Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Barnful of Shit for the Taking?

       This past winter a neighbor housed cattle in a barn that hasn't been mucked out in years.  They were literally up to their chests in filth.  Because I needed manure for my garden and because I regard this sort of treatment as cruel, I told him I'd clean out his barn.  He owns a lot of land but doesn't farm it himself and has no use for the manure, so he said I could start as soon as, weather permitting, he got the cattle out.  He agreed the job needed doing and that better I should do it than that he should.
View of barn interior through gate at back door. 
       He finally did get the critters out, then it started raining, the weather became sweltering and I had surgery on my right hand.  I finally got over there several days ago and got to work.  The barn is about 20x32 feet.  The shit at the back door was eighteen inches deep, but the floor seems to slope upward from there and there are apparently two levels under the muck.  Say the average depth is a  foot.  Twenty times 32 times one divided by 27 equals 23.7 cubic yards to be pitched with a fork and ferried with a Ford Ranger.  I planned on keeping the loads small so I wouldn't have to climb into the truck to unload.  At two loads a day, I could accomplish this daunting task in a month, if the weather cooperated.  I suggested to my husband that we rent a piece of machinery to help with the work, but he remembers feeding bunks in that barn.  He fears that machinery would be damaged by that since all that's visible now is a few pieces of lumber sticking up here and there.
       Several years ago, before we moved out here from town, I put in a drain field using a shovel and a wheelbarrow.  Since then, the difficulty of every job I've undertaken has been judged in relation to that one.  This barn thing comes close in difficulty.  Then, I dealt with trees and roots and hard-packed soil, working in the open air.  This job stinks, as the manure is still fresh under a two-inch crust. It would only get more noxious as I got further into the building where there's less air circulation and more flies.  None of this comes as a surprise.  I could deal with this.
First load of manure waiting to be unloaded
on existing compost pile.

       What I'm having a problem with is me:  in particular, my limitations due at least in part, I hate to say, to my advancing age.  Earlier this week I was over there slinging shit, dealing with a sore back and a neck that hurt so much I could hardly turn my head.  Afterwards, the fingers on my left hand tingled from carpal tunnel syndrome.  The nurse at my doctor's office warned me that if I continue this task, I could damage myself permanently.
       I rarely back away from a task I've set myself, but I'm going to do that here, on the advice of that nurse, my chiropractor, my husband, and what may be an attack of good sense.  Giving up bothers me on two levels.  At the personal level, I hate to admit that I can't handle work of this nature with the same aplomb as a younger me, and I really would like to have more of the manure than I've moved to date.  Then there's worry that the barn might not be cleared before cattle are again housed there.  I've called the owner to tell him my decision, but just got the answering machine.  Sure hope he'll do right by those creatures that depend on him for their care.    

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