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February 20, 2018: What We Talk about when We Talk about Manure

The title of this dispatch comes from the title of a book by Raymond Carver – What we Talk about when we Talk about Love. Subject matter, same difference.

My friend Fran wrote the following after reading what I wrote about manure management, and specifically deferred maintenance. What most interests me is that there is so much to say about the subject. At least those who regularly clean their animals’ pens have something to say about the process. For one thing, how much one is able to pick up and what its consistency might be are weather dependent. I could go on and on about how a thaw followed by a freeze is the worst because half the manure sticks to the snow and ice and the other half comes off. And I could go on and on about warmer temperatures and the manure that has been under the surface, surfacing, but Fran has done a far better job writing about this subject than I will ever do.

What most amazes me is that she is speculating about it getting harder to clean up in -30, -40 F temperatures. Uhh, I have always been reasonably healthy, and I could not ever do this. Working in conditions that cold is beyond my comprehension. -10 F is my cut off point. At -30 and -40 F, the neural pathways freeze up.

Pen cleaning, as laborious as it is, provides me with much-needed thinking time. Pete cleaned the pen this morning giving me time later today to work with Hrimmi in the Playground. I am using the target and the fun noodle on a PVC pipe. Now the horses are having some say in training matters. And for this reason, they are enjoying it more than previously. Anyhow, Fran’s message follows:

I guess this is my 15 minutes of fame, being featured on your blog. I can empathize with the one you wrote about pen cleaning, and getting burned out by February. I sometimes feel this way too, but the thought of tons of manure melting out of the snow in the spring keeps me going. I think I'm going to have enough trouble with the mud next spring when the snow goes off. We had two solid weeks of torrential rains right before freeze-up, and the pen was getting really mucky. I'm not the praying kind, but I was beseeching whatever Gods might be responsible for weather to freeze up the mud and turn the rain into snow. I was never so happy to see winter arrive. With all this snow, break-up could be bad. I'm thinking I might want to enclose a smaller area with electric fencing outside the pen to put them in this spring.

Today, I was thinking of the mechanics of removing manure, and how temperature dependent it is. I am not too fond of horse pen chores when it is minus 30 or 40, because I'm getting old and wimpy, but also since the circulation in my hands and feet has not been good since I had chemo 5 years ago. My hands get cold quickly even in the warmest mittens. But I will say, the horse apples are so easy to rake up when it's that cold. The manure freezes between the horse's butt and the ground, and it's like raking up tennis balls. As it gets warmer, the outside work gets pleasanter, but the manure gets harder to deal with. It freezes to the ground and it takes more effort to get it loosened up. And then when it warms up to near freezing, and the sun is shining, it melts down into the snow and gets really tough to get out. Then there is the special challenge of when it starts to melt out of the ice in the spring. Each day, there is a layer of manure fragments and stuff that got lost during snowstorms that gets exposed. I take my grain shovel and scrape the surface down and end up with a sled load of wet mushy stuff that I dump in a pile near the front gate of the horse pen. After it all melts down to the ground in May, my friend Avalina comes and hauls it off to her garden. She says she doesn't even bother to compost it, it just disappears into the soil. It has been a heavy snow year here, and though I've tried to keep up, some inevitably has gotten buried in the snow. Avalina should have a good haul this spring.

I just looked at the National Weather Service forecast, and it looks like a major winter storm going on both the north and west of us. It's supposed to hit here on Wednesday, with heavy snow fall through Friday, so it looks like I will be playing hide and seek with the horse manure again later this week. At least I only have two horses to clean up after. Keep on shovelin'.


Next: 52. 2/21/18: A Conversation with Ranger and Stormy

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