Of Chicken Houses and Manure Spreaders
Or – Learning to drive into the wind the hard way
This tale is a continuation of my experiences as a farm kid in the 1950s before I left home and ultimately became a Marine. Our farm was a mile east of Claflin, Kansas and a quarter mile south of Kansas Highway 4, which ran through the south edge of town. If you look at the right edge of the aerial photograph of Claflin you’ll find the farm about a quarter mile south on the east side of the gravel section road. We farmed the half section of land to the west, across the gravel road from the farmstead, and the quarter section immediately to the north, plus some acreage not visible in the photo.
Claflin, Kansas…Much the same as it was in the ‘50s
The farm was homesteaded in 1874 by my great grandfather who ultimately built a two story wood frame house in 1909 which was occupied by my grandparents when I was born in 1939. When my dad married in 1936 he built the house that I grew up in, and when my Uncle Kenny married later during the ‘40s he built another house. Thus three families lived on and worked the farm.
The wheat crop was our major source of income, but we also raised cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens and some of the crops needed to feed the livestock. We had two fairly good sized chicken houses and I would guess around 150-200 chickens. They provided the three families that lived on the farm with eggs. The remaining eggs were sold to grocery stores in town. In addition, some of the chickens ended up in the cook pot. One of my grandest memories was of the fried chicken my mom used to make.
One of the first chores my brother and I and my cousins were assigned as we were growing up was gathering the eggs once each day. The nests in the chicken houses were designed so that when the hen laid an egg, it would gently roll down the sloped floor to the edge where it would be easy to retrieve. Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t roll, so you had to lift the hinged top of the nest to retrieve the recalcitrant eggs. On occasion you would discover a skunk inside the nest eating the eggs. That was always an adventure. My dad and uncle would gently ease the skunks out of the chicken doors of the house with a wheat scoop. They always did this without getting sprayed. That was impressive.
Now and then we would wing an egg at the wall of the chicken house or the side of the barn just for the hell of it…just to see it splatter all over the place. One time my brother Mark, my cousin Kent and I were gathering eggs and Mark threw one at Kent, nailing him right between the eyes. Mark was three years younger than me, and Kent six years younger, so he couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old when this happened. Of course he ran home crying and his mom, my Aunt Debbie, demanded to know what had happened. Mark told her with a straight face that he was just throwing an egg at the door and Kent happened to open the door just in time to catch one between the eyes. She knew we were lying through our teeth. I can’t remember the fallout from that incident, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for Mark and me.
One aspect of raising chickens was that the houses had to be cleaned out periodically. It is surprising how much shit several hundred chickens can generate over time. Cleaning chicken houses is one of the more unpleasant chores of farming. Basically you just had to shovel and rake all the crap out and load it into a manure spreader. It was then taken to the nearby fields and spread as fertilizer.
Manure Spreader in Action-Yuk!
The wind is always blowing in Kansas. It generally comes from the north, and as the saying goes, there is nothing between the North Pole and Claflin, Kansas to stop the wind but a barbed wire fence. When I became old enough to drive a tractor, which I think was about age 12 or 13, I always got manure spreader duty when we cleaned the chicken houses. After the spreader was loaded with freshly shoveled chicken shit, I would drive it to one of the nearby fields and engage the rotor, and as you can see in the above picture, the manure would fly out the back of the spreader and be gently deposited in the field as fertilizer. Now this was OK when you were driving the tractor into the wind, but when you reached the end of the field and turned around it became another story. If the wind was strong, as it usually was, then the flying chicken shit would be blown forward and would splatter all over your back and down your collar as you drove along. Of course as a kid I didn’t have enough sense to disengage the spreader, drive back the length of the field, turn into the wind and begin spreading again. Of course it would have taken twice as long to empty the spreader and used more fuel, but that is infinitely better than being drenched in chicken shit. Of course my mom wouldn’t let me into the house in that condition, so I found myself stripping in the yard and being immediately directed to the shower. Eventually I learned.
And now you have my recollection of chicken houses and manure spreaders during the days of my wayward youth. I must say that is hard to forget the times that you were encrusted with windblown crap, although that might be high on the list of things that you want to banish from your mind. I guess those experiences may have helped prepare me for the times I was pinned face down in rice paddies in Vietnam with NVA 12.7mm machine gun rounds snapping over my head and turds floating by my nose. Either way, not happy recollections.
Until next time,
Dirck Praeger sends