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farming tools, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, agriculture, manure, cow pens, barn yards
A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Manure - Removing it,", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated March 1st, 1954. Within Dieffenbach details how cow manure is removed from barns and different ways Pennsylvania farmers store and use the manure.
Packets 577-214-1 to 577-214-10
Manure – Removing it.
“Der misht – en nous do.”
Manure, from time immemorial, has been the crutch of the farmer. “Misht iss enn bauer sei grick.” With it he can replace a lot of the soils depleted fertility. Long ago it was generally thrown out of the stable into the barnyard; and it was no unusual sight for it to be in one layer all over, up to the stable doors. A gutter would be back of the cows and the urine would run out and down through the cow-pen and eventually drain into the adjoining meadow or field.
On the farms owned (or tenanted) by some more cleanly folks, the manure would be kept in one corner of the pen, nicely stacked up into a compact pile and all the loose stuff was raked over and forked upon this pile. This was usually done on a Saturday so the place was ship-shape on Sunday in case company would come. The runway in the stable back of the horses and cattle was swept with a broom of splints – “en shewa baiseur”, as was the walk under the forebay of the barn.
Later on the big farms, and when straw and other bedding was more plentiful, the manure pile would occupy the outer space of the barnyard – the part furthest removed from the barn; and the pile would be lengthwise for the length of the barn. Up towards the barn it would be level with the barnyard floor; but it would gradually slope to a height of from six to eight feet or more at its outer edge. At noon corn-fodder would be thrown from the stack on the other side of the fence and would be scattered all around the outside or along the fence of the pen, but inside the fence. Almost invariably a bundle of fodder for every two head of cattle. Then the water through was filled, the cows were let into the pen and the bars put up – “des folter tsu gawocht.” The cow pen – “de kee-ben” or the manure pen – “de misht-ben” would occupy one end of the farm yard proper; a fence would go through the yard at the end of the barn, with a gate between the barn and the pump house – “des bumpa-heisel.” This housed the pump and also served as a place for milk cows, once they came into use.
The big concrete watering-trough would be built from the pump house, outwards, so it could be filled from a pipe entering it at the end; a fence or a 2 x 4 would be over the middle of the trough length-wise, so the cattle could drink from the inside of the pen, and the horses and mules coming in from the field could drink from the same trough on the outside.
On many a farm the cow stable would only be cleaned out, or the manure removed three times a week, viz Monday, Thursday and Saturday; and the horse stables only on Saturdays. No manure would be removed on a Wednesday as that would invite all kinds of bad luck. But on the nicer and cleaner farms it would be removed daily. Long ago all the equipment used was a wheelbarrow – “en shup-karrich”, and a dung-fork – “en misht-govvel.” This is always a four-pronged steel fork; it was used to load the manure on the barrow and then it was wheeled out on the pile and dumped. To make it easier to haul it up the pile, we would put a long wide plank on the pile. On larger farms, they used a manure or dung-sled, made of planks for runners; it had a floor of strong boards, about six feet long and several inches narrower than the width of the stable door. At each end was fastened an iron rod or a chain for hooking on a horse; this was much easier than pushing a wheelbarrow.
“Owver now coomt der gross deyfel - der misht-hooka.” (But now comes the big devil —the manure hook.) Not the long-handled one for drawing the load from the wagon. This was a big cumbersome implement, forged from iron, about two feet wide and it had three or four teeth or tines of about the same length as the width. All these different parts were at least an inch square; in the center was a thing like a handle, bent up. You drove it down through that solid packed steer manure (it was used for cleaning out the stable where the steers were fattened, and they were loose in the stable) and then this handle was bent forward (it was hinged in a way I do not remember) and a horse or a mule was hooked on to it. When the horse pulled, it tore out a big lump of manure and dragged it along out to the pile. I never liked the damn thing as they were heavy and hard to operate. One could get his fingers pinched or crushed in it; and it left a lot of manure all broken into lumps so that it could hardly be forked anymore.
Many a time I would pass it and wish that I could secretly bust it, so it couldn’t be used anymore. Nowadays with the modern stable cleaners, I’d like to see some college-bred youth given such a contraption, a mule and a fork, and told to get to work. In addition to the steers, one hog would be run in for every five steers and they lived off of the droppings and also had a trough for some supplementary feed. These stables would be cleaned out once a month; and I helped where it had been in from the holidays until next Spring. That job took several days, a couple of fork handles, several quarts of liniment (?) made by a man named “Schenley” and an unprintable vocabulary of genuine P. Dutch cussing. “Dort hetta deer brode-fresser mull haira kenna flucha!” (There you professors could have heard some swearing.)
Once the manure had to be hauled out of the pen into the fields, then the real work began. On a big farm, using two six-horse teams and manure planks of twenty feet long, we would be hauling for over a week. Once these planks were loaded full, they were pulled up – (the side-boards) so they just had a good hold at the bolster stakes – “on da runga;” then the load was finished – as high as one could reach with a regular dung-fork; I would load a lot more on a wagon than most of the others did, for I’d have my load flush with the ends of the planks, and the end of the load perpendicular. Many would have both ends sloped in so the top of the load was only about one-half as long as the bottom. Frank Reedy told me that one load I had 64 big piles on it; “un aar hut heiffa gemocht.” (And he made some real piles.) If plenty of help was available it would be spread at once, before it dried out and hardened. I remember the time when I spread or sprayed manure for Reedy for a whole week. I had six blisters on my left hand and on Saturday I could not hold the fork, so I took it in the crook of my left arm and rounded out a full week for the magnificent sum of nine dollars. “Liever Gott! Now grick Ich gly mull sell fer eich des ding fertsaila, un grick kew bloadera. Won mer tsu bing huckt no grickt mer; usht net in de hend!” (Dear God! Now I get almost that much for just telling you readers about it, and get no blisters. If one sits long enough, they will appear; but not in one's hands.)
