Proper manure management and storage are not child’s play.
My mom always tells me that as a young girl, I was very well behaved. But I know the truth – I had a bit of a devilish streak. There was nothing I enjoyed more than exploring the barn and the surrounding yard, including balancing precariously along the edge of the manure pit behind our small pig barn. It wasn’t a deep pit by any means since my father didn’t have many sows or growers – 50 at the most – but it was still intimidating to look down into that slurry. I had a few close calls, including almost breaking through the ice covering in winter, but I always managed to escape unmuddied.
One summer day, a city friend of my father’s came to visit the farm, bringing along his two urbanized children. The three of us were all about the same age, between seven and 10, and were soon busy playing in the farmyard. Ever the show-off, I had to demonstrate my balancing prowess along the edge of that manure pit. The visiting little girl was suitably impressed but her younger brother thought he could do better. He couldn’t. With a resounding splat, he landed waist deep in the pit. It took both his sister and me to pull him out. He went home in pink track pants and I was banned from the back of the barn.
Not long after meeting my husband, I told him that story. He recounted the time that he, on a dare, ran across the crust on the top of the manure pit at his brother-in-law’s hog farm. His escapade ended with him naked in the front yard being hosed off by his mother.
We can smile about these incidents now but behind the smile is the knowledge we were lucky – lucky we weren’t seriously hurt or killed.
Proper manure management and storage are not child’s play. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Purdue University, 77 people in the U.S. died between 1975 and 2004 as a result of being overcome by toxic gases in livestock manure handling or storage facilities. In one incident in Virginia during 2007, five people on a dairy operation were killed – the farmer, 34, his wife, 33, two daughters, ages 11 and nine, plus a 24 year old farm worker. According to media reports, the farmer had entered the manure pit to clear a clog, “probably something he had done at least 100 times” before. This time there was toxic gas.
According to the Purdue report, the peak period for incidences involving manure gas deaths is during the heat of summer and is usually associated with the transferring of manure for field application. As farmers prepare to enter this time of the season, please think, act and be safe. -end-