One of my commandments is to never write about politics and/or religion. To which, I would add a third subject. Speaking from experience, it’s generally journalistic suicide to write about manure.
I know this because I once wrote a story called “The Many Sides of Manure.” The blowback from readers was almost as bad as the time I pulled an old loaded manure spreader with a cab-free tractor with a gale force wind blowing directly behind me.
We’re all uncomfortable talking about this byproduct of digestion, so much so we’ve worn out a thousand dictionaries coming up with words that sound more hygienic. Feedlot scrapers and lagoon builders are sanitary engineers, and manure composting companies are called Environmental Services; Organic, Inc. or The Green Corporation.
One would never know by their names their gross profit really was, well, gross.
I’ve always taken great pride in the fact I’m a hard guy to gross out. Back in college, I wasn’t even fazed back when we had to dissect cow pies to determine the effectiveness of dung beetles – talk about a creature that’s hard to offend.
I once judged an FFA public speaking contest where an ill-advised FFA member chose manure as her topic. It was a good speech, but my fellow judges, a home economics teacher and a banker, turned white during the talk which left no cow pie unturned.
I’m told many students have done their doctoral dissertations on the subject of manure management, which I’d think would be hard to brag about in a job interview.
The former opera singer Mike Rowe starred in a reality TV show called “Dirty Jobs,” in which he tried to make unattractive jobs look sexy. Mike looked great scooping pig poop, but most of us are not so photogenic.
So, we hold our collective nose and clean water troughs, drain lagoons, load manure, drive tallow trucks, gut animals in packinghouses and run the hot line behind a row of show cattle at the county fair.
And, who amongst us, while working ringside or chute side, hasn’t had their mouth open at the wrong time when a cow on washy feed swished her mop-like tail?
Just for the fun of it, if a person really wants to make a city slicker turn green, they should go into detail about how we get up close and personal with the reproductive tract of farm animals. Just the thought of sticking one’s arm into the rear end of a cow is enough to make any urbanite have nightmares.
The only thing worse than describing the process of preg checking or artificial insemination is to inform them how a bull’s semen is collected – I won’t go into detail here for obvious reasons.
There really is a big double standard going on about what grosses out city folks. While they faint at the thought of sticking one’s arm into the fistulated stomach of a steer, they turn around and pick up their pooch’s poop with a plastic bag.
They can’t give me any of this phony nasal sensitivity nonsense, when they hold their nose every time they pass a feedlot but don’t clean their multi-user litter box in the kitchen for a month.
And, there’s not a wet feedlot or chicken coop in America that smells worse, or is more gross, than a bus stop bathroom, a broken septic tank, an unkempt parakeet’s cage or a jar of stink bait.
The fact is, nature stinks. And it’s not just animals. A bale of moldy alfalfa smells far worse than a feedlot after two inches of rain, and the most my olfactory senses have ever been assaulted was when I drove through a town, which shall go nameless, that turned tomatoes into tomato paste.
I swear, it was almost enough to make me give up pizza.
This is not to suggest we don’t do some things in animal agriculture that come close to grossing even me out.
Please don’t remind me of the time in high school when I had to castrate a lamb with my pearly whites. I almost had to go into therapy as a result, and I’m still haunted by the memory. Now that was gross!