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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Valley Drift…

Smell of poo in the morning

City lady on her first visit to a farm:

“My! What’s that smell?”

Farmer: “That’s fertilizer.”

City lady: “For land’s sake!”

Farmer: “Yes.”

The Ripple should have written about this subject years ago. The reason this post has been so long in coming is the editor couldn’t decide on an appropriate title. Possibilities were: “The Valley of Sudden Smells”and “The Smell of Poo in the Morning.” Or excuse the foul pun: “Excrementary, my Dear Watson, Excrementary.” Others I ruled out for fear of plagiarism: Denise Beebe’s “It’s the Smell of Money,’ and Jim Werkhoven’s quip aired on The Washington State Dairy Commission ad, “Come on in…You Might Wanna Wipe Your Feet.” I’m sure Jim holds the copyright on that one. For reasons to be explained later, I finally decided on the above title.

When conditions are just right—your nose will tell you—the Valley air is fraught with bovine perfume. Sometimes the smell is strong; sometimes it presents only a whiff; always it is pungent, but regardless of the potency, you know it’s country you’re smelling, part of the package you’ve bought into in order to escape big city pollution. Despite its pungency, the smell is wholesome, I daresay, an odor I much prefer to the fumes that waft from the town’s sewage treatment plant on a hot August day.

As efficient producers as they are of steaks and milk, cows, whether beef or dairy, excel equally as producers of manure. With free range beef cattle this by-product is distributed and disposed of  naturally, dispersed over broad expanses of range land where it decomposes and returns to the soil. At a large scale dairy operation, however, large numbers of cows are contained in a small area, especially at milking time;  free range dispersal of by-product is no longer a practical part of the equation, so dairies employ other methods to accommodate and dispose of large quantities of “green gold.” A government directive, one among many the government requires of the dairy industry, is one that mandates a certain ratio between the size of the herd and the acreage necessary to accommodate the tons of manure the herd produces: not enough acreage; too many cows…a mandate for hip high barn boots.

In the early days, manure that accumulated from the overwintered cattle was shoveled from the stalls and scooped into large piles.For land's sake One of the routine farm chores of early spring was to remove these mountainous heaps of dung, fork the contents onto a cart or wagon and transport the by-product to the fields and pasturelands where it was offloaded and spread manually. As farms became mechanized, tractors with front end buckets scooped the manure into a mechanical spreader which flung the excess about on the pastures and hayfields where it decomposed and emended the soil.

The modern dairy separates the by-product into liquids and solids by means of a special separating system. The liquid is pumped and piped into manure ponds; the solids cast about the silage fields by a spreading machine. When the holding pond brimmed with poo, the contents would then be pumped into a liquid spreader which was driven around the fields spewing the verdant rain in its tracks.

Nothing quite makes their presence known, however, than the huge water cannons dairies use to drain their manure ponds. “Poo-Poo” sprinklers, we call them.Poo Poo Sprinkler Your nose tells you there’s a poo-poo in operation long before you see the contraption perched in the middle of a field arcing a chartreuse stream of poo nearly thirty feet high and a hundred feet long through the Valley air. A series of underground pipelines carry the effluence from pond to field. Hydrants sprout at intervals along the lines and four inch diameter python-like hoses connect to them. Through these conduits the Valley green courses to the poo-poo cannon whose muzzle jets it onto the cropland. Powered by hydraulic pressure, this crusty piece of field artillery can service a full circle of land while crawling forward, unspooling its umbilical hose as it goes.Poo Poo hose

“Manure….” In those bygone years when I was subjected to daily doses of sophomores, I would teach them the value of understanding affixes as a way to attack unfamiliar words and sharpen their vocabulary building skills. Take manus, for instance: from the Latin word for “hand”; thus, MANUfacture, make products by hand; MANUscript, text written by hand; MANUal, done or held by the hand; MANUre…something you want to keep OFF your hands….

What about the “Valley Drift, then?”In the post that follows my experiences with it…up close and personal….

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  1. O, bid me leap rather than marry Paris, from off the battlements of yonder tour or walk in thievish ways....I could keep going, but I won't bore you. You know the drill. TJ, this is Carrie "Muffy" Whitney, from 1986. Michele Olsen told me about your blog and I am THRILLED to find you online. My favorite teacher, ever.

  2. Hello, "Muffy # One," the one and only true Muffy. My, I believe your comment on this post includes The Ripple's very first Shakespeare quote ("...or bid me go into a newmade grave and hide me with a dead man in his shroud..."). Ah, but you do "bear a brain." So good to hear from Muffy after all these years...and thanks for the compliment, by the way. Good to have you reading The Ripple. TMJ aka "TJ"