A Country For Old Men


Unless you suffer from an overactive bladder as many of us do, you may find this essay a bit on the crude side. But nevermind, you will get there too eventually unless you are lucky. In terms of overactive bladders, there is an advantage to living on a farm that rarely gets mentioned, even though the “fall out” from it is quite significant for society at large. Farms provide owners with a private place far from any bathroom where they can relieve themselves.

You know all the old jokes, even if they aren’t all that funny. How old men develop the habit of checking every building they enter for the location of the bathroom before they do anything else. How the farmer with the round barn had an “accident” as he frantically looked for a secluded corner to pee in.

Until I joined the legion of men with enlarged prostates, I did not appreciate the full meaning of tranquility on the farm. In public, I must keep a furtive eye on the nearest bathroom and make sure I do not move more than a minute or two away from it. If I have to give a speech, I am usually safe beforehand because I am too scared for any bodily function to work no matter what. After the speech, however, if I avoid eye contact and abruptly breeze by you as if I am trying to steal second base, please understand. Even in my office at home, absorbed in writing, I have to make mad dashes for the bathroom. This is another unsung advantage of cell phones. You don’t have to hang up in this situation.

But in the field or garden hoeing, or among the trees sawing and chopping, or in the barn trying to convince my sheep that Lucretius said it all over 2000 years ago, no problem.  Believe me, knowing this adds another dimension to the calming effect that a rural environment can bestow.

But using your farm for a bathroom has social significance too. What if, as in my perfect world, some 50 million Americans (out of 300 million) lived and worked part of the time on their own little farms. Let us say they committed half their bodily waste directly to the soil or to the animal manure bedding in the barn— as some of us do. The amount of waste that would thus become good fertilizer and the savings from not having to turn it into sewage and getting rid of it, is enormous.

It says here right in this weird book called Holy Shit that a human produces 180 pounds of feces and 90 gallons of urine per year. If those 50 million people applied half their waste directly to the farmland or the barn manure pack, just half mind you, that would equal 11,250,000 tons of waste every year (I hope I am doing the math correctly) with a fertilizer value of at least ten cents a pound or $20 a ton in today’s chemical fertilizer costs, according to the same book. The expression, relieving nature, suddenly takes on a much higher meaning because in this case it means relieving humans of having to find another way to provide our soils with fertilizer worth at least $225,000,000 and relieving society of the horrendous cost of running all that waste through bathroom and sewage disposal system.

If my calculations don’t suit you, do your own. The savings involved and the good accomplished will still be amazing. Of course we may never get 50 million people onto farms, but what about 20 million? That’s still a lot of relief.


Can anyone tell me how many gallons per acre of diluted urine would be needed to fertilize a brome field (with a sprayer)? Also, any advice on dilution rate? 1 to 10? 1 to 15?….

My son-in-law may try it if he can get some advice on how to proceed.

—Faith B.

I am all for peeing under the lemon or banana trees but please do not pee off the back porch! It stinks around the house area if you do that.

Even if I’m in the house, I’ll go outside, no matter what the weather. I like to go find the poorest spot in the pasture and do a direct land application of liquid gold. It really will perk up the most lethargic sod. No sense wasting 4 gallons of water and cycling the well pump for what can be accomplished with but little effort on my part.

I’ve been banking my urine for years. 28-ounce tomato “tin” cans prove to be very fine vehicles & a wee bit cheaper than installing a urinal in the basement. Yep, dilute with water from the washed vegetables, then side-dress the greens in the garden. Urine’s my investment for the future.


Good call, Charlie! Thanks for that.

This makes a lot more sense to me than CO2 or especially conversion to energy.

Visiting my grandparent’s farm as a child, and later attendance at country events (square dances, the odd beer party), I thought whizzing outside was a mildly rebellious and neat thing to do. Now I realize how I was fooled into leaving valuable nitrogen behind.

