It seemed as though someone flipped a switch. The warm weather is gone.
I bundled up in my turtle neck shirt, fleece vest, and winter weather jacket, and headed out to do one of my last fall farm chores.
I was going to clean out the chicken coop. I had my tools close at hand in the wheel barrow, square bladed shovel, hard-tined rake, and hoe. I opened up the people door and peered inside the coop as the chickens ran over from the goat yard to see what I was up to.
When they saw that I did not have any treats, they quickly dispersed.
I knew that the deep straw bedding inside the coop was almost as high as the lower roosts, but when I stuck my head inside, I was surprised to find that there was not any offensive odor. The deep bedding, that gets deeper as I add more each week, was working well.
It had been several months since I had changed out the bedding and I knew that I wanted to get it done before the weather truly turned to winter. I reached into the back wall with the hoe and tugged.
A layer of bedding broke free. I then sandwiched this layer between the shovel on the bottom and the rake on top, pulled it out, and placed it in the wheelbarrow.
In fewer than four such sandwiches, the wheel barrow was filled to overflowing.
I carefully wheeled the full wheel barrow back across the yard in front of the cabin, down the gravel driveway, over several precarious bumps, and along the road to the compost pile, where I upended the barrow and dumped my precious cargo.
I returned with the empty wheel barrow back up the hill, breathing just a tad heavily, and feeling quite warm as I reached the chicken coop.
It occurred to me that I had at least 10 more full wheel barrow trips down the hill to the compost pile. I took off my jacket and lay it on the ground beside the coop. There had to be a better way.
There was a better way!
I am a backhoe farmer, after all. It was time to get the old 580D out of the barn and put her to work. The Ford 800 was blocking the backhoe, but Greg assisted and I soon had the backhoe started and was chugging my up the hill.
I parked the old machine beside the coop, the front loader bucket tilted just right so I could fill it to the brim with the chicken's deep bedding.
Now, I was in business. I soon had the loader bucket filled to almost overflowing with chicken fertilized straw. The trip down the hill went smoothly. I waved at Greg as I trundled by his shop.
I drove the backhoe's front wheels right up to the edge of the compost pile and raised the bucket high. With a tilt of the bucket, the entire contents of the coop slid neatly out onto the top of the pile. Success!
I headed over to the tobacco barn and parked the backhoe by the back door. I loaded up the backhoe with two bales of clover hay. Back at the coop, I spread several leaves of sweet-smelling hay across the floor. The girls deserved a treat.
I also spread some at the bottom of their ramp. Once again they rushed over and happily set about scratching and exploring. Their clucks sounded content.
I hesitated to start up the backhoe again and startle them, but I did. They scattered behind the coop as I drove up to the goat yard to put the rest of the hay up in the loft inside their shed.
As I backed the old 580D into the pole barn, I glanced over at the diminutive wheel barrow, parked off to the side. The wheel barrow and I spent many hours weeding together this past summer, but it certainly felt good to be a backhoe farmer today.
A chore that could have easily taken me several hours, was finished in less than 45 minutes! But perhaps I would still get that wheel barrow out and spread some rabbit droppings on the raised beds, or perhaps I would go decorate a gourd and let the raised beds wait for another day.
Backhoe farming has its definite advantages!
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.