Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dirty Jobs

There are some dirty jobs on the farm. Quantity-wise, manure removal is the biggie. Even though I don’t keep the horses in their stalls, I still pick up three wheelbarrows full of manure every day. The pasture, if you can call it a pasture, needs to be picked up because it’s too small for five horses. Maybe if I had one or two horses, I could leave the manure out there and it wouldn’t bother anybody because it would disintegrate in the sun and the rain and the crows would pick it apart and spread it around, pulverizing it even further. But with five horses, there is no time for breakdown before they deposit more.

When we first moved here, I didn’t pick up any manure. I was used to having 110 acres in Oklahoma and 53 acres in Ferrum where the manure would turn to dust or decayed before it was discovered. And so I didn’t even think about it. We were so busy settling in, fixing things and hurrying up with important projects like putting the heat in, that I didn’t even go into the pasture. It wasn’t until I decided to check the fence line that I came upon the horror that my neighbors across the road were looking at every morning while they were having their tea. Hundreds, no, thousands of piles of manure, big blobs of poop, were everywhere. It was an obstacle course of land mines, bowel explosions, if you will.

It took me a few weeks to catch up. The neighbors were probably relieved when they saw me out there with the wheelbarrow and pitchfork. I made three manure piles where I empty the wheelbarrows. I dump onto whichever pile is the closest. I wish I had a ramp like I used to have in Jackson. Then I could just push it all the way to the top and tip it over. The manure pile would get taller and taller. But that’s another project that we haven’t gotten around to yet so I just empty them on the edges, as high as I can get the wheelbarrow, and the pile gets wider and wider, threatening to spread into Rockford County if this keeps up. Kurt moves the manure piles around with the tractor now and then to help it break down and sometimes I take shovelfuls of the rich black soil that is underneath for hole-filling or for the garden, but in the end, he will push it all down into the gully. In many years, the gully will become a slight dip in a lush, nutrient-rich pasture that won’t be so steep to mow.

Kurt wonders why we can’t just train the horses to walk down there and leave it there themselves.

“They’re not cats,” I said.

“You’ve got Motley crapping on the side of the yard.”

That’s true. Motley, the dog we got from the pound, aka The Big Stupid, turns out is not very stupid after all. Another dirty job we have around here is picking up the dog poop. We go around the yard once or twice a week with a bucket lined with Wal-Mart bags (what better use for them than that?) and a pooper scooper and pick up all the, how did we say it as kids? We pick up all the doggie doo-doo. Nine times out of ten, all fecal matter the dog is responsible for can be found on the fence line. Ninety percent of that is on the fence line behind our garage. Very easy.

Still, even with short cuts and good luck, Kurt said he was tired of being the middle man regarding the horses. We buy hay, feed it to them, it goes in one end and out the other and then we pick it up. Then the whole cycle starts all over again.

“The least they can do is put it in a convenient spot,” Kurt said. “I don’t think I’m asking for much.”

My horse Harley has potential. Though Kurt won’t give him credit for anything because he hates him. Harley used to be Kurt’s horse but he was unrideable due to being scared to death of Kurt’s deep, gruff voice. Kurt has the voice of ten men, hands and feet to match, and Harley is afraid of men so I had to take him over. Now Kurt won’t give him the time of day because I’m the only one who can ride him and he’s jealous of my power; the power of gentleness is what it boils down to.

I’ve watched Harley walk right across the barnyard, climb on top of the manure pile like a mountain goat and let loose. That’s stallion behavior, even though he is a gelding. Stallions tend to be neat and they often make stallion piles, going in the same place over and over again until there are little mountains of manure in all their favorite spots. I suspect Harley was gelded late because this is not the only stallion tendency he has. When we first got him, he tried mounting Minnie a few times. I don’t know what he was thinking, considering she is only up to his knees and he’s missing some of the required equipment. But like all American males, animal or human, he was driven by something other than his brain.

Quality-wise, perhaps one of the dirtiest jobs on the farm is sheath cleaning. Ironically also involving the private parts of horses, this one requires a person to be hands-on. Literally. It is not for the shy or the squeamish.

Most horses need their penises cleaned once every year or two. Dirt and crust accumulates on the penis and a lump of smegma can lodge in the urethra called a bean. This can cause infection and a blockage. What do they do out in the wild, you say, when there is no one out there to clean their penises? If they need it done and there is no one out there to do it for them, they die. It’s called the “crusty pecker disease.” No, only kidding. I don’t know what it’s called.

If the new pony Apache was out there in the wild, he’d be one of them with a short lifespan because I never saw a horse penis that dirty, ever. I don’t know how he fits it back in his sheath when he takes it out for air; it is so covered with dried gunk. It looks like the crust on a lemon meringue pie that’s been overcooked and now it’s sitting there in the glass case for too long because nobody will buy it. So I had to get out there and clean it ASAP.

The problem is, I’ve never done it before. I usually get the vet to do it when he comes to check teeth and do Coggins tests, but it’s not time for that now and when the vet was here last month because I was afraid the pony was drugged since he was so quiet and then he got hives from eating the weeds, I was so worried about all the other stuff I didn’t even think about his penis. And a farm call is fifty dollars just to get him out here. Then there’s the charge for the actual procedure and sedation on top of it because vets don’t like to take the chance of getting kicked even when you tell them that this horse is as gentle as a lamb. Plus a sedated horse’s penis will usually drop out of its sheath in a real relaxed way, exposing itself for easy cleaning. But I just spent a couple of hundred dollars on vet visits, and disgusting things don’t bother me too much, so I knew I should just go and clean it myself.

