After agitating slurry at the beginning of October last year, I wrote about the experience and asked a few questions about slurry foam, especially regarding the likely associated dangers.
The last line of this piece read: “Unfortunately, too often it takes a drastic situation to make us farmers sit up and take notice.”
Those words returned last week with a bang and gave me the best educational wake-up call imaginable. It also frightened the wits out of me.
In short, I was agitating the same tank of slurry and, as usual, the Jack Russell was with me. Like most of that breed, her main aim in life is to unearth any rodents that are lurking in dark places, and she carries out this task with admirable determination.
I do nothing to discourage this practice, since it really is a skill that is highly entertaining to witness
If a rat or mouse is skulking beneath a slat, behind a pallet, or under a bale, then a combination of persistence and raw aggression usually intimidates them into the open, where they are dispatched with undisguised ferocity.
I do nothing to discourage this practice, since it really is a skill that is highly entertaining to witness.
On this occasion, I had noticed her staring between two slats and refusing to budge. She must have been at this for about three quarters of an hour, while I stirred the rest of the house with the ancient paddle agitator.
When I moved over the tractor to mix beside her, I reckoned a rat or a mouse would emerge from its hiding place, and Martha would get her rewards.
Jumping off the tractor, I carried her outside where she keeled over momentarily, before regaining her balance after a couple of lungfuls of fresh air
But instead, about 40 seconds after putting the PTO in gear, I noticed her panting heavily as if she’d just galloped the length of a field.
Jumping off the tractor, I carried her outside where she keeled over momentarily, before regaining her balance after a couple of lungfuls of fresh air. Luckily, there were no after effects, and she was absolutely fine.
Here’s the really scary thing about this incident: I knew all about the dangers associated with mixing slurry, and yet somewhere at the back of my mind was the sneaking suspicion that those risks didn’t altogether apply to my situation.
My list of false excuses included the following erroneous assumptions: it was a small, open-fronted shed, which had only housed 35 young cattle. In addition, they had been getting 1.5kg of meal per head, and slurry gases are more typically linked to heavy concentrate diets.
Also, it happened to be a windy day, and this can lull anyone into a false sense of security
Nor was there much of a crust to trap the gases because the cattle were only turned out five weeks previously.
Also, it happened to be a windy day, and this can lull anyone into a false sense of security. Finally, (and this is the one that a lot of us may be guilty of) I reckoned that since I’ve been doing this job for over 40 years, any problems with gases would have shown up before now.
While this incident has made me rethink the approach to the best method of staying safe while stirring slurry (staying outside, holding my breath while starting the tractor, etc) there is another way that might make a real difference on farms all over the country.
It’s quite simple: just tell your wife or partner that you nearly gassed the dog, but you are now going back up the yard to finish agitating.
I tried this method and got a finger-pointing lecture that bore a very close resemblance to a telling off.
Furthermore, this was followed up by some surreptitious spying from the nearby cattle crush.
Another sermon then ensued, and I was informed that she had watched me standing, hands on knees, peering down between the slats
A question-and-answer session then followed, which I got wrong by stating that I had been incredibly careful.
Another sermon then ensued, and I was informed that she had watched me standing, hands on knees, peering down between the slats. No pun intended, but at this point I really didn’t have a leg to stand on.
After realising that every tank, no matter the circumstances, can harm every one of us, the only words of advice I can offer all other farmers are: WISE UP, SLURRY KILLS.