There’s Money in Bird Muck

Dovecots were raised from ground to avoid ratsThroughout history dung was a rich commodity. In the 16th century dovecots were built to house pigeons as a fresh supply of meat. The rich fertilising properties of the subsequent by-product of poo was equally prized.

The nitrous rich dung was sown on wheat and harrowed in. Across continental Europe pigeon dung was prized as fertilizer for vineyards and hemp. In Egypt, melons bloomed with a little assistance from the miracle-grow pigeon poo. Parisian tanners praised its leather softening qualities which made it easier to scrape the hair off the skins.

But because pigeons have a gluttonous nature there was a real risk they could decimate newly seeded crops. Rearing pigeons was quick and easy; a breeding pair can produce 50 pigeons in one year. A thousand pigeons can consume 200 tonnes of grain a year. In the 16th century laws were passed so only the nobility could rear pigeons. In Scotland the laws on shooting pigeons were tough, carrying a three month prison sentence.  Parents could be fined 13 shillings and 4 pence if their children were found in a dovecot, and the children were to be whipped (source: Allen. B, Pigeon, Reaktion Books).

In countries suffering from a drought, pigeon poo was so sought after, it was worth its weight in silver. According to John Selden’s Table Talk in 1651 it was estimated there were 26,000 dovecots in England. Some dovecots were raised off the ground on high poles to protect the squabs and eggs from rats.

Whilst a single pigeon defecates more than 10 kilograms of waste a year, a pig farmer may have to deal with 12,000 tonnes of poo. Gloucestershire farmers James Hart and Jeremy have come up with a cunning plan to make money from the copious quantities of pig, chicken and cow poo the farm amasses. The poo is shoveled into a biogas plant which turns the waste into electricity and, with bacterial assistance, the poo into fertilizer. And the best part is, it could mean the end to stinky farms.

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