I saw the kids do it at the 4-H club. The lady from the Roanoke Horse Rescue came and did a demonstration. Everybody donned rubber gloves, squirted some Excalibur cleaner on their hands and then they stuck their hands up inside the horses’ sheaths, Kelly included. Actually, I also had my hand up there for a split second but with the horse rescue lady’s step-by-step guidance, I might as well have had a camera on the tips of my fingers because I felt like I could see everything inside of there as she told me what to do and what I was feeling. If Apache wasn’t resistant, there was no reason why I couldn’t do it again.

Apache didn’t blink an eye. I got my hand right inside the sheath, rubbed around and pulled out as much black gunk as I could. But I was afraid to go through the portal, the hole leading into the inner cavity where the penis had retracted. I was afraid I was going to have trouble with this. I also couldn’t bring myself to stick the thermometer up my babies’ butts when they had a fever because I was afraid I’d hurt them and so my mother had to come over and do it. I was quite relieved when they came out with digital thermometers that you just stick in an ear for ten seconds. I obviously have a fear of going inside body cavities that are really not meant to be entered.

Sweat dripped into my eyes. It was tight in there. I could feel his muscle. I thought I was feeling the portal. What if my hand got stuck?

“What’s he doing?” I asked Kelly, who was holding his head.


“What are his ears doing?” The position of a horse’s ears will tell you what he’s got on his mind.

“They’re going back and forth,” she reported. Okay. He was thinking but he wasn’t mad. If they were flat back against his head, he was ticked off and I better get out of there quick.

“Do you want to do it?” I asked her. “It’s kind of fun.”


“Well, it’s YOUR pony.”

I just couldn’t make myself go any deeper and so I extricated my hand and stood up. I dropped the wet gauze by my feet and said, “That’s it. Maybe I can pay Ashley a few dollars to do it. She can use the experience. Maybe she can use it for extra credit or something.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. Ashley is one of the older kids we know from 4-H who wants to become a vet. The pony was no trouble. I was sure she’d jump at the chance to get some real field experience.

Later, I did another dirty job. The barbecue grill. It appears that Kurt, unlike most men, doesn’t like to barbecue. He doesn’t care about the fancy stainless steel grill we splurged on even though I would have been perfectly satisfied with one of those little cast iron grills that come in a cardboard box with Chinese letters on it. He has no interest in it whatsoever and so he neglected cleaning the grill for the whole season other than taking the scrub brush, turning the heat up high and scrubbing the metal grates now and then so the grease would burn off. Just enough care to prevent us all from getting a case of botulism or whatever you get from dirty grills, but no real maintenance. I was unaware of the extent of the neglect since I had no idea to inspect the grill being that the burgers always came out so good and the point of grilling is so I didn’t have to cook. I had no reason to check up on him. I had no urge to hover. I was usually on the phone waiting for the hamburgers to get done while he was cooking.

But then I caught a glimpse of it by mistake and I was horrified, wondering what my brother-in-law thought when we asked him to do the grilling because Kurt wasn’t home from work yet. I could imagine the stories circulating in the family. You should see their grill; it’s disgusting. You should see their grill; nobody ever cleans it, rats would live in there if they didn’t have those cats. So while I had out the box of rubber gloves, I took it all apart and cleaned it real good. I put the grates in the bathtub with steaming water and a few glugs of ammonia and I let them soak. A little while later, I started scrubbing. The burnt-on grease came right off. My gloves were covered with black gunk not unlike some other black gunk on the farm and I got to thinking, why am I always the one who has to do the dirty jobs? It’s not my grill, it’s not my pony. According to Kurt, The Big Stupid is not even my dog. What am I the queen of yucky stuff?

It could be worse. I could be putting on pantyhose in the morning and driving to my job in some windowless customer service department in an appliance repair store where people on the lake would call and scream that the confection ovens in their Viking ranges didn’t seem quite hot enough or the freezers in their Sub-Zeros didn’t seem quite cold enough and they were having a dinner party and so I better get the repairman out there today, chop, chop, if I knew what was good for me because, wink, wink, they have money and they have power and I might lose my job if you know what I mean. That’d be taking some crap.


Heather Froeschl said...

I bow down to the queen of dirty jobs! I hail thee with a mighty cry of, "Ewww!"

Becky Mushko said...

Thank you for reminding me why I have mares. Only two mares, so I can let the manure pile in the field.

For the first two years, I removed the manure from the pasture. Then it occured to me--why not let the manure enrich the red clay? In five years, we acquired a very slight coating of what might pass for soil on top of the clay n the middle of the field.

My mares are neat. They poop in a line which gradually moves eastward. When they reach the fency, they go back to the other side and start over. Poop-rotation at its finest!

Amy Hanek said...

I think if you ever want a job away from home, you could host the TV show on the Discovery Channel. It is called, "Dirty Jobs".

Thanks for reminding me why I don't have horses or dogs.

Motley said...

SDEBI! That really is a big ol' pile of DOOKIE! I feel this was an extreemly well written piece. I am amazed at the pictures you have developed in my mind! The details are so vivid. Keep up the good work, and hurry up and get that best seller published. I need a new fishin' boat!

From someone who does NOT know you.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your stories very much. Keep it up!