A reader commented the other day that one topic that I have not covered in these diverse articles is cleaning out the stable. Well, it’s high time.
For clarity, let’s be sure we understand the discussion. We are not talking about raking dry trash and piling tobacco sticks against the wall in the barn to neaten up the place. The stable was where the cows stayed.
Each cow was assigned her own stall where she stood when we milked her and where she slept overnight in the winter months. It was handy to have her already corralled when we got up in the dark of the morning and made our way to the stable by light from the coal oil lantern. But a secondary reason for housing the cows was to capture their manure. It provided the highly desirable fertilizer for the fields where we grew crops. Left to wander, the cows did not deposit it exactly where it was needed.
Bedding of straw and dried grasses added to their comfort in the stall, and also it mixed with the manure for better consistency and helped it to rot. When the manure got so deep that the cows were having trouble getting up into the stall from the stable hallway, cleaning the stable was at hand.
Manure forks were the tool of choice. Not the long-handled lightweight hayforks with slender tines, but strong, wide-tined forks—the kind we used for digging potatoes. Shovels were handy, too, but a fork worked best for breaking up the mass and pitching it on the wagon.
Forking the manure was not without its surprises. The manure-bedding mixture generated warmth and snakes liked that type of surroundings for depositing their eggs. We could usually count on turning up a nest of the leathery eggs or a pile of little wiggly snakes, just hatched.
The mules pulled the loaded wagon to the field and we forked the manure a second time, scattering it evenly over the ground to be plowed under—the necessary ingredient for growing bigger and better crops. Some farmers had wide scoops, even manure spreaders, but our smaller operation didn’t justify investing in too many mechanical things—my father said.
The work was hard and unpleasant, but not as bad as one who has never done such a thing might imagine. We put on our overshoes, went at it, and got the job done. Layering fresh clean bedding on the ground of the cleaned-out stall was a pleasure. Soon the bedding would be incorporating another buildup of rich, all-natural as we would boast today, top-of-the-line fertilizer.