Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life Is Good: Getting Dirty

Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel is one of my favorite shows. The people who make that show share many of the same beliefs we have regarding the value of hard work and knowing where your food comes from. Mike Rowe's rugged good looks, soothing voice, and everyman manner don't hurt either. Mr. Farmer, however, sees the show as a challenge. Having worked many dirty jobs in his lifetime, Mr. Farmer likes to watch the show with me and repeat "I've done that!" over and over. It occurs to me that I get dirty every now and then myself.

Dirty jobs come in various types. Some are literally dirty- where your clothes get soiled and you end the day with mud under your nails. Others jobs are smelly or distasteful. Many tasks are just plain hard, backbreaking, sweaty work. And of course there are the jobs that many people don't even think about that "make civilized life possible for the rest of us." We do a lot of those thing here on our little suburban farm.


Planting the garden each year is dirty work. Raking the leaves away and shoveling soil and mulch is sweaty work, but the earth is the main mess. To do it right, it is best to get down on your knees and start digging in with your hands. I have tried using gardening gloves. I have tried using rubber gloves. I have tried using gardening gloves on top of rubber gloves. However, without fail, I end up with dirt under my nails and behind my ears (from pushing my hair back).

Feeding the pigs can be dirty, too. Pig water and slop have the amazing ability to splash up and get on your clothes, even when you pour carefully. I recently got some pig mud (I'm going to keep telling myself it was mud)  in my eye when feeding eggs to the females. Fortunately, pig feeding is not one of my usual chores.

Dirty Chickens
After Several Straight Days of Rain

*** Distasteful***

Putting down animals is not a pleasant task, but if we are to eat meat, someone has to do it. Usually that means a shot to the head, the cutting of a vein, or both. The animal must then be dressed (opened and entrails removed). The process involves death and blood and occasionally a bad smell if an intestine is accidentally opened. Most people find this necessary task distasteful. We just find it necessary.

As much as I can handle, there is just one job that I cannot stomach: cleaning pig heads. Slaughter and disembowelment of animals doesn't bother me at all, but when Mr. Farmer starts cutting apart the heads, I have to run and hide. Something about the crunch of cartilage when he is removing the snout just makes me cringe. I can't take it.


If you are going to keep animals, you are going to deal with excrement. In our case, neither pigs nor chickens nor dogs use the toilet, so the poo has to be picked up. And poo smells. Aside from the usual shoveling and pitching, this week the boys power washed the pig enclosure. This caused a river of mud and straw and stink, but it was extremely effective. The remaining breeder pigs now have clean beds that are more mud than poo. They were kind enough to do the resulting laundry themselves, rather than getting me involved.


Last week I helped separate meat for scrapple. That meant going wrist deep in a pot of boiled pig parts and peeling gelatinous fat off of meat. The job of butchering meat can be pretty slick as well, and more than a pork chop or two has gone flying across the counter.


There seems to be no end to the things that need to be humped across the yard. The garden needs soil and mulch. The animal pens need to be cleaned out and the resulting mess piled up. Fire wood needs to be cut and carried, then shortened and split, and finally stacked up- until it's time to carry it into the house, of course. Slaughtered animals are hung in the fridge to age. Sacks of feed are purchased and moved. The list goes on and on, and the work continues, as does the sweat.


I have mentioned more than once that the entrails of an animal have to be removed. Most people give little thought to what happens to them next. Sometimes they are discarded, but simply putting them in the trash is not the best option. The enzymes involved break down entrails quickly, making for very smelly trash that attracts unwanted animal visitors in the night. So, Young Master Farmer usually has the honor of walking the entrails into the woods a mile or so, where the animals can enjoy them without messing up my yard. Conversely, the insides can be cleaned out for sausage casings- which involves squeezing out the semi-digested food and running fresh and salt water through the intestines.  On one occasion we were even asked to clean out a stomach for some old-world recipe.


Few would argue that farming on any scale is hard work. There are things to do every single day, and we drop into bed, exhausted, nearly every night. The work is rewarding, however. It provides for our family. It teaches us new skills. It gives us a feeling of more independence. Every day is an accomplishment, and life is good.

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