Sunday, June 21, 2009

a dirty day

I write a lot about the things that make this small farm beautiful. I share stories that are important to me, or show me a better way to live thanks to these 6 borrowed acres and a cast of farm animals. This morning, however, I am not going to write about any of that. I am going to write about sheep shit.

It's been raining for days. The ground can only take so much. The soft, often-trampled dirt and straw that makes up the sheeps' pen had become a bog. I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw Maude and Sal laying under a tree in a rainstorm. I couldn't understand why they'd opt for a tree when they had a perfectly wonderful custom-built structure across the pen? Then I noticed the 6 inches of mud inside. And not just mud, but mud and rain water in a stew of sheep feces and rotting straw. I walked in there and it smelled like nothing I had ever smelled before. It was putrid. No wonder the sheep had been avoiding it. It smelled like the way a perm smells out of the bottle, but mixed with burning hair and rotting shit-soaked straw. Not a delightful way to spend your Saturday afternoon.

How did this decline so fast? Three days ago this shed was dry, the straw compacted and solid. But the rain and the slight grade downhill sent all the water into their bedding. This would not do. I had to roll up my sleeves, pick up a pitchfork, and get that stuff out of there.

Which I did. And it was exhausting. For everyone out there thinking about taking on livestock, know that while the lambs and wool are heavenly...there are days where you do nothing but exist in shit. For hours I pitchforked and shoveled their pen. he weight of the wet straw and mud was ridiculous. My back and arms screamed for me to stop, but I knew if I did I couldn't pick up that fork again. So I kept going till the entire shed was empty. I created a three-foot pile of the waste outside their pen. I looked down at my hands and new blisters were already opened and bleeding.

It was still better than any task at the office. Which is how I am certain I'm cut out to be a shepherd someday. You get me my land and some good fences and a border collie and I will be a force to be reckoned with.

When the ground was clear I laid down fresh, clean, straw. I will go back in tomorrow if the rain stops and do more, but at least I was able to get their shelter back in order. And I know my work was well worth it because Sal went right back in and curled up in his spot. And when the rain came that night, and was hitting the tin roof on the porch, I knew two sheep had a clean, dry place to wait it out. So that's something.

It's Sunday morning. I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I covered myself in sore muscle badger balm and went outside to let the sheep into their little pasture and feed the chickens. Right now I'm going to take Finn for a drive down to Wayside to pick up the Sunday paper. He sticks his head out the window sometimes, which is a riot.

You folks have a nice day. Check back later for garden photos and a veggie update.


Blogger Tara said...

We went through something like that back around April, and do every spring. It's gross, I know, but I generally like to pile the straw really deep, and fork out the really sopping wet stuff, and then lay dry straw on top of the damp until May comes around and it stops raining. I'm safe to muck out the barn at that point because I know it won't rain another drop for six months. Otherwise I'd be mucking it out daily. Here's another note to all you would-be farmers: unless you inherit a barn (we did), don't build a barn that's larger than you want to clean! It should be big enough for your animals of course, with a little room for expansion, but before you build the Taj Mahal, remember that you'll be the one shoveling it out. Can you tell that ours is a tad bigger than I'd like? :)

June 21, 2009 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Nire said...

I will be so excited when the rain stops. It's been what, three weeks? What the hell New England, you aren't Seattle.

June 21, 2009 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Carol Murdock said...

got to google that sore muscle
badger balm! Sounds like something we need on this cattle farm,along with all that rain you are getting!

June 21, 2009 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

Thanks for talking about the hard, dirty stuff. It's good to see that side of the homesteading dream.
I was wondering - are you able to move the shelter so that the water drains away from it? I can't imagine doing that kind of work. Thank goodness for rubber boots, eh?

June 21, 2009 at 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny, but I was thinking along the same lines this morning tho on a much smaller scale. When I went to let the chickens out of their coop into their run, I was so disgusted by the sogginess and the amount of wet soggy chicken shit underfoot it makes me crazy. I had this off the wall thought: do chickens get foot rot from the wet if it never dries out??? And yesterday, when I complained to my 20 year old son about how totally unmotivated and "tired" I was, he reminded me, rather astutely, that we haven't had sun, only rain, for weeks it seems, and that I do not function well without sun. Oh, yeah. That's right. Hmmm. So my chickens, your sheep, and me are all praying for a little bit of sun and a little less rain right now. My garden is growing just fine, God - and my hose works well. Please? Sal and Maude and all my chickies and I would like to remember what it's like to be DRY!!!


June 21, 2009 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Tracy Bruring said...

your automatic reaction is to lay down fresh straw. I would not recommend that at all. Think about what you use the straw for in the garden. Mulch to hold water in the ground. That ground need a chance to breathe and dry. pull the straw and rake it every evening until the rains stop and it is completely dry. Then start all over and put down new bedding. You may even try something other than straw such as pine shavings or rice hulls. These can be sifted and moved around to dry on normal days.

June 21, 2009 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger The Old Gray Egg said...

We have horses and llamas and calves and goats, and the manure-removal is a constant chore. But the pile is like a gold mine after a year of composting. I think of the cleaning chore as a harvest. The payback for buying all of that feed and hay. As for mud and dryness, we have contacted several of the local tree-trimming companies that are constantly looking for places to dump trucks full of chipped brush and trimmings. We get it by the truckload for free and it has eliminated the mud holes allowing great drainage, keeping the surface relatively high and dry. And it smells really good. You just have to emphasize that you don't want any if they are chipping cherry, walnut, or oak, especially with horses.