A nice way to get the manure out was if one loaded it on a wagon or sled as fast as it was produced and then haul it out, and spread it from the wagon; it was sure to reach around that way. Some farmers would always be skimping it, having too small piles or having them too far apart. Then the poor bloke spreading it had to be pinching it and holding back all the time, “un his ferbye waur don waur on aryets net feel.” (And by the time it was finished there was hardly any at no place.) I personally spread lots of it in my time; and I had one farmer pay me the compliment of saying that I could spread it by hand with a fork, so that nobody could tell whether it had been done with a spreader, or how it was done. Then such a dumb fool said – “owver net so schtarrick?" (But not so fast?) I replied – you damn fool, I am no machine.
Some farmers would always put the manure on the sod in the Spring, and then plow it under for corn. Dad never followed that practice; he put it on the wheat and oat-stubble. For the latter it would be plowed under, and then sowed to wheat. But for the new grass-field, he would plow the wheat stubble under; then all the fine manure in the entire pen would be hauled out and spread from the wagon on top of the plowed ground. After it was harrowed one could hardly see it anymore; but one could see the grass as it pushed up from the roots in that finely pulverized plant-food. And did he have grass and hay and pasture?
These old-timers would say –: “Do consht der misht net ferschteckla!” (You cannot hide manure!) You can hide it by plowing it under, but the increased crops will always show its burial place. Old John Walborn was one of the most up-to-date farmers that I know of that used old-style tools and methods. But was thorough going and allowed no slip-shod work on his farm. He was 92 years of age when he died; he often said – “ Der misht-hauffa iss en bauer sei Gott; un der blook iss sei gebait-hich!” (The manure-pile is the farmer’s God – the plow is his prayer-book!)
While commercial fertilizers can be utilized when not sufficient manure is available, yet the best of them can never efficiently replace it. By plowing under plenty of manure, a lot of moisture-retaining humus is put into the soil; this no commercial fertilizer will do. And once sufficient moisture is lacking, the plant food is unavailable, regardless of the amount in the soil. Thousands of tons of the very best plant food is lost by having a manure pile in an open barnyard. On a few farms a big ell would be built in front for storing the straw. This building would be supported by posts, walls, or piers, so arranged that a man could drive through, and the manure would be stored under it.
“Ya! Mer hut im shodda sei kenna fer der misht lauda. Awver ’s iss ken luft nei eoowa, an mer hut geuaint men date in de hell nei fer recka eb seller misht ollirs.” (Yes, you could be in the shade to load it, but no breeze came in there and it was so hot you thought you’d perish in hell, before that manure was all!). A neighbor’s son – a pal of mine told me one day – “now glawvich awe on de hell!” (Now I also believe in hell.) When I asked him where he had been to church, he said –: "on aryets – Ich hob drei dawg misht gelawder fer der Sam Schneider in sellera ferdommta hell!” (No place; I loaded manure for Sam Snyder for three days in that damned hell.) And in those sheds the manure did not get enough moisture, the corn-stalks didn’t rot but were almost like when they went in. You could pull your arms out of the sockets, your kidneys would be flapping around your knees, you got weak in the back and blue in the gills. One time I had been loading manure for a whole week and Saturday night I was so tired I was undecided as to whether I’d go to see Sally, or stay at home and go to bed. I went upstairs in my bedroom, and I tossed up a nickel; it rolled across the floor over toward the girl’s home. So I dolled up and I went. I sat around there, too tired to talk or move or to do anything. Finally, she wormed the story out of me.
“Ach, won sell oll iss don lake dich doe tsu meer. Do bisht net tsu meed fer rooich bya; bisht?” (Well if that is all the trouble just lie down alongside me. You are not too tired to lie down and keep quiet, are you?) I said no, I wasn’t; and I laid down; and I kept quiet, but she didn’t. I do not know if she could pow-wow or not; but before daylight came my arms were rested, my back was as good as new and I felt like old Jake Wilhelm used to say –“ grawd ive en hersh!” (Just like a buck-deer!)
That girl should have been a doctor; and I would have given her a diploma then and there on the spot; but diplomas are made of sheep skin – un ’s wawr net so feel hout un der wake!” (there wasn’t that much skin around there.) As it was – I was well and cured – she felt well repaid for her services and the rest had to like it or lump it.
Modernized, the manure is just another chore on the farm nowadays. You press a button or throw a switch and the gutter cleaner is on the job. You have a loader attached to your tractor. You haul the spreader out in the field and presto! It is all over and you have not expended much energy. But I don’t believe that any modern Falby will take pity on these tractor-romeos and give them a treatment like the writer got some fifty-odd years ago.
Modernize machinery as you will, there has never been invented any machine that will love a farm boy. And once love is missing from the set-up, this here old scribe will fold his tent like the Arab, and silently vanish from the scene.
March 1st, 1954
Der Aldt Bauer
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Manure: Removing It, March 1, 1954" (1954). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 147.
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Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).