There is something to be said about raising livestock on the farm. Knowing that the beef, pork, chicken, or even the turkey that is going into your freezer was raised in a humane way, and free from all of those growth hormone type things that will eventually make people glow in the dark if too much is ingested, has to be a good feeling.
Knowing that for some, the corn, hay and straw that is also raised on the farm, can be marketed in a different way by “running it through the livestock first,” has a good feeling to it as well. When the livestock is sold, money is then brought to the farm in a different manner.
Then at the tail end, no pun intended, livestock also has that nutrient rich byproduct…called manure. This winter of 2017-2018 has been a challenge on the manure front, or as the youngest son likes to call it — Manure Wars.
The 15 or so beef cows and steers that we raise – the number changes when we switch bulls or when we buy or sell some of the cows or when the steers take their “final ride” – doesn’t represent one of these CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) things, and we don’t have expensive blood lines to maintain like that joker over in Harrison Township that still owes us for straw from four years ago (I have always wondered if he pays his cash rents to landlords the same way, but that is another story). However, manure is still created, and must be taken care of in a timely fashion.
Our current manure war actually started after Thanksgiving this past year. We usually clean out the main barn twice a year. Since we all work off the farm jobs, a weekend is normally reserved in the late fall for a day of manure hauling. In this fall that turned to winter however, Mother Nature has constantly been a negative force in accomplishing this weekend task, as she has thrown up weather patterns that have not been favorable for manure hauling.
Mother Nature drew the first blood in the war by making muddy conditions, extra snowy conditions, bitterly cold conditions, and that was just before Christmas; and this in turn kept postponing our weekend hauling job, until finally we just picked a weekend to do it and get it over with, regardless of what Mother Nature threw at us weather wise, before the manure got too deep to where the cows could scratch their proverbial backs on the proverbial floor of the haymow above them.
So the skidloader was fetched on a Friday afternoon from the Meyer Boys over in that thriving metropolis of Ridgeville Corners (why have your own hard earned dollars tied up in owning a skidloader for use a couple of times a year when the Meyer Boys will rent you a brand new one every time). Then the spreaders were retrieved from the barns, one with a tandem axle and one with a single axle. Then tractors, in this case the Farmall 450, circa 1959, for the smaller spreader, and the Farmall 756, circa 1968, for the larger, tandem axle spreader, no cabs on either tractor, were found, tractors gassed up and hooked up in preparation for a day of manure hauling.
By virtue of seniority, older brother runs the skidloader in the barn, and I, having less seniority, get to do the hauling out to the fields. A cold, February Saturday made sure that there were multi layers of winter outerwear, and with the herd moved and gated out of the way in the barn, the hauling commenced.
Manure Wars are just that, a fight with manure. While the loading process is taking place, “spillage” always happens, as the manure will spill out over the sides of the spreaders when a large bucketful from the skidloader is dumped in. This in turn creates a need for the infamous four-tine pitchfork, so the tractor man can fork back into the manure spreader the pieces of manure that decided to fall out.
Gotta stay out of the way of the skidloader operator however, he dumps the bucketful regardless of who’s in or out of the way. Like an assembly line, the spreaders are backed into the barn, loaded with the skidloader, then hauled out and spread onto the field that has been chosen to receive some “free” nutrients.
Through the years, I have learned a few lessons while being the tractor man in the manure hauling process. One is to always spread with the wind. This way, no “blowback” is realized by me on the tractor. Two, always keep a vigilant eye on the spreader itself. When a chain or shear pin breaks, things have to STOP immediately, lest things are really manured up…
As often happens with wars, breakdowns occur. On a load in the late afternoon, keeping my vigilant eye on the spreader while driving the tractor at the same time, the beaters on the manure spreader suddenly quit. STOP everything immediately. Crawl off the tractor, walk to the back of the manure spreader to examine what might be broken. Can’t see a thing due to manure all over. Back to the edge of the field near the barn to retrieve the four-tine pitchfork. Start to hand pitch enough manure off of the manure spreader into the field to get a closer look.
Skidloader operator stops, brings another 4-tine pitchfork. Part of the load of manure is hand pitched off of the spreader. It is found that a shear pin has broken, and not only that, the remaining part of the shear pin in the shaft has become wedged in the shaft. Not an easy fix. Decision time is at hand. Should we keep going with the one remaining manure spreader, or call it a day and finish the hauling the next day. We decided on the latter, thinking that no way Mother Nature would pour salt into this wound.
The next morning found that one of those freak, overnight snows had happened, dumping two inches or so of fresh snow all over everything, including all of the machinery we had moved out of the barn to start the manure hauling process, even the lawn mower was out and covered in snow. The broken shear pin manure spreader was worked over for about two hours, no closer to being fixed than it was the day before. The decision was made to finish with one spreader, and while the remaining manure spreader was doing its deed of spreading in the field, the skidloader operator would continue to clean out the barn, building a manure pile outside of the barn, to be hauled to the field at a later time.
This was accomplished, and as Mother Nature made a final gasp by blowing a cold north wind, coupled with even more snow into the fray, the barn cleaning was finished, the pens all bedded down with fresh straw, cows and steers moved back to their “clean” home, and the machinery all put back in the barn. The manure war for this session was over, finally…I can’t wait for the summer session in July…
Manure Wars — another part of life on the farm.
Sam Hatcher is a 4th generation farmer. His farm is located just south of Napoleon along the Maumee River in Henry County. He and his family raise corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and have a small cow/calf operation on their farm. he teaches Social Studies at Paulding High School in Paulding. He is married with three children, the oldest currently serving in the U.S. Navy, his middle one lives in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and their youngest looks to be the 5th generation farmer.