Ya haul 16 tons of manure and whatta ya get?
Many of us have pleasant memories of farm life, but few of us fondly recall one particular chore that involved animals: manure hauling.
Obviously, manure can be looked at as an expected byproduct of livestock as well as free fertilizer, but that doesn’t mean any of us had to like the job of cleaning it up and disposing of it. It was a toss-up as to which was worse: the smell in the spring, summer, and fall—or the challenges of hauling manure in the depths of winter.
On our farm, once the temperature dropped to the point at which the cows couldn’t be left in the pasture overnight, manure hauling was a daily job. We had a motorized cleaning system with paddles on an endless chain that made a circuit around the entire barn. Each of the shorter side gutters behind four groups of three cows had to be cleaned out by hand, pitching the manure and bedding into the cleaner and conveying the mess outside.
Outside was where the “fun” really began. While some barns had a straight chute out the side and over a pit where a manure spreader could catch the debris, our system employed an elevated chute that ran up at a 25- to 30-degree angle and a motor that pulled the endless chain at its top. If we had an especially heavy amount of manure to get out that day, someone would have to stand outside to help push the heaviest stuff up the chute before it was deposited in the manure spreader.
This system also meant we had to be careful that we bought the correct size of manure spreader to be backed under the chute. When the barn was cleaned, the spreader had to be backed alongside the cement pad on which it had just been parked, and any material that hadn’t made it into the spreader then had to be pitched aboard by hand. That way, it didn’t build up under the chute, which would have made it impossible the next day to back the spreader under the chute.
On our farm, the basic design of the manure spreader didn’t fundamentally change for my grandfather, my dad, or me. A basic box with a chain and paddle web in the bottom moved the load of manure to a beater on the back that spread the free fertilizer on our field.
Dad says that Grandpa would haul in the winter with a team of horses and, when the snow got too deep for the wheeled spreader, he’d switch to a sledge and then use a fork to pitch the manure off once he got to the field.
As tractors improved, one of them pulled the spreader. With an open tractor, the trickiest part was paying attention to the wind: making sure you drove into it. If you weren’t paying attention, and it was suddenly blowing at your back rather than your face, you’d quickly know it. When you next looked over your shoulder, more than the wind would hit you in the face. Dad remembers one winter when he had a canvas “cab” with a plastic windscreen on his John Deere 3020, and a big chunk of frozen manure was somehow hurled forward from the spreader. The gob of solid goo narrowly missed him but shot through the windscreen, leaving a large, gaping hole.
Even when events weren’t that exciting, once you were done spreading the load in the winter, there was more to be done. You had to get off the tractor (especially tormenting when you’d been working in a heated cab) and take a scraper to clean excess manure from the spreader so that the mess wouldn’t freeze on and break the web or strip a drive gear the next day. Thoroughness counted, since any breakdown usually occurred on the coldest, nastiest day—or, at any rate, on a day when you needed to finish early.
At one point, we thought we had solved the problem of scraping the spreader; John Deere had come out with a webless spreader. In that case, a horizontal platform and vertical pusher plate moved the manure to the beater, scraping clean the sides and bottom of the spreader along the way. It worked well that summer and fall, but, as soon as we got into sub-zero weather, we quickly learned that the designer hadn’t taken Wisconsin winters into account. We spent more time pouring hot water on the floor of the spreader to loosen the frozen material than we did spreading manure. Needless to say, we quickly traded in that spreader for a more traditional model.
I’ve concentrated here on memories from the experiences of Dad and me—but Mom had been raised on a farm in northeastern Iowa and helped out on our Wisconsin farm, as well. In the midst of preparing this entry, I asked her whether she had any manure-spreading memories. She replied that, while it hadn’t been her regular job, she had helped her family when they got behind. One spring evening after she got home from her job as a teller at a local bank, she prayed that none of her customers would see her hauling manure.