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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Holiday fowl

Brad Nelson Published on 21 May 2010

I love to eat turkey. I know that the logic of the thought is faulty, but it seems to me the more turkey I eat, the fewer turkeys there are in the world.

It was 1968. I was freshly married and in college. The employment I found to go with the college and the new family left me working Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and attending college Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. My employer had a fair amount of farm land as well as a small feedlot and too many turkeys.

I got along fairly well with the farm land and the feedlot. This fellow’s place was my first experience with liquid manure pits, which he had under the pens in the feedlot. The manure was scraped into the pits while it was still mostly liquid. Then it was pumped into the “turd hearse” and spread on the fields in the winter. The turd hearse was a tank mounted on a surplus military truck of about 1952 vintage with an engine that looked a lot like a Chevy six-cylinder car engine.

While driving this monster I never had to worry about breaking an axle or getting stuck very bad. It did not have enough power to spin a wheel. The military warning labels that were still visible inside the cab stated that the truck was not to be driven faster than 45 miles per hour. In the Pleasant Grove, Utah, area I never found a hill long enough or steep enough to get it going even 35 miles per hour.

The plan was to spread the manure on the fields before the fall rains softened the soil, bogging the turd hearse down. After this happened, we had to wait for the ground to freeze. As the low guy on the totem pole, I spent more than a few nights spreading manure in the dark. For one of my college English class writing assignments, I wrote of the beauty of the sunrise on a frosty morning. The teacher of that English class loved the part about the sunrise. She told me that I had ruined the whole thing by mentioning what I was doing at that hour to see the sunrise.

A couple of years before I came to work there, a heavy rain had filled the liquid manure pits and flooded the feedlot. Finally about dark, to keep the steers from floating away, the crew had knocked a hole in the lower panel of the planks making up that portion of the wall of the pens. The slurry drained into a concrete irrigation ditch that ran downhill away from the feedlot. This ditch ran behind the owner’s house.

All would have been well had someone walked down the ditch to make sure the dam plates that were used when irrigating with siphon tubes had been removed from the ditch. The feedlot drained nicely. The rain stopped and the temperature dropped too fast and too far. When the owner returned much later that night, his garage door would not open. It would not open because his garage was filled about a foot deep with now-frozen manure slurry. The crew said it was a good month before anyone could have a civil conversation with the man.

My luck finally ran out and I got involved with the turkeys. It was vaccination time. The birds were herded in crowd pens. I was in the crowd pen with them. My job was to gather up the birds one at a time and hand them to those giving the shots. The directions were to reach under the birds and grab one turkey by both legs, pick it up, and hand it to the crew with the needles.

They released the bird on the other side of the vaccination area. Now to grab one turkey by both legs and pick it up resulted in some squalling by the turkey and not just a little flapping of the wings. When I missed and only got one leg, there was much more of a fight. But not as much as when I got three legs. This was not as bad as getting two legs, each of which belonged to a different bird. The event that almost had me airborne was to grab three legs; and yes, you guessed it, three turkeys.

For two weeks after this wonderful day, everything I tried to eat tasted like powdered turkey manure. For at least six months, every time I coughed or sneezed, the smell and taste came back. My bride told me how much better she liked to have me come home smelling like cow manure. It’s all a matter of perspective.  PD