Yesterday I mowed fence lanes and moved the sheep onto fresh grass first thing. Then I spent eight hours mucking the deep bedding out of the sheep stall so I can move the steers into it before Moxie’s calf is born. Working steadily, with my hands wrapped in the usual duct tape against blisters, I got half the job done.
The bedding in the stall is waste hay, a foot thick, dry on the surface but wet and steamy underneath. To remove it I have to break the matted material into manageable chunks with a pick-axe. Last year I’d found an extra pick-axe at a yard sale for $3, and in trying it yesterday I learned that the type of pick-axe makes a difference.
The new pick-axe has a broad blade like a shovel, and a short point. You don’t want a shovel blade. It will bounce uselessly off the springy surface of the bedding. The pointy end is too short to be effective in deep bedding.
What’s needed is a pick-axe with two long pointy ends. In other words, my old pick-axe.
If you swing this type of axe over your head and hit the bedding with a hard thud, the point will bite deep. Then you throw all your weight against it and lever the point back up through the matted hay, ripping the layers. (The trapped ammonia that is released with this maneuver will make your eyes water, but after a while your nose becomes accustomed to the horrific stench.)
After ripping a heavy clod free, you spear it with your pitchfork and carry it to the waiting wheelbarrow in the barn aisle. Often you can’t free the clod without prying it off the tines with your boot or even your hands. Soon you are smeared with aged slimy manure — but one of the prerequisites of mucking deep bedding is a lack of concern about such things.
It was 80° F outdoors but hotter in the barn. Sweat ran down from under my hair. More sweat soaked my clothes. Each time I stumbled outside to dump a fresh wheelbarrow-load I pulled my clinging coveralls away from my skin. These summer coveralls are made of light, parachute-type material that dries in minutes, but yesterday they stayed damp all day.
I was a zombie by the time I put my tools away, fed the pigs, closed the barn doors, and drove home to shower and cook dinner.
Today it is pouring rain. Though I could add the joys of wind, rain, and mud to this task, I’ve decided to take the morning “off” and just clean my neglected house and pay bills. I’ll put in a few more hours this afternoon.