Monday, February 13, 2012

Manure pit

My entire life I was taught to fear the manure pit.

To get rid of the manure in the barn, we scrape it in a manure pit, which is an enclosed space under the barn. Then we pump it out into a manure spreader and spread it on the fields to fertilize our crops. So, we have clean barns and nutrient-rich dirt.

Methane gas is an odorless and colorless byproduct of liquid manure. It's happened in the past (on other farms) that people have fallen into a manure pit. They don't drown, but they're overcome by fumes and suffocate and die. It happens very quickly. Even worse, I've read many tragic stories where people follow one after another to save the person who fell in. I mean - imagine. It's usually family members. How could you not try to help?

I was talking to a friend of mine who also has a farm. She said they had a new employee who seemed to really like the calves. In fact, she said, the automatic manure scraper had knocked a calf into the manure pit. (This happened after a number of unusual events - the cow had calved too early, the calf wasn't seen immediately, etc. It's a rarity.) The employee had jumped into the pit and rescued the calf.

"He jumped in?!" I said. "And didn't die?!"

She said the pit was only up to his waist and was well-ventilated. She added, "But he didn't know how deep it was!" She said she told him that he was to never go in the pit again - lasso the calf and pull it out, yes. But he should never, ever go in the pit. He said there was no written protocol for what happened when a calf fell in a manure pit, so she said she'd write one.

I told this story to Kris, and told him to please tell every new employee to never, ever go in a manure pit. I want everyone to be afraid of suffocating. I want everyone on our farm to be safe. I want a lot of things - and no farm accidents is on the top of the list.

So next time you're on a farm, remember - no swimming in the methane gas.

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