Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Spring is in the Air


The other night I walked outside and smelled spring in the air. It was actually the odor of a cow manure lagoon being pumped out, but on the farm that can be synonymous. It brought back memories of pumping the pit each spring. I was so happy to get liquid manure storage on the farm in the 1980’s. It was so much better that hauling manure in the cold every day. Frozen manure spreaders, fighting snow drifts in the fields with chains on tractors and trying to get the barn cleaner to work on a sub-zero morning in January. But there were some unforgettable experiences with pumping pits as well.

One just got used to the smell on the farm. It was part of livestock farmer’s life. Our hog barn had a pit underneath it. Convenient but stinky. One day I was getting ready to pump the pit and that required removing the exhaust fan in the pump out port. A little while later I realized I was missing my cell phone. After retracing my steps all over the farm I thought I would look down the opening where the agitator was going to go. There on a thin crust of hog poop sat my Nokia. I found a piece if flashing and bent the end to retrieve my phone. It was dry and perfectly functional.

Another time I became aware that the water line coming up from the floor of the pit was leaking. When the pit was pumped as empty as I could get it I inspected and found the plastic nipple on the top side of the valve was spraying water. Wearing a pair of cutoff shorts and disposable tennis shoes I climbed down and installed a new brass fitting. When I climbed out, I discarded the shoes and shorts in the garbage and commenced a deodorizing regimen. Hog manure is just about as bad as a skunk.

We had hauled liquid manure with a 3,300 gallon tank for years before purchasing a pump and traveling gun. This was cutting edge. Except for the labor of laying out 4,000 feet of 6” aluminum pipe to reach the field. There was a 660 foot hose attached to a unit that would spray a perfect arc over 100 feet, as it slowly rotated 360 degrees. You would sit out there and watch it operate and then move the assembly ahead with a cable hooked to a tractor. Nothing but the sound of shh, shh, shh as the liquid fertilizer sprayed in endless circles.

Take down would mean rolling the hose up on a hose reel behind the tractor before moving across the field. One day when I was pumping the neighbors pit, I was rolling up the hose while an open station tractor powered the pto driven hose reel and pulled itself along squeezing the liquid out of the hose and through the nozzle on the traveling gun. I didn’t pay attention that the nozzle was pointed directly at me and that the hose became twisted. The reel squeezed the contents of the hose into a state of high pressure and suddenly the force untwisted the hose. I could only watch the manure make it’s escape out the nozzle and arc towards me. I turned my back to it and was blasted with the full force of the flying poop.

My last memorable experience with the manure lagoon happened while I was agitating my neighbor’s pit. There was a large propeller at the end of a 20’ boom mounted on the three-point hitch of the tractor. I was backed down over the edge of the pit with the prop running at full rpm to break up the crust on top of the lagoon. When I determined it was completed, I climbed on the tractor and throttled the engine down. What I hadn’t factored into the equation was that even though the rear ties were on a slippery slope, the force of the propeller, just like a ship, was holding the tractor on the bank. According to my science teacher the force of the propeller was equal to the weight of the tractor and it stayed put until I cut the power. I suddenly found myself sliding down into a full manure lagoon on what was soon to become a John Deere submarine. I cut the power and climbed on the hood of the tractor hoping the lagoon was not deeper than the tractor hood. To my relief the tractor came to a rest before it was submerged and after assessing the situation I climbed back into the seat, started the diesel back to life and brought the propeller up to full speed. Then drove the tractor right up the bank and onto level ground.

My neighbor Phil was a witness to the last two incidents and we laughed quite hard afterwards about the whole thing. It is much funnier in retrospect.