found, biodynamic farming is practiced across the globe. And in the wine industry in particular, where some of the most awarded labels swear by its potency.

It’s up to you to make up your own mind.

David – gardener from Weleda, New Zealand talked to me about the process.

Why did Steiner think the cow was so important?

The cow is the most important thing on a biodynamic farm. It all starts with the cow and ends with the cow.

The importance of the cow’s horns.

Fresh cow manure is used to stuff the horns.

Steiner philosophies give huge functional and spiritual importance to the cow’s horns – as it is a sense organ.

They have their own blood stream and are also are connected to the cow’s sinuses which allows air to also circulate through the bone. I never knew this!

These physical attributes play a subtle but important part in the cow’s health as well as in the quality of digestion.

Spiritually, Steiner’s working say that the horns reach up to the sky and are receptors to the energy of the sun and light.

The importance of the cow’s gut.

The cow’s four stomachs have extraordinary power of to build farm fertility. When you think about it, the gut is filled with the earth – a cow needs to consume an eighth of her weight in foodstuffs each day to stay alive.

The importance of the cow’s manure.

We all know manure works wonders for plants and the cow’s manure is especially nutrient rich. It’s the vital ingredient needed for biodynamic compost as it creates micro-organisms in the earth which in turn, improves the soil quality. The manure also brings energy to the plant by creating seed germination, root stimulation and growth and also raising earthworm quantities.

Making ‘Horn manure’ or ‘Process 500’

To recap – biodynamic soil is prepared by creating ‘Horn Manure’. Made fresh from cow manure, immersed into a cow horn in nutrient rich soil from Autumn to Spring. It works to activate the soil, bringing the vital sources of sun and life to the earth.

Why do you use ‘Horn manure’?

It’s the transformation of grass into compost. David. Gardener Weleda NZ

The horn manure helps re-boot the processes in the earth, help in humus formation, retaining water and for roots to develop.

It’s like a homeopathic potentizing process and a lot of its qualities and essence are spread over the whole land.

Does the horn and manure have to be from a cow?

They have to be cow horns, not steer or bull.

Rudolf Steiner categorised different sorts of animals into temperaments.

‘The cow is considered a very metabolic creature, connected to the earth and quite docile. Where-as something like a deer has a heightened sense of alertness. The spook really easily. Where something like an eagle is very focused on the outside world, alert to threats. And, also possibilities for prey. And then there’s another type of archetypal animal – the lion, that is somewhere in between. It both likes to laze around but also has the ability to be very nerve, sense orientated.’

The energy of the animal the manure comes from is important. As David said, a cow is quite docile and their amazing digestive systems makes for nutrient dense manure.

At Weleda in Havelock North, New Zealand 30 to 40 horns will be buried in a 40cm deep pit. That will be enough to supply their 25 aches gardens. The cow manure becomes so nutrient dense over the 6 months as it ferments – much like a sourdough inoculates or a kombucha culture, ferments.

So, the Horn Manure is in the ground. What now?

After 6 months in the ground the horns are dug up. The manure has formed a rich compost, it’s no longer green and mushy but rich – it even smells a little like chocolate. Yes I got my nose in there!

The process of stirring

This compost is then combined with rainwater in a barrel. The method of stirring is important, it’s nearly a spiritual ritual with many of the farm workers actively stirring the water making a deep crater in the rotating liquid.

It’s a bit of a sacred activity. David. Gardener Weleda NZ

Then, they reverse the direction of stirring to create a reverse ‘whirl pool’ like you would do as kids – creating turbulence in the water. And so on and so on. This rhythmic process is continued for an hour. Only then is the liquid is allowed to settle.

Potentizing the gardens

The stirred liquid is then poured into a sprayer to spread across the gardens. The liquid created by the 40-50 horns in enough to cover the whole 25 acres of the Weleda gardens in Havelock North.

Proven benefits

I must say again that these are agricultural philosophies. And because of this, these methods, as some horticultural experts argue, cannot be tested and validated. 

The movement is controversial because at its core it is a philosophy, not a science,  says Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor and urban horticulturist at the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems at Washington State University.

My thoughts on the effects of Horn Manure.

I am a believer that I am a little arrogant to dismiss something just because it may be beyond my comprehension.

‘Biodynamic produce to me is tastier’

I am no scientist or horticulturalist for that matter. But I do like food, and I have tried a lot of biodynamic produce over the last few weeks. The evidence for me is that I find biodynamic food to be tastier.

And I know I feel better knowing it’s grown with no pesticides or chemicals. That the soil it’s been created in is not being destroyed, it’s being sustained for many generations to enjoy tasty produce too.

I have seen the love and the care that the Weleda gardeners put into their produce and the flourishing gardens in my mind speak for themselves.

By over to you. One has to take in the information and decide for them what feels right.

What are your thoughts on the horn manure process?