A ton or food per person per year is an awful lot. I have been tracking my caloric intake and recording what I eat as I go. I am not eating more than 3.0 lbs/day and that is about 1800 calories average. That would 1095 lbs/year. And quite frankly I am probably not eating that much weight. example 1 oz of venison summer sausage is 56 calories. Or 1 serving of oat heads maple syrup oatmeal weighs just under 2 oz and is 130 calories. 1 TBSP of raw honey is 64 calories. So 1800 calories divided by 50 = 36 ounces or 2.25 lbs (conservatively assuming 50 calories per ounce). Salad would be an exception. More volume and significantly fewer calaories. Remember you are consuming calories not weight.

“… aimed through the deer cage surrounding a Rome apple seedling. Come spring, the grass inside that fence was three times higher than the untreated grass outside.”

Not to dispute the “power of pee” — I coaxed a rose to bloom in February as my favourite urinal — but is it just coincidence that the short grass and the deer were both outside the cage?

Rich man’s privacy is not hearing the neighbor’s dog bark. Poor man’s is being able to pee off of the porch with only his connubial bliss unit pissed at him.

First really noticed the power of pee some 17 winters back when I was teaching my pup to go outdoors. Since any puppy will end up blocking the stream from hitting earth, my demonstration was always aimed through the deer cage surrounding a Rome apple seedling. Come spring, the grass inside that fence was three times higher than the untreated grass outside. To this day,my dog and I do our part to enhance the lawn.

Gene, of the several dozen books I read last year, Holy Shit was far away the most entertaining and educational. Keep up the output! (All puns intended)

Before we got the farm, I told the Mrs. that I wanted to live somewhere where I could pee in the yard and also not have the neighbors react if I wandered outside and fired off the shotgun. Mission (and emission) accomplished!!!

I never realized how much money I am pissing away…

What a joy to read this blog; you’ve accumulated a motley bunch of scientists, farmers, philosophers, artists and other enquiring minds.

Maggiesails, on the positive side there are no poisonous snakes in that weather. Take a que from Monte Python and hum a couple bars of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”.

The photo of the dog got me to thinking of what my two dogs have taught me about the subject. Most important is that as the alpha dog, you never put your coffee cup down anywhere the other dogs can pee on it: either their idea of bonding is WAY different than ours, or they are wicked practical jokers. Just don’t do it. You don’t want to be their BFF. Another thing is if I have a particular plant I wish to kill off, I pee on it in the presence of my dogs. Bankers call this the miracle of compound urination: the dogs are team players, and I’m the captain.

I believe that a lot of it is lost in water. Some quick googling (I have not verified the facts) says that a human loses about 2lbs of water per day through respiration (breathing) and transpiration (sweating). So there would be another 700lb or so.

However, I don’t know whether the “ton of food per year” includes the water we drink, or only the calorie containing part of what goes into the system.

I wonder if this essay will inspire somebody to make a picture book of “Farmers Snow Art”?

Oops! My CO2 calculation is off. It should be (840 *12 / 32) 315 pounds of carbon accounted for. We’re still nearly a thousand pounds off.

Kim, the problem remains, because c2 is a tremendously large number, which means the mass converted to metabolic energy is a tremendously small number. As I mentioned to Mark (below), the math is still a problem.

Apparently, human metabolism produces about 840 pounds of CO2 per year. But that isn’t 840 off the total intake of nearly 2,200 pounds of food consumed, because the carbon we eat is combined with over twice as much oxygen. So exhalation accounts for only about 32 pounds worth of consumption.

The math really doesn’t work for the energy part. I recall reading about nuclear bombs, that their tremendous release of energy is the result of mere milligrams of matter converted! All it takes is a scientific calculator. (You don’t have enough digits on an ordinary calculator.)

The human basal metabolism is only about 150 watts, which is about 32 megajoules of energy per year. Running Einstein backwards to solve for “m” shows that (m = E / c2, or m = 32,000,000 / 300,000,000 * 300,000,000) a human only turns about 356 nanograms of matter into energy in an entire year. For all practical aspects, matter lost through conversion to energy is totally inconsequential.