June 21, 2009 at 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think thats funny that you wrote about that. I've been toying with the idea of 4 chickens and a goat and my only concern about the whole thing is the poop of both and how to deal with it only on a little over 2 acreas. My dogs have part of the woods here for there own poop thats not good for anything. I have to say on a another note there is nothing better any time of day or year than the smell of fresh baked bread. Thank you again Jenna for the recipies in your book and on line. Keep up the good work!!!

June 21, 2009 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger KateAnn said...

Hello from Idaho, Jenna! I live in the southeast part of the state and it has been raining here nearly all month. We have set a record for the most rainfall in June. I don't have any animals, but a pretty fair sized garden which I've tried to weed in between showers; not an easy task when there is little "between showers" time, but all the mulching I did in May has paid off. Loved your book and have the greatest respect for you living the life to which you were born. The universe smiles on such people. Kate

June 21, 2009 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Conny said...

Wow, what a backbreaking day you had.

Even if a barn has a concrete foundation, cleaning up after goats and sheep takes a long time. Good advice to not build a barn larger than you're willing to keep clean.

June 21, 2009 at 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

When I run into drainage issues like this I have either had to make a "french drain" type solution (dig a trench along the fence about a foot deep or so with a slant to one side for the water to run out and then fill the ditch with gravel) or add dirt and creat a dirt berm that looks something like a high speed bump that redirects the water to one side and around the pen.

Usually I have to go with the french drain idea. Even is you don't have gravel at the moment, this may be your solution to re-route water around the pen.

The good news is you get to put those new blisters to use digging the small ditch. Can't let a good blister go to waste can we?

Tony in Asheville

June 21, 2009 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger Rhonda Jean said...

Yep, I like you.

June 21, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger nancmcp said...

Thanks for this post and reminding me that although I really do miss living on the farm, I don't always miss the hard work. Stepping off the concrete where the horsefeeders are and getting sucked almost to my knees in mud/horsepoop ain't no fun. Especially when you can't get out of the way of the less dominant horses that are about to be chased into you!

June 21, 2009 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Turtle said...

i remember those days growing up on the farm. The main chore that used to just bug me was gathering eggs when there was the one chicken everyone seemed to be ganging up on. BUlly chickens annoyed me! We need to get you some good work gloves to help with those blisters.

June 21, 2009 at 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Kelly said...

WE got that same storm system here in Kentucky last week. I lost 8 beautiful cabbages. They were as big as a dinner plate ( bigger) Everything was drowned. This has been a diffrent kind of summer.

June 21, 2009 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Here in Northern Illinois it also has been raining alot. And now on the rare days that the sun is shining, the mosquitos and gnats are swarming and hungry! My garden needs weeding something fierce, but the bugs keep chasing me back inside. I would really like one of those mosquito net hats. I'm going to try some back yard chickens next spring, that gives me time to learn about how to care for them and to get a coop and a run. Any chicken coop advise?

June 21, 2009 at 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Carrie said...

Yep. This is why I read this blog. Because if I'm going to get into this homesteading business, I'd like to hear about everything straight up with no sugar coating on it. I love reading this blog!!!!

June 21, 2009 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Lorri said...

I second what Tony said about the ditch and/or berm to re-direct the water.

I think we swamped the balm company's site; it keeps saying it's restarting :) I will be looking into it!

June 22, 2009 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

We have a roof leak problem and not so much a drainage problem, so some parts of the barn can be sopping wet while others will be completely dry. That's on the list to fix before winter (when it will start raining again). The "list" is so long...

June 22, 2009 at 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You get me my land and some good fences and a border collie and I will be a force to be reckoned with."

yes, you will! ;D

i love reading your blog.

June 22, 2009 at 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Annie said...

Dealing with sheep shit is no fun. I should count myself lucky to have a barn so at least all I have to do is rake out the old straw and shit and put down some new straw.

I can't imagine sheep shit ever competing with piled up duck shit for smell, though. We had our ducklings in a chicken tractor for about a month. My husband designed it, but forgot to leave enough of a door for a human to get in and clean the nesting are out. By the time we opened it to move them to their new improved duck house (with a big door), the smell like to knock you on your back. If I had to spend time mucking out something that poor thing.

Isn't that a sad commentary on our society, too? That the worst day shoveling sheep shit is better than a day in the office? LOL

June 22, 2009 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Heather T said...

Fiddler's summer update: I just posted a video after about two weeks of playing...Yikes! But I am LOVING it.

June 22, 2009 at 10:07 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

My husband's been out of town & I've been complaining about mowing the lawn for weeks. I just hate mowing. After reading about your dirty day, however, I feel dumb. I shall never complain again!

June 23, 2009 at 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's just started to dry out here after a month of straight rain. Nothing quite like the paste of mud and horse urine. Still, isn't it a great feeling to accomplish something tangible? Because of you, there are two sheep that are dry and happy. It's hard work, but productive and quantifiable.

June 23, 2009 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger Jerry said...

Reminds me of years of clearing yard after yard of winter manure out of cattle, pig and chicken shelters. Winter here in NW Alberta Canada isn't exactly conducive to daily cleaning.

But on the flipside, you just started a wicked compost pile that I bet you will just love next summer.

June 27, 2009 at 4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog and am enjoying reading. I'm originally from upstate NY--now in exile in N. Fla. I would very much rather be where you are, doing what you are. Here I have 1/4 acre so just have a garden. My neighbor in back says she doesn't mind if I get chickens---I can even put the pen on her side of the property line in exchange for eggs, so I may do that next Spring (Feb/Mar). Right now it's too dang hot to do anything outside other'n the bare minimum garden maint.

Maggie in Tally

July 8, 2009 at 2:39 PM  

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