Here’s a dirty one for you.
Turn away if you must from the tail end of the cow at Melleray Farmstead, the cottage industrial campus for Piedmont Pine Coffins. However, since readers of the GBCB tend to be open-minded, not to mention good-looking and intelligent, I expect you’ll take it all in dirty stride. But scroll to the bottom now if you want to skip the dirty dung joke.
Dung is good stuff. Within weeks of our Dexter cow’s arrival, country friend Todd came by to pick some up. He wanted a small dose for plants he meant to grow, and the cow dung was just the right culture, he averred.
So we walk out to the manger with a paper bag and a shovel. Just as I’m excavating the first pie, Todd stops me. Apparently he’s not pleased with my ergonomics. He’s also a wiseass.
He: “Now Don, you have shoveled cow shit before, haven’t you?”
[straight minute of laffs at funniest utterance yet recorded at Melleray Farmstead, beating out even that classic line for informing your ensconced family member that you have, without warning, removed the receptacle from under the toilet box for cleaning: “Honey, there’s no bucket.”]
Me: “Of course I have, wiseass.* As if there’s a technique.**”
*Actually, I hadn’t ever. For last weekend was – first time in seven years keeping animals – spring cleaning in the manger. The
cow brought on the change. She’s been here a year now, and that means the dung is getting thick. For the first seven years the sheep’s little pellets dried and pulverized to a brown dust that seemed to blow away on the wind. Now quickly we’re adding on inches.
Mind you, we’ve cleaned out the chicken coop many times. Easy. Piece of pound cake with lemon icing. But the stable – the manger? Never saw fit to go all Hercules in there. And now that I have, call Aesclepius, as my back’s about broke. Dung drags hard on the fork, and hangs heavy.
**There is a technique to shoveling manure, actually. There’s a technique to every old skill that exists within living memory of a dwindling few. Old monks, homesteaders, and great-grandparent types still remember. When none of them is around to show you it, exhuming old homestead know-how can feel like being an archaeo-anthropologist discovering secrets of a lost culture. Totally cool, if it didn’t mean being sore and needing lots of ibuprofen for a few days.
The secret technique? Pick the right tool for the right dung. Here are the right tools, heaviest first.
- Pulverized sheep manure comes up with a shovel. It’s so fine only a shovel will do. A shovel also works best, darn it, for dung compacted under hoof over the course of seven years.
- Cow manure needs a manure fork. The close-set tines keep the pies from falling through as you fork and load.
- Manure mixed with hay calls for a 5-prong fork. The hay binds the dung so it doesn’t slip through the tines.
- Hay wants a hay-fork: 4 or 3 tines set widely.
Once you get it into the wheelbarrow, what do you do with all this heavy, dirty, solid gold? Feed your chickens and make garden soil. Details to come, stay tuned.