When the temperatures got bitterly cold, the daily routine task of cleaning the barn could turn into a real hazard for man, beast and machinery. Machinery didn’t like the cold. Normal steel with all of its strength, would turn brittle in the bone chilling cold that would sweep down out of the Hudson Bay.
In the winter time, cleaning barn was a necessity. The manure needed to get out. The trouble was, in order to clean barn, the back door would have to be opened and cold air would rush into the barn. Now the barn was heated by nothing but the body heat of the cows inside – in the extreme cases, any lost heat could take hours to replenish, and the risk of pipes freezing and bursting was very real.
But even worse than the mess would be the fact that the cows would be without water until the pipes were thawed and fixed.
Any delay in getting that door closed and the barn sealed up back up again to keep the heat in was a danger.
And there were always threats. There were always things that could go wrong.
The barn cleaner chain would stretch and catch on places in the gutter and outside where it normally wouldn’t – frozen clods of manure, ice chunks, and just brittle metal could spell trouble. If the chain broke, with wire stretcher, hammers, and iron bars, it would need to be spliced back together again.
Which was always a wet, cold, sloppy mess.
The tractor’s PTO turning at three thousand revolutions per minute, running the gear box that would operate the paddles pushing the manure out the back to be spread across the field was a lot of power and a lot of pressure.
Here too, it was the simple things that would cause problems – brittle metal, clods of frozen manure, a small bur of metal, something would catch…and a chain would break. This was especially dangerous as there were now multiple issues facing us.
First, the manure spreader needed to be used daily. It had to be fixed. In the extreme cold, the load of manure, which left the barn at 70F, could quickly freeze into one big clump. The alternative was opening up the barn doors and backing it into the barn to keep it warm while the fix was done.
Costing us heat in the barn.
It was always a calculated risk.
If it was an easy fix – which meant it was underneath the manure spreader, and place that could be unpleasant to work (especially if the manure was wet and sloppy i.e. drippage) but relatively easy to access, the repair would be made (pliers, crow bar, fence stretcher, hammer).
But there was usually better than 50% chance that the fix would entail something much more unpleasant…
Unloading the manure spreader.
The load, usually already freezing, would have to be taken out to a field, and with pitch forks, shovels, picks, and axe, would be hacked and heaved out of the spreader, exposing the broken bits in all of their slimy, gooey, disgusting glory.
It was a scavenger hunt of sorts.
But the manure spreader would be fixed. The manure hauled, the barn shut up, and the temperature slowly brought up to a level safely above freezing.
It was a crappy job, but someone had to do it.