So, we’re up to 932.000000000000162 pounds of matter accounted for through faeces, urine, exhalation, and conversion of matter to energy. We’re still off by about 1,250 pounds or so.

@Jan Steinman: Great question: not a math problem, but a physics problem. The remainder gets turned into energy that allows you to type your question. Just like a log on the fire gets turned into flame and warmth, food gets turned into energy that powers our muscles and brains. As Einstein said, E=Mc2; i.e. mass is proportional to energy times a constant (c2)

As a small farmer living miles from anywhere this post is quite relevant to me. It may be an unusual subject to many folks but to us who live in the country it rings a lot of bells. I also use the humanure composting system and have done so for many years. Diluted urine mixed in to soil (or compost) increases the phosphorus and nitrogen. Properly composted humanure added to soil is perfectly safe and chock full of nutrients. Many folks never do get used to this idea but it was (and is) used in many parts of the world with success. Cities are sending their wastes (down rivers or directly) to the oceans which is a terrible waste in my opinion. We may have to change this in the near future to reduce the harm done to the oceans and waterways. Ahhh the ignorance of man!!

Sport fans coud help. Plastic containers called flextanks can hold up ro 24,000 liters each and are big “pillows” containers easily transportated by truck from the Super Bowl etc.to the farm and could do much to relaim worn out land. And if it was a coin operated facility, a quarter each sounds fair, the money raised could go for a good cause like generic seed banks
Everything that comes from the land, should be returned to the land.
This is Space Ship Earth and wonderful irreplacable land chemistry should not be flushed away to kill coral.

The rest of it gets turned into energy or carbon dioxide.

Woof! That’s a lot of energy, if you believe in Einstein! 400,000 grams, times the speed of light squared — I’ll bet that would run our entire economy. (Perhaps human energy will again, someday, but not 40 exajoules worth…)

And I’ll grant that some small amount gets turned into CO2, but I seriously doubt it’s over half.

Been doing this for years. But then I live on a boat on a secluded mooring; and my john is a soil-sweetened bucket (with comfortable seat) for the solids (a scoop of soil from the soil bucket after each use kills smells as fast as a flush), and a hung-up gallon can for the liquid (teaspoon of bleach per gallon keeps that inoffensive).

The pee goes straight onto my raised beds, in rotation (bleach too dilute by then to be damaging); the bucket when full is emptied into a designated, segregated closed compost bin, to be microbe-cooked for about 18 months, then — looking as sweet as rolling tobacco — also goes on the beds.

I also add previously ‘charged-up’ charcoal from my woodstove to the raised beds, regularly. Some of the pee goes to soak the char, to ‘charge’ it.

See my terra preta soil…!

Yes, Charles, I have seen old family cemeteries in Kentucky that stand seven feet taller than the surrounding fields. Very dramatic. Gene

Me thinks “overactive bladder” is a ruse. Little boys, grown men all just love to pee outdoors. It’s good to know that it’s not only harmless but so helpful to the natural world! Maybe someone ought to start selling the stuff at the farmers market, right next to the gallons of worm juice.

The Mississippi is really the Mississippee, so encriched that the dead zone at its delta is the size of Massachushits. [dirty word?]
After the glaciers left a continental gravel pit, upper north america slowly developed 7 feet of topsoil over 10,000 years, which mechanized farming/fossil fertilizers has wasted. in little over a century
Pioneer cemeteries, I am told, stand up to seven feet taller that the surrounding farmland.
Is that so?
I do not believe that the Supreme Being equipped Eden with flush toilets, so did [He -It choose one] not approve of the Flush, the Water Waster.
It sounds to me that Whoever was pro aerobics and organics, and probably is not a Monsanto invester. [dirty word]

The rest of it gets turned into energy or carbon dioxide.

I have a math problem. Or more properly, a double-entry accounting problem.

I’ve heard — and oft repeated — that a human needs roughly a ton of food per year, give or take. Ten seconds with Google provides some backing for that.

