A dreaded winter chore
By Clif Knight
Mucking out the stables of two or three mules and the laying house of 300 laying hens was a dreaded chore that had to be done by my brothers and me during the month of February every year.
The job required the use of pitchforks and scoops and considerable arm and back muscle not to mention the overpowering smell of accumulated animal mature over the previous 364 days. We faced the removal of over four tons of packed manure, loading it one shovel at a time into a wagon bed and then spreading it by hand and shovel over field that would become the next year’s corn crop.
Included was the removal of chicken manure from a 30 by 75 ft. laying hen house and replacing it with two inches of wood shavings.
Wagonloads were pulled by mules straddling one row of harvested cotton stalks with three shovel hands working from the rear of the wagon. A prevailing wind adds difficulty to the job because particles of the manure stay airborne long enough to cover the workers.
The upside of the manure is the fertilizer it puts in the ground to feed the next year’s crop. Also, the addition of two or three pitchforks of hay on the ground will make the stables more comfortable and healthful for the animals.
Another less demanding off-season winter farming practice we used was burning off undergrowth prior to cultivating for watermelons, tomatoes and other commercial vegetable crops. This practice not only expedited early cultivation but also destroyed many of the seed left behind after the maturation of unwanted and bothersome plants.
The mulching of hardwood tree leaves and other yard waste is another practical way of supplementing commercial fertilizers in the vegetable garden. The unmulched leaves can be used around vegetable plants to combat unwanted plant growth as well as preserve ground moisture. Older mulched leaves can add fertilizer value to the soil as well conserving moisture and reducing watering and irrigation. Mulching action can be speeded up by adding in animal fat and other table waste and well as watering throughout the year.