ON THE FARM: The scent of spring

Glenn Ells
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It is a sure sign that a field has dried out enough to support farm machinery and that spring is becoming established when the smell of manure is in the air. Those heaps that we could see in many fields yielded very little odour as they waited, but now, when they are stirred up, you don’t need eyes to know what is happening. Your olfactory nerve will deliver the message even if your eyes are shut.

I remember a wise old politician telling me one time that a hot issue was not noticeable or troublesome if you let it by, but stir it up and there would be a bad smell he compared it to stored animal waste, but in plainer words.

Many of us, with years of country living under our belts, can take a deep breath and know what class of livestock produced what we are smelling. I go back to the days when I helped the hired man load animal waste onto a sloven wagon and spread it around apple trees with a five-tined fork. Ours was a mixed farm and we would experience different smells depending on which building we were cleaning out. The main source of manure on our farm was cattle and I remember that my work partner always complained about the smell of poultry and horse manure, but claimed that cattle manure “has a healthy smell to it.”

I wish I had recorded the many sayings of the men I worked with on the farm during those years before I turned 16, when we bought our first tractor. When I became the tractor operator, it removed me from most of my close contact with that great source of wisdom – the common working man. Then men I worked with were far from “common,” as were the women that joined the workforce from time to time, and I missed working shoulder to shoulder with them when Dad “graduated” me to the position of tractor operator.

Times have changed. The other day, a very large tractor, pulling an enormous, fully-loaded manure spreader, passed by and spread that one load on about five acres of land. I could tell that it was poultry manure and that it will do wonders for the corn crop this summer. The field was soon harrowed, which incorporated the litter into the soil and removed the odour. I can’t say that it made me homesick for the way we used to do it. 

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