But counting urine as roughly eight pounds per gallon, I come up with 900 pounds of excrement a year, using your numbers.

Where does the other 1,100 pounds go? Or is my intake figure wrong?

What I always wonder about composting (modern) human wastes is the pharmaceutical residues from all the drugs that we take. Will composting break them down into harmless forms? Will microbes in the soil render them harmless? To date I’ve not seen any evidence on this.

I’m guessing your hands would smell of fecal matter, you’d have a lopsided steer, and you’d get a nice bit of stargazing in. 🙂

I wonder what would happen if one went around the farm and collected that male fecal matter and stuffed it into a steer horn and buried it at the proper time, according to the moon/stars?

Related article at Low-tech Magazine: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2010/09/recycling-animal-and-human-dung-is-the-key-to-sustainable-farming.html. For some reason I was just looking at that yesterday.

Maggie’s point came to mind right away! My wife does trail marathons, which means a lot of running in the woods for training. Not nearly as convenient for her to stop by the side of the trail, but to her credit, she does what’s necessary.

And I’ve been collecting ‘sterile liquid gold fertilizer’ for a year or so now to improve the C/N ratio of our compost bins. Pretty convenient for me to collect, but not for my wife. And the kids are *not* pleased about the concept, though they understand the value of it. Much easier out at the barn.

Gene (and all you men with enlarged prostates), fertilizer issues aside, there are solutions for enlarged prostates. As an RN and herbalist, I’ve seen way too many over-medicated seniors who have been given one medication to control a set of symptoms and are then put on another medication for another set of symptoms. Since all drugs have side effects and interact to some degree, the next thing that happens is a constellation of side effects, for which you are given more medications to manage the side effects. My husband went from twelve prescription medications to three once I started using homeopathy and herbal supplements on him. Betasitosterol is a great choice for prostate enlargement and hubby was able to get off the prescription (which negatively affected his libido, among other things). Find a naturopathic physician who can get you the real stuff, not what you find in health food stores. And skip the saw palmetto — it’s not really effective for most men. As far as fertilizer on the fields, you should be able to increase your output once you take care of the prostate problem, because your bladder empties more completely!

Ha, I really enjoyed this post. Even though I’m still young (28) I’m (perhaps strangely) really looking forward to not having to flush the toilet so much when we move out on our farm. Keeps some pressure off the septic too.

Waite, I don’t believe you added in the urine, did you? Gene

I took your suggestion and did the calculations myself. My results are different from yours.

50,000,000 people
90 lbs. per year (1/2 of total)
4,500,000,000 total pounds of waste
2,250,000 Pounds divided by 2000 equal tons
$45,000,000 value of waste at $20/ton

There’s a happy medium here. Countries where people freely relieve themselves often have significant sanitation-related health issues. It’s all about dealing with it properly. I suspect that 50 million people burying or composting solid waste safely (away from streams, crops, livestock) could be a boon. Doing it badly, however, could be a public health problem in the making.

My wife who has always lived in the city of Chicago, thinks its so weird that I pee outside when we are down on our farm in Iowa. I told her this was one of the many advantages of living on the farm. She still don’t understand it.

One of the other unsung virtues of life in the country is my own personal goal. Many people live where they can urinate off their back porch and not face prosecution. i always yearned to be able to do the same from my front porch – now i can.
To maggiesails – i know it is not an equal trade but maybe men’s enlarged prostate is some small payback for women’s bladder discomfort during pregnancy. Pregnancy is usually nine months. An enlarged prostate is forever! 🙂

There is a good book called “The Humanure Handbook” by Joseph Jenkins that I recommend.

Well, I’ve always thought Freud was full of hooey but maybe he had a point. For those of us farmers of the other sex who occasionally have urgent calls of nature, it’s not quite as simple as finding a corner where we can stand with our back to the wind and find relief. Having to bare my hindquarters in a freezing wind is not my idea of a good time and during those occasions, my mind is definitely not on fertilizing the fields! It’s on expediency!

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