*This blog post was written by RAYGUN and originally run in October 2017. We are running it in the lead up to our "Posters for the Environment Show" to benefit the Iowa Environmental Council in Cedar Rapids (April 5) and Des Moines (April 10).
Iowa has a lot of pigs. UHHH-LOT. Though the state has only 3 million people, it has almost 23 million pigs. That not only makes Iowa number one in terms of pig population, it means Iowa has more pigs than the number three state (Minnesota) and the number two state (North Carolina) COMBINED.
Speaking of number two: how much pig poop do 23 million pigs poop?
We at RAYGUN have often wondered that, and so we decided to dive in!
If pigs poop as much as people, having 23 million people-equivalents pooping on Iowa seems like a lot of poop.
Unfortunately for Iowa, pigs poop quite a bit more than people. Since we take science seriously, we decided to gather a few sources and average them together:
First, for people: how much someone poops per day differs by weight (duh). It ranges from 0.3 pounds on the low side, to 1 pound on the high side.
Second, we pulled sources to find a number for pig poop per day. A 60 Minutes study found that North Carolina's 9 million pigs produce about 9 million tons of poop in a year, or 5 pounds per day, per pig. The publication Hobby Farms tells potential pig owners to brace for about 8 pounds per day of pig poop. One of the more liberal estimates, Film Fresh, puts the estimate at more like 10 pounds per day.
At RAYGUN, we play it conservative (and we don't want the Farm Bureau to sue us): so let's calculate using only 20 million pigs in Iowa, then 3 million people. Let's go on the high side for humans, use 1 pound of poop a day. Then let's go middle-of-the-road for pigs and use 7 pounds of poop a day.
A little quick math (7 pounds per pig times 20 million pigs) tells us that Iowa gets about 140 million pounds of pig poop dropped on it each day. That's over 25 million TONS of pig poop a year!
140 million pounds of poop is hard to wrap your mind around. 140 million pounds is what at least 140 million people make. In excrement equivalents, assuming 1 pound of poop per person, it's like having 15 New York Cities taking dumps on Iowa each day. Or, it's like having the entire populations of the UK, France, and Canada all arrive in Iowa on the same day and drop trou in cesspools across the rural countryside.
Talk about a cultural experience.
Roughly 27 million tons of pig poop come out of Iowa's pig butts each year. But considering that pip poop often goes into outdoor cesspools where it's liquified, like this:
You should really figure out how many pig-poop-pounds is how many pig-poop-gallons.
To do that, we decided to use yogurt weight as our basis. A gallon of yogurt weighs about 8 pounds. So that 140 million pounds of pig poop a day is about 17.5 million gallons a day.
17.5 million gallons a day is around 6.3 billion gallons a year.
Not only is 6.3 billion gallons a year a lot of Olympic Sized Swimming Pools (about 9,500), 6.3 billion gallons is a lot of anything. In fact, Iowa's Big Spirit Lake is about 85,000 acre-feet, which comes out to around 25 billion gallons.
So if you drained Big Spirit Lake and decided to re-fill it with pig poop, it would only take Iowa 4 years to fill that bad boy entirely with liquid-pig-poop.
Now, pig poop can certainly be used for fertilizer and nutrient replenishment. It's part of the natural cycle of agriculture. But 6.3 billion gallons a year of fertilizer? Just from pig poop?
Big ag schools, with funding from big ag, have put out reports downplaying the risks of pig poop as fertilizer, but they have also acknowledged that pig poop is high in heavy metals, and that excessive or long term application can have detrimental impacts on plant life.
Not to mention more menacing side-effects of pig poop, like growth of antibiotic-resistant pathogens down stream and down-wind of confinements and pig poop.
Add in chickens, cows, etc, and you hope that our land and water have adequate poop protection.
But The Register reported that Iowa's Department of Natural Resources recently used satellite imaging to discover that there were 5,000 more hog confinements -- 50% more confinements total -- in Iowa than they expected.
Whoopsie (or: poopsie)!
Since Iowa is handling as much solid poop in a year as 3 countries, and as much liquid poop as it takes to fill one of the state's "Great Lakes" in 4 years, it might benefit the state to double-check that it's handling poop properly when it comes to land, drinking water, and contamination.
Because, to bastardize an Everett Dirkson quote: A billion pounds of poop here, and a billion pounds of poop there, and pretty soon you're talking about real shit.