Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘composting manure

Watching Change

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How often do we notice that we are witnessing change? Consider the perspective that everything is changing all of the time. We are watching transitions and adaptations happen every single second.

This time of year, the metamorphosis of our dull brown forests from open branches to a thick fabric of green leaves is very easy to notice. The significance of the difference is truly dramatic to experience first-hand. One snapshot is entirely inadequate to represent the vastness of what is happening, but that didn’t stop me from deciding to take a picture of one moment when the early sprouts of green are just becoming visible.

It was a moment when I was witnessing the continued adjustment of our horses to their new home. I stood among them as they luxuriated in the calm comfort of our hayfield. Cyndie captured the view as it appeared to her from the driveway.

Meanwhile, major change is now underway in the pile of composting manure, as revealed by my thermometer.

The modifications underway that will transform this pile of shit into rich soil are happening right before my eyes, even though there isn’t much to see except a little steam, depending on conditions.

I did the first lawn mowing of the season yesterday and kicked off the oscillating changes of long grass/cut grass that will play out for the next many months.

Change is happening all the time and we are witness to it whether we are paying attention or not..


Written by johnwhays

May 1, 2021 at 9:38 am

Steaming Pile

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The new manure pile is already cooking! Given the near-freezing temperatures we have been enduring of late, the heat from the pile of composting manure was clearly visible in the form of steam wafting up out of it.

It’s not completely obvious in the image above, but there’s a little fogginess around the upper edges. The composting process is underway. We’ll have more fertile soil for Cyndie’s vegetable garden in about six weeks if I studiously work this pile. Not that we have a critical need.

Based on previous experience, I tend to miss a few key time intervals when it comes to composting, so I don’t think we ever achieved getting useable compost in the shortest possible time. Since we don’t have our compost area covered, I can’t protect the piles from getting too wet when weather is rainy. I am also prone to missing a day or two of checking the piles, so they can become too compacted or over-dry before I finally notice.

As a result, my composting has usually been more of a stuttering on-and-off process that ultimately falls short of locking in maximum nutrients and thoroughly killing weed seeds and fly larva. That is the promise when paying precise attention to detail, or so I’ve read.

The horses are doing a fabulous job of grazing the back pasture to make sure we will have no shortage of manure. They continue to look increasingly comfortable with their new surroundings. Cyndie and I reinstalled one gate yesterday afternoon that allows us to break the paddocks into two during the short period when we set out pans of feed. This served to prevent the horses from chasing each other off their pans.

With two horses on each side, they settled down and ate with no fuss.

On my way down to the barn from the house, I stopped off to check the unauthorized nest Cyndie found. No eggs for one day. We’ll keep an eye on it and see how long that lasts.




Written by johnwhays

April 22, 2021 at 6:00 am

Digging Projects

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Since much of my yesterday was spent tethered to the day-job email account I didn’t dig into any large outdoor projects, but I did get a chance to do a little digging. There are remains of two old manure piles that have essentially been flattened by chicken activity that I have wanted to toss together into one big pile. When I start turning dirt, chickens come running to take advantage of the opportunity for their worming purposes, so it needed to be a project that didn’t involve the presence of a certain canine.

Now that Cyndie is home to entertain Delilah, I nabbed my chance to revisit my old days of turning composting manure piles, much to the chicken’s delight.

The three breeds have distinctly noticeable differences in behaviors. The two Australorps are impressively bold about getting as close as possible to my every pitchfork turn, eager to get first-dibs, accepting my tapping them out of the way so I have room to take the next scoop. The yellow Buff Orpingtons recognize the advantage the black Australorps have and try to emulate them, but they aren’t as confident about getting so close to the business end of my pitchfork and spend most of their time in retreat.

The Wyandottes have always been the more timid of the three, and have figured out there are plenty of worms to be found in the scoopfuls getting tossed onto the new pile, so they spend their energy on the back end of the process.

The constant presence of the hens is both entertaining and annoying. I could do the job twice as fast if they weren’t so in the way, but it wouldn’t be near as much fun.

After I had tired of the exertion, I stepped back to just stand and watch them. In no time, I found myself surrounded by the flock as if they wanted to come thank me for the treats I had unearthed for them.

Today, there is more digging in store. I want to dig in the new footbridge so the ends are at ground level to accommodate the primary purpose of being able to drive the lawn tractor across the ravine with ease.

After that, a much larger dig is awaiting up by the house. Cyndie wants to plant a produce garden on a slope that will require terracing. I thought I was just going to be putting in some short retaining walls but the project now threatens to involve critter proofing with buried hardware cloth and perimeter fencing.

I fear the possibility of more digging than I’m interested in, but I expect visions of a future with home-grown produce might help me to overcome that lack of interest. Plus, such a garden will provide a place to use all that composted soil I’ve been piling up.

Can you dig that?



Still Missing

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Not a day goes by that we aren’t still missing our horses. Yesterday, I spent a little time tending to residual piles of manure. The urgency to deal with it every single day is gone since there is no longer a need to make space for more. I also find myself avoiding dealing with it because it so obviously reminds me of the absence of our equine partners.

There was quite a large accumulation inside the paddock left over from winter that I was planning to convert into a high spot over a drain tile that I didn’t want the horses to collapse from walking over it when the ground was soft. The chickens are doing their darndest to spread it flat, so I have given up on maintaining a pile that will “cook” to compost and am just spreading it out to dry.

There were some huge grub worms in there that the chickens gladly feasted on while I was raking it out. They only last so long out in the bright sunshine before suddenly sprinting off to the wooded shade for a break. After they cool off a bit, they come out for another round of ugly looking grubs, then run off again.

Eventually, I took the hint and moved to reshape some of the leftover composting manure under the shade for them. They appreciated the wealth of smaller worms and centipedes to be found in the piles I moved there.

Standing out in the vacant paddocks now is disconcerting. The encroachment of weeds and tall grass gives an impression of neglect that seems so very out of place. I suppose I will mow it down eventually.









We are still really, really missing our horses.



Written by johnwhays

July 13, 2019 at 9:09 am

Final Season

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The horses are gone, but their manure is not. We have entered the final season of composting horse manure, with an extra large inventory of winter piles to be processed, both in the paddock and the compost area.

The advantage I have this time is that there won’t be a new daily supply forcing me to constantly arrange for open space. That takes away a lot of pressure.

I will turn these piles when convenient, but won’t fret about getting it done in the shortest time possible.

Sadly, that burden has left the barn.

It’s bittersweet. I’m thrilled over the release from daily manure duties, but I miss the energy of living with horses.

This afternoon, a neighbor is planning to stop by to purchase some of our leftover bales of hay. It is one small step in the slow transition of the very large project of getting rid of all the trappings related to keeping horses.

We need to have an “Everything Must Go!” sale. Ropes, buckets, blankets, saddles, fly masks, halters, and brushes.

Cyndie has itemized and priced everything that isn’t nailed down. The panels that form our round pen are one of the highest priced items. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to sell the sand we brought in for that circle where her teaching took place.

We talked about moving the gazebo over near the labyrinth. Seemed like a logical idea to me at the time, but thinking about it yesterday, I realized it would probably require disassembly to achieve. That’s a lot of hardware to futz with.

I wonder how long I can put off that effort.

I’m pretty sure I will be too busy turning compost piles.



Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2019 at 9:40 am

Long Day

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When I finished fixing the winch cable on the ATV after work Monday, Cyndie helped me get the plow re-mounted so I could clean up the driveway from the morning drift adventure. It had been a long day, so I made short work of the task and headed inside to warm up.

Cyndie asked if I thought it was late enough that the chickens would be in the coop yet. That’s code for, “Will you be the one to go down and close the chickens in for the night?”

I spotted them after I’d taken just a few steps off the driveway. They weren’t inside, they were on the manure pile in the compost area.

I suppose it was warmer footing than standing in the snow. Cyndie had mucked out the stalls earlier in the afternoon and the chickens seemed to take a liking to the fresh addition on top of the snow.

After taking that picture of them, I tried to get the hens to follow me to the coop. They didn’t fall for it, I think because to get there on the shoveled pathway, required starting in the opposite direction of the coop. I got the impression their little chicken brains weren’t processing the logic.

Heck, I’ve even seen the horses, wise as we know them to be, appear to get stuck when an escape involved going away from the direction they ultimately want to achieve.

I walked to the coop without them. To waste some time while waiting for them to figure out the escape route, I started breaking trails in the deep snow around the area. Plodding down a trail that heads toward the shop garage, it occurred to me to open a path between the coop and the compost piles, for the chickens to use. One pass through the deep snow didn’t do much in the way of packing it down to make it easy for bird feet, so this didn’t offer an immediate shortcut. It did, however, bring me up behind the chickens in a way that naturally moved them off the pile in the opposite direction from the coop.

Once I had them moving, I just kept the pressure on, and created a little conga line going down the path toward their nighttime shelter, with me leading from the rear. It was pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

They marched right up the modified ramp (post-possum-crashing incident) and I was able to slide the door shut behind them. Chickens were ready to roost.

It was an entertaining end to my surprisingly long day.



Written by johnwhays

February 27, 2019 at 7:00 am

Pecking Order

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Oh, yes, there is a pecking order among the chickens. The horses, too, for that matter, although there isn’t so much pecking involved with those three. It’s more like a big bite.

Lately, Cyndie has noticed that Hunter is taking issue with Dezirea. The other day he kicked in her direction with both legs to make his point.

I got frustrated with the horses’ antics a few days ago while doing the regular “housekeeping” under the overhang, so I established a horse-free zone until I was finished. I pinned my ears back, figuratively, and ushered them all out with big energy.

There is no question about their understanding. After a few tries to return, which were met with my same high energy message, they resorted to pacing along the imaginary boundary I had established. Several times, when I turned to deposit a scoopful into the wheelbarrow, Hunter checked to see if the order was still in effect, by trying to step in behind me.

I simply turned back from my task to assure him I wasn’t done yet and the area was still closed to them.

After Cayenne’s little nip on my shoulder last week, they have been receiving fresh messages from me that I am above them in the pecking order around here, and demanding the respect that a herd leader deserves.

Yesterday afternoon, I puttered in the compost area with the chickens, moving piles around to create new space. Two chickens, in particular, a yellow Buff Orpington and black Australorp, appeared to be in some sort of contest to outdo each other to see who could eat the most of whatever the disturbed piles revealed.

It’s fascinating to watch the chickens work, actually. They have a very keen eye for the movement of crawling and wiggling creatures. When I slide the pitchfork into a pile and lift out a scoop, there can be quite a few worms or centipedes uncovered and the chickens pursue them with gusto.

At first, the birds are jumpy about my activity and they flinch and startle over my movements, but with each successive rotation of my coming in with the fork or scoop, and then pulling out to turn and dump it in a different spot, they show more confidence.

This allows them to remain close –I would even call it, in the way– so that they are in prime position to make the most of the easy pickings when my fork suddenly uncovers many different delicacies all at once.

I actually adjusted my task to accommodate them, splitting my attention between two piles to give the chickens full access to one whenever so many birds showed up at once to feast that I couldn’t dig around them.

I saw that same Buff Orpington and an Australorp pair get into a wrestling match over one morsel. Eventually, I noticed the Wyandottes get picked on and chased away by both other breeds. They seem to be the lowest in the pecking order.

This adds intrigue to the fact that one Wyandotte often chooses to perch on the tiny space of a cross stud against the wall above the window in the coop at night.

That spot is well above all the rest of the hens on the roost. Maybe she is making a statement to all the others by  spending the night alone up there.



Instant Aging

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I have developed an unmistakable hunched-over gait that instantly adds years to my appearance. Even though I have been able to carry on with a wide variety of chores, my recent disc flare up has slowed my motions dramatically.

I didn’t have too much discomfort mowing the lawn on the small tractor. I did mostly okay using the power trimmer to cut back the overgrowth along the trail outside our southern fence line. I raked. I used the pitchfork to turn composting manure.

Oh, the chickens love that task. We uncover a lot of crawly insects when disturbing the compost piles. We do the scratching for them. They just show up to reap the rewards.

Funny how they turn those creepy bugs into eggs we find irresistibly delicious.

Regarding my difficulty with standing straight after I’ve been sitting for a while, I’ve got a hunch. Without actually being able to see how the degenerating disc is causing me pain, I can only guess using the sensations I feel.

For the most part, there is nothing more than a dull sense that something is amiss. I never know what movement or gesture is going to result in the feeling of electric shock, when I presume the bulging disc suddenly reaches a nerve.

It seems to me that my body takes it upon itself to protect me from the possibility of the shock by locking up the muscles in the vicinity. This happens unconsciously, and when I try to stand up, those frozen muscles are no help. The remaining muscles have to do all the work, and my movements look incredibly labored.

Eventually the rest of my back, neck, and shoulders become stressed and fatigued from essentially fighting against the frozen lower back muscles that are trying to protect me from the feeling of being stabbed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy my body is trying to save itself from the stabbing shocks, but it reaches a point where the protection is as bad as the injury.

Today, I have new respect for the stilted shuffle of an old body. It’s probably busy protecting itself best as it knows how.

I’m hoping the continued addition of yoga strengthening and stretching positions will provide added information for my body to reign in the extreme reaction of seizing up completely.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for aging to come on instantly, but regaining youthfulness requires a lot of effort over a relatively long period of time?

I fail to see the harmonious balance of nature in that.



Written by johnwhays

September 4, 2018 at 6:00 am

More Bales

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With all those fat windrows laying in our fields, there was more than enough for us to take a wagon load of bales for ourselves. It took a little creative arranging to fit them in the shed, with our recently purchased bales already stacked to the ceiling, but we found a way to make them fit.

Jody successfully completed baling the last of the windrows, leaving our fields with the clean look of being freshly cut.

Cyndie climbed the mountain of bales in the wagon and heaved them out for me to stack.

We won’t need to go to a gym to get a workout, that’s for sure.

There’s nothing like putting in a full day of work and then following that up with an intense effort of throwing more than a hundred bales in the July heat.

Since we wanted to keep bales from our back pasture, I had some time to kill while Jody finished filling one wagon with bales from the hay-field. I took advantage of the time to turn and rearrange our composting manure piles.

While I was nearing completion of that task, Cyndie called me to meet a neighbor who volunteered to take our miscellaneous metal scrap that was slowly accumulating. That was a wonderful happenstance, allowing me to clean out a pile of ugly metal trash that we’d piled up over the five years we’ve been here.

It was a rewarding three-for-one night of accomplishments that left little time for much else.

Dinner didn’t happen until 8:30 p.m., and bedtime was a little later than usual, but we were buoyed by the satisfying accomplishments we’d achieved.

Once again, we are feeling happy to be done with stacking bales for a while. This time, that joy should last for a much longer span of weeks.




Written by johnwhays

July 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

Gettin’ There

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Well, in case you haven’t noticed, today is June 14th. It just so happens, the Tour of Minnesota biking and camping week starts on June 15th. Holy COW, that’s tomorrow! I suppose I better start getting ready to go.

Today is my last day at the day-job before starting this annual biking adventure. After that, it’s a quick stop for some supplies, a rush home to get some grass cut, and then it will be time to start packing.

Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. Bike, check. Helmet, check. Bike shoes, check. As long as I pack those essentials, I will be functional. The rest is just superfluous accoutrements.

Okay, maybe I’ll bring a camera, and some clothes, a sleeping pad, sunscreen lotion, and ibuprofen. But that’s it. That’s all I need.

Oh, and a toothbrush. Spare shoes. A raincoat. A hat.

I found our old original Foxtail toy. I’m bringing the Foxtail

After dinner yesterday, in order to check off a couple of chores from my pre-departure list, I pulled out the diesel tractor and attached the loader. Cyndie and I transferred three large piles of composted manure to a remote location, to provide plenty of open space in the compost area before I go.

Whenever I was off dumping a full bucket, the chickens would show up to check out what Cyndie was doing. I could see them scamper away each time I returned. Eventually, I paid them a visit on foot to offer my regards.

They are just starting to show hints of what they will look like when they mature and start producing eggs.

As of last night, we still have all twelve birds. This kind of success is what breeds our willingness to keep trying the unencumbered free-range life for them.

After they start getting hunted again, our thoughts will change, I’m sure.

Speaking of them getting hunted… while the world was all caught up in the escapades of the downtown St. Paul raccoon that scaled a 23-story building in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we had our very own varmint contemplating a climb up the side of our 1-story coop.

I admit, it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but it made for a cool capture on the trail cam.

You can almost read his mind, as he computes the potential reward of maybe gettin’ up there.

I wonder if I should be electrifying the hardware cloth that covers the windows. I’m hoping there is no reward whatsoever should he or she actually decide to make that climb.



Written by johnwhays

June 14, 2018 at 6:00 am