It probably goes without saying that living on a farm with numerous animals means there is a lot of manure to contend with. A few interesting statistics might make you appreciate just how much scooping we actually do around here. For instance, did you know that horses poop an average of 31 pounds a day? I have 4 ½ horses (if you count the pony as a half), so that’s almost 140 pounds of manure a day just from them. Factoring in the 5 hours a day they spend on pasture, where they can poop all they want and I don’t have to pick it up, that brings the total down to just over 110 pounds a day. Or 770 pounds a week. That’s a lot of crap!
Then there are the goats and llama but they’re a little easier. For one thing, the llama creates a pile for his waste making it pretty easy to clean up, and the goats have compact little poop pellets that don’t accumulate too quickly. Or maybe it just seems that way to me because my daughters and the 4-H’ers who have goats here do all the goat and llama clean up so it’s not a big concern for me.
Chickens also poop a surprising amount as I became well aware of when I used to let my hens free range around the farm. I’d find chicken poo on my deck, in the driveway, on the sidewalks, in the grass... I’d like to say I keep the girls confined in a fenced chicken run now for their own protection from coyotes (which is true) but deep down in, I’m sure the mess factor has a little something to do with their relative lack of freedom these days.
Now it might sound like I’m complaining about all the clean-up required around here, and there are times when it gets pretty old (like when the temperature is below zero for a week straight). But for the most part, I don’t really mind the task. In fact, sometimes I find it almost meditative. If you’ve never scooped horse manure before, you may think it’s a really stinky, smelly job. And believe me, fresh horse manure does stink. But once it dries and hardens it really has very little odor. And there’s something about the rhythmic, repetitive action of scooping that is mesmerizing and relaxing to me. That is, if there is no whining in the background.
It used to be that we tried to make stall and paddock cleaning a weekly family chore. We figured if the girls had their own horses, they should be doing their share of the work. That went pretty well the first spring and summer when the whole farm concept was fresh and new, although they were pretty little then (6 and 9 years old) so to tell you the truth, they weren’t all that much help. But eventually the novelty wore off and the complaining began. We’d try to make it fun by having weekly themes to scoop by (crazy hat day, loud country music day, etc.) and when that didn’t seem to be working anymore, we tried a more militant approach, tying the chore to privileges that could be taken away if there was non-compliance. But after several years of the weekly struggle, last fall my husband and I decided to try something new. We just did it ourselves. Now I know that may sound like a cop out, but by this time, the girls were much more focused on the goats than the horses, and doing almost all of the chores related to them including most of the milking, grooming, feeding and clean-up. So we figured they were still contributing to the farm chores even if they weren’t helping with the horse clean up.
I must say that once I got over my frustration at their lack of help, I found that I actually enjoyed the process so much more now that I could do a little here and a little there whenever it fit into my schedule. Most of the time that’s when everyone is at school and work and it’s just me and the animals here. I often let the goats into the paddock with me as I’m cleaning for the sheer comic value they bring to the task. Their silly antics and funny games keep me well entertained. And I’ve been known to take a break from emptying manure buckets to pick up a barn kitty for a good cuddle or grab my camera to photograph the horses in the pasture with the beautiful foothills in the background. I find these quiet moments of detachment from the rest of the outside world to be grounding and renewing for me. I’ve also had more than a few creative inspirations come to me as I’m scooping poop. Must be a combination of the fresh air, a little exercise and the methodical nature of it all that frees my mind up for new thoughts and ideas.
So while others do yoga, meditate, read scripture or pray, I scoop poop. Grab a pitch fork and give it a try!
Life Lesson: Find your source of inspiration and renewal, no matter how unusual